Work Peer Keeps Doing my Job; Help.
March 11, 2016 5:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm a relatively newer addition to a special education team, having started in October although I am a 12+ year veteran teacher. There are 5 teachers who share a classroom, we each have caseloads of about 30 students each. A big part of our work beyond supporting the students is paperwork. We have a lot of reports to write, state requirements to file, etc. The problem is there's one other teacher who double-checks everything I do and is making my job a nightmare. I want her to stop but she won't.

All the teachers are great and we're all on top of the paperwork and our respective caseloads.

The issue is that there's one veteran teacher who's been there longer than anyone else and is a few years older than me who is the department Know-It-All. That would be fine except she continually sticks her nose into reports and paperwork (and emails and everything everyone does).

The negative repercussions of this are that she endlessly runs around like a chicken with her head cut off . She gives off this frantic, panting energy and ends up making everyone around her nervous, especially the kids. She runs into the Resource Room class, eyes darting, yelling, "What is everyone doing?!" and "I need to see your reports!!" when the other teachers or I have the kids working calmly and under control. She just stirs everyone up but she's also increasing everyone's workloads.

When it's report time or state testing time or there's an email that affects all the teachers, she jumps in and has to go over everyone's paperwork to ensure we're all doing everything right. Our files are shared so she prints out all of our information and asks us all endless lists of questions.

We are doing everything right, but as soon as she starts doing all of this she wastes our time with lists of questions and "correcting" what we've already correctly done.

Contributing factors: she's union-protected and we have no supervisors so there's no administration to talk to her but if there were, she's not going anywhere.

My peers and I have spoken with her and told her that we've already done X, Y and Z, the work is accurate and we need her to stop, but she.just.won't. We've responded with, "I will get back to you on this," but she is relentless.

How do we get her to back off or how do we learn to live with this so she doesn't make our own workload larger than it already is?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stop doing it. Be blunt.

"Karen, I'm busy. I'll manage my own work. Go away."

She does it because you all jump when she tells you to. Stop. Doing. It.

Don't shine her on, tell her you're not doing it. "Karen, you are not my manager. You are disrupting my lesson. Go away."

Try this:

Karen: Squawk! The frammistannie report!!!!
You: Not your problem. Go away.

Karen: I reviewed your report...
You: I'm going to stop you there. Don't review my reports, don't question my reports. It's not your job, it's my job. Put that down and go away.

Karen: Why is item number 6 on your report....
You: Don't look at my report. Deal with your stuff, I'll deal with mine. Now go away.

If you can, get everyone on board. But even if you don't, worry about you and your students and stand up for yourself. You don't have to be nice and you don't have to answer her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:53 AM on March 11, 2016 [54 favorites]

I had a boss like this.

The only solution was to keep sentences as short as possible. When she bursts into the classroom like that, just look at her with your eyebrows raised and don't say a word.. or tell her you'll speak to her about it after class.

She's going to keep running around like a frantic chicken because she gets off on causing the ripples and waves of stress in everyone. I don't actually know why these people need to cause others to feel this way, but the only recourse is calm responses.
posted by INFJ at 5:54 AM on March 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: If she's not your boss, is there any reason to entertain this instead of just drawing a firm, repeated NO boundary?

"Thank you, but no."

"Thank you, but no."

"Thank you, but no."
posted by DarlingBri at 6:02 AM on March 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

she's union-protected and we have no supervisors so there's no administration to talk to her but if there were, she's not going anywhere.

I'm assuming public school here, so surely there is a principal to speak to in the event that none of the above great advice doesn't get her to stop.

If she doesn't get the Professional Kiss My Ass hint from doing the things others have suggested, maybe go to the union rep and threaten to file a complaint against her with the union (there must be some bureaucratic language regarding doing supervisory tasks that are not hers to do). The union rep can put pressure on her to stop. And if not, she clearly loves paperwork, so bury her under union paperwork and file a complaint.
posted by archimago at 6:12 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: so surely there is a principal to speak to

We have an interim principal who is leaving in a few weeks, they won't step in with matters like this. And the union won't touch this.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:22 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Print out exactly what you have written here--as it is articulated extremely well--and bring it to your supervisor. You DO have a supervisor, whether it be the school principal, or someone else within Administration.

Or you can take matters into your own hands and tell her exactly what you have written here, though I recommend the former.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:24 AM on March 11, 2016

Best answer: The lack of supervisor cuts both ways. If you don't do what she wants she has nowhere to go to escalate it. You've already made it clear you don't need her to do this type of checking up, so the next step is to just not engage. Say no directly, or defer giving her an update to an unspecified "later". If she demands to set a definite time, make it as late as you can, and then tell her you can't make it after all. Don't offer to reschedule.
posted by crocomancer at 6:28 AM on March 11, 2016 [27 favorites]

It sounds like there's no supervisor who will be willing to step in and tell your coworker to cut it out...which also means there's no supervisor to step in and get mad at YOU for not complying with all of her demands. This is especially true if your reports are indeed correct and thus there's not going to be some issue around poor work coming back to bite you in the future.

I would simply have a few comments ready for the different situations you face, and keep calmly repeating them. Things like:

Runs into the room frantically: "We're in the middle of something here, but I'm happy to talk to you later." or "I'm with a student now, could you shoot me an email with your question?"

Comes to you with a list of questions about your reports: "I've got everything under control, but I will be sure to check in with you if I have any questions." "Thanks for the help, but I'm good here." "I've actually already double checked this with Donna, but thanks anyway!" (You could arrange a system with another annoyed coworker to briefly check over each other's work, which is not a terrible idea anyway -- just sounds like this one person is out of control.)

Tries to load extra paperwork onto you: "Sorry, I've got my plate full with preparing for tomorrow's lesson/my own paperwork/reviewing these new testing requirements."


And at some point, honestly, just ignore her? It sounds like she really has no power to fire you or get you disciplined, so at some point this is probably the best course of action, especially if you have your other coworkers on your side and everyone can sort of present a united front.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:45 AM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

What are the consequences of either just ignoring her or saying "no"? Right now, she thinks there are no consequences to trying to be the de facto supervisor. She is filling a vacuum. Until the other teachers create consequences or a confrontation, she will continue. If it were me, I would just ignore her. If she pressed me on it, I might consider saying yes and then ignoring her. Or, give her the paperwork about a half an hour before the deadline. Create a situation where it appears as if you are all agreeing but it is not physically possible for her to butt in because of either the time or the sheer volume (or the combination).
posted by AugustWest at 6:47 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

How is she getting access to these things? Just by yelling at you? Stop giving it to her. When she says she needs to see those reports, say you already turned them in. Say aliens beamed them up. Say the superintendent came directly to you to get them. Say yes and then forget.

If she gets her hands on them and gives you a list of shit to do, file that list in the trash bin as soon as she walks away. Tell her a dog ate it.

Make sure you have copies of everything you have to turn in, so if she does intercept and hold them hostage, you still have a version to turn in. Turn it all in early (and make her look bad for being last). All she can do is make an annoying racket. She's going to do so whether y'all comply or not, so just don't comply and let her keep squawking.

You guys are terrible at mutiny. Aside from a certain amount of (largely imaginary) power over students, the only thing you can control in this life is your behavior, not anybody else's. When you want someone to stop doing something to you, stop letting them.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:49 AM on March 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: We've responded with, "I will get back to you on this," but she is relentless.

I had something similar once (not Union protected, but friends with a higher up, I performed well so other higher ups liked me, so a similar lack of supervision). The only thing that worked was telling her, bluntly, that I am doing my job correctly and her input wasn't necessary, but if she had any concerns she was to only communicate them over email, as she was interfering with my work flow to the point of being detrimental to clients (I was doing my job correctly). You my be able to insist, a bit more diplomatically, that any communication be via email, as she is interrupting student activities.

I then only responded to questions via email: any time she tried to bring something up, I'd repeat like a broken record, "You need to email that to me." Eventually she got the point. I then skimmed the emails, and since they were usually pointless responded something to the effect of "I've reviewed X and made any corrections that were necessary," or "Y has been/will be completed by tomorrow , well ahead of the deadline." I did not engage as to why something was done a certain way or why the timeline was the way it was. None of this was relevant to her job. She eventually had one snit fit in my office that I walked away from, and after that she turned her attention elsewhere. Hopefully your person doesn't escalate to that point, but it was the only drawing a firm unwavering line without any compromises that got her to back off (and in the meantime I was less stressed by refusing to engage in any extra busy work).
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:51 AM on March 11, 2016 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I like all the suggestions above. Especially the non-response response. This will help you cultivate your ninja skills. Defeat emotional vampires with a single glance! She not exactly an emotional vampire...maybe a neurotic werewolf, braying at the moon. Arooooo!!

Another thought....after you've employed some tricks to get this crazy off your back, when she starts to get the vibe that her perseverating is getting stonewalled, you can extend her some kindness. There no small amount of attention that she gets through this. You can be firm on this area and be friendly in other ways. Commiserate with the anxiety some of these tasks generate and encourage her to let that go...for her stress levels. See if you all can find something positive to put her onto to fill the void.

Best of luck, I would be such a jerk in your situation.
posted by amanda at 6:53 AM on March 11, 2016 [15 favorites]

Best answer: My last job I had EXACTLY this kind of co-worker. She was a peer but set herself up as some kind of manager, and all her micro-managing served only to increase workload and stress everyone out. I did all of the above suggestions (ignoring, saying no, being calm, having a direct conversation, etc). It did no good. She just got worse and worse over time.

I legitimately believe that it was a mental health issue (severe anxiety) that no amount of co-worker stopgaps would help. I'm still friends with my other co-workers there and they say she now regularly cries and completely loses her shit and cannot stop. Even her personal friends discussed having an intervention with her.

So if you aren't able to stay chill yourself, if she really pushes you to her limit and it looks like she isn't going anywhere, I would suggest looking for another job. I dealt with it for a year and a half, and I handled her better than anyone else in my company bc she liked me and I was the most relaxed and diplomatic, but it was just such a toxic environment that I had to go. I'm really glad I did.
posted by greta simone at 7:09 AM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Another thought -- I would consider maybe going out to coffee with your coworker and trying to get a read on why she is SO anxious about these reports. Was there a past coworker who really messed things up and negatively impacted the department and/or the students? Was there a past boss before this interim principal who came down really hard on special ed teachers, and that has her freaked out? Is she just someone who suffers from generalized anxiety? I think knowing WHY your coworker is acting in such an extreme manner could be helpful -- even if you disagree with those reasons, it could help you craft responses.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:13 AM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

She runs into the Resource Room class, eyes darting, yelling, "What is everyone doing?!" and "I need to see your reports!!" when the other teachers or I have the kids working calmly and under control.

Also, address this separately. "Flutterbird - you are disrupting our class. It is not appropriate to discuss this with students present. Please email me or speak to me about this when students are not present."
posted by anastasiav at 7:23 AM on March 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a teacher and a union rep, and yeah, the union isn't going to get involved, and temp administration isn't going to get involved. At least at my school, the special ed teachers all work together on paperwork, and they can open and edit any case they're involved with, so there's no way to prevent her from looking at the cases, I assume.

Is she just really, really worried about being out of compliance? I work in a really litigious community, and being out of compliance can get lawyers involved and trigger a lawsuit, expensive no matter what the outcome. Is that what she's worried about?

People are suggesting openly dismissing her in front of students... that's not the appropriate response. Special ed students (at least in my district) often see plenty of confrontation outside of school, they don't need to see it in the classroom. Blatantly ignoring her in front of students isn't good, either.

If it were me, I think I'd talk to her one-on-one and ask her not to disrupt the class when students were present, then when she did it again I would say (as nicely as possible) that we could for sure talk about that at lunch or after school or whenever, then at the appointed time tell her again that she can't disrupt my class and that my paperwork is fine, and please don't ask again. I'd try to get the other teachers to do the same.

Thanks for what you do; I know how difficult it is, but you make a huge difference in your students' lives.
posted by Huck500 at 7:38 AM on March 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

Two things that come to mind, one is that you have to resist the very human tendency to put the need to be liked by people at the top of the list. Don't cater to this woman anymore. I find an easy way to move people along is to say, 'you ask for a lot of my time and I am busy, put all of this in an email to me and I will try and get to it.' I also think it is better to make these statements politely and in front of at least one other person. Expect a campaign of complaint against you and fight it by not getting involved and being unflappable. Everyone has a person that comes to mind when you describe this person, she is a type, don't let her get to you.
TL/DR: just say no.
posted by InkaLomax at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2016

Alison over at Ask A Manager had a similar question the other day. (There's a link to where she writes her answer. If you hit a paywall, try opening the link in a private window.) Have you tried sitting down with your co-worker separately? I mean outside a time when she's freaking out. Maybe sit down with one other of the teachers she bothers (not more than one so she doesn't feel ganged up on and shuts down). Ask her what is happening that makes her worried about compliance. Try to chase down what exactly she is afraid of - that frantic, constantly checking to make sure things are right sounds like someone who is terrified of things going wrong. Being sued? Has this happened to her in the past? Is she worried about being being fired?

Do you have a regular staff meeting? Even with just the five of you? Maybe have a short, ten minute meeting once a week to say, yep, all reports are done and filed, everything is fine. Then when she comes in freaking out, say "We'll talk about this at the meeting on Friday." Then you have given her a definite time she can get the attention she needs and not just a "sometime later".

Good luck. (But really if you don't have any kind of managerial support and that's not likely to change, maybe start thinking about a job change. There's always a problem child in any workplace.)
posted by Beti at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have an interim principal who is leaving in a few weeks

Sounds to me like she aspires to that job, or at least to be named head teacher, and is determined to demonstrate to all and sundry her suitability for it.

Unless you're comfortable with the prospect of having her as your actual supervisor, now is the time to get together with at least one other teacher and make a formal complaint about her to somebody; I would cc the interim principal, but not necessarily submit the complaint only to them.
posted by jamjam at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

"I need to see your reports!!"

"Why?" (Not as a smart-ass remark, but a real question you want a real answer to.)

It sounds like she's got some anxiety going on here where she either feels everyone else doesn't know what they're doing, or that she's the one who's going to get in trouble as the senior person if something gets messed up, or both. Sometimes getting people to admit this out loud and hear themselves say it helps them start operating with their conscious mind instead of instinctual panic.

And if she really does think that, then there's your 80% solution point. It will not get better if she really thinks that, and if you fix it the problem mostly goes away.
posted by ctmf at 9:44 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What's difficult is we all share the one classroom; we have no office and the school is in construction so other than the cafeteria, we have nowhere to do prep. 6 periods daily, we have up to 25 kids rotating in and out and she and I are the contact teachers for the room 4 of those periods. I was struggling with stopping her IN FRONT OF the kids; I've gotten good advice to have her email me all her concerns. But shutting her down or being short with her in front of the kids isn't a good practice.

Our students are split amongst various grades; she and I share the 9th and 10th graders. Every month we need to hand in reports about testing and other things; it's all done on a shared doc.

It seems that she has a tremendous amount of anxiety about our being out of compliance (and we are) as we're currently undergoing a state review.

I see that our mistake has been that while most of the time we tell her it's all good, occasionally we let her carry on, so we've taught her that if she presses us enough, eventually we cave and engage her anxiety. We will stop doing that.

I appreciate the advice to report this to someone, but there is truly nobody to report this to. We have three admins; all three are leaving. We haven't had a direct sped supervisor in a year; our higher-level admin is also leaving. (The district is in chaos, obviously.)

Thanks for all the great advice.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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