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Dealing With Difficult Co-workers

Emma is a Teaching Assistant who works for Protocol Education in Wolverhampton. We know we won't always get along with everyone, but how do we handle working with challenging co-workers? Emma shares her experiences.

Dealing with difficult co-workers aka fly like an eagle

I was thinking yesterday about the cleaners at the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) where I'm currently working.  It upset me that every day they come in, say hi to my co-worker and blank me.  I say hello each time I see them and have even tried to talk to them.  Nice day we're having or sorry about the mess, I tried to sweep up as much as I could. But no response.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm being snubbed by the cleaners.  What heinous crime could I possibly have committed in their eyes? Was it the time the glitter fell on the floor? Because that stuff's never getting out of the carpet! Thinking about it though, this isn't the only time I've had to deal with difficult co-workers.

It all began on work experience when I was 17.  Yes, that far back. A TA I was working with asked me to check if the teacher wanted to keep some pictures the children had made.  I went off to check and when I came back I saw they were in the bin. I figured they didn't want them after all and continued working.  A few minutes later the TA saw them and in her loudest voice bellowed across a shocked class "Have you got a problem with me?" My 17 year old, shy and unconfident self had no idea what to say to that. Turns out that would be only the beginning...

As a student on my first teaching placement I'd spent hours, painstakingly creating my first ever display.  It was a work of art and when I proudly presented it to the teacher as my finished masterpiece all she could mutter was "Are you aware of how difficult it will be to get all those staples out?" I was gutted.

On another placement I was in class when the head came in and spoke loudly to the class teacher "can you ask your student not to go onto the staff room please?" I wasn't aware it was a no go area.  That wouldn't be the last time though that I would be referred to as my position, only since then I've become known as 'supply'.

At my first long term teaching assignment through Protocol the deputy head was very critical of me, despite the head teacher's assurances that I was doing a good job.  One day the the deputy pulled me out of my class, leaving the children unsupervised, to show me her class.  They were all diligently seated, quiet as church mice, reading their books.  No one dared to even sneeze.  In contrast my lively class with quite a few characters and no TA support for 90% of the time were lively and buzzing.  Mostly talking about work, though I'm sure one or two conversations were about last night's footy.  In any case as an NQT this intimidating deputy hadn't inspired me to mould the perfect class so much as belittled me.  In my own mind at least. She wasn't the only person in a position of power to wield it over me.  At one school, which I loved working at, it wasn't the aggressive children that scared me, it was the head teacher.  Each time I had to knock on her door to ask for a pack of blu tac I felt like I was a naughty school girl waiting for the cane.

Then there was that time that I needed to photocopy some work for a class I was working at for a day.  The photocopier needed a code so I asked the secretary.  Only to be informed that I wasn't allowed to photocopy, only she could.  I asked in that case then could she photocopy for me.  She looked at me and in all seriousness said "No.  I require 24 hours notice to do any photocopying work". She wasn't joking either.

Ok, so I've worked with some difficult people and come to accept that not everyone will like me.  But what can I do about it? Well here's a few tips that I'm going to try to remember:

  • Stay calm- avoid escalating the problem.  As the saying goes "you can't fly like an eagle if you hang around with turkeys". Diplomacy is the key here, so don't get angry, listen to their problem and act don't react.  Do they have a point? If not clearly state your case.
  • Use appropriate humour to diffuse the situation.  This doesn't mean in the middle of a co-worker slating your display that you should stop them to ask if they've heard the one about the chicken that crossed the road...
  • Pick your battles- if it's something trivial or a one off comment, could they just be having a bad day? We all get a little ratty from time to time.
  • Report- If you think you are being bullied in the workplace discuss your concerns with the head teacher, Protocol Education or your union.  No one should feel intimidated and upset at work.
  • Confront them- No, not loudly in front of the class but take them quietly to one side and ask them why they are treating you in that way.  It may be that they didn't intend to upset you and are surprised by your reaction. Either way it'll clear the air.

As for the cleaners at my PRU, I've come to realise that there are bigger things to worry about,  like OFSTED coming in next week for one! Eek.

Have you experienced challenges working with others? What tips do you have? Email them through to us at

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Tags: EmmaH, West-Midlands, supply, PRU, co-workers, challenges, people, attitudes, surprise, peer-pressure

Category: Australian Teachers

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