You Don’t Need to Avoid the Staff Room: 5 Types of ESL Colleagues and How to Get Along with Them
When not in their classrooms, where do ESL teachers go? Often it’s the staff room, that place with the refrigerator, microwave, copy machine, and—oh, yes, other ESL teachers!
Usually, that is an advantage—the coming together of colleagues. You can discuss your classes and teaching methodology, trade stories of textbooks and materials, and discuss shared preferences in vacations and free time activities. What could possibly be the problem? Well, not all colleagues are necessarily people you want to share much time with! In fact, there may be the few that you may want to limit time with or will need to really work to get along with when you do encounter them. There are 5 distinct types of ESL colleagues who often require effort in relating to. Who are they?
5 Types of Problem ESL Colleagues
These types cross genders and culture and therefore have a kind of universality. The use of “Mr.” and “Miss,” for example, does not imply any permanent applicability of the type to a specific gender.
Mr. Talkative wants to do just that—talk. It doesn’t seem to matter that his audience is or what that audience is doing—eating lunch, grading papers—anyone who enters the staff room or his periphery is fair game for one of his monologues, often on his personal life, like what he did that weekend, and at length.
Ms. Complainer has a lot in common with Mr. Talkative; however, while Mr. Talkative’s lengthy verbiage is focused simply on personal issues, most of them inconsequential, Ms. Complainer’s excessive discussion is focused on the negative, complaining, and usually about the school: the students, the administration, other teachers, electronic equipment and facilities, etc. Individuals who have been teaching a long time may fall into this pattern, perhaps after a number of negative experiences in the profession.
Mr. Work Ethic-Challenged
Mr. Work Ethic-Challenged never seems to be in a hurry. He always looks well-rested. His briefcase usually looks disconcertingly light and empty (always a telling sign). He is out the door with the bell, rarely comes to meetings, and never contributes to any of the work of running the department, like participating in grading sessions or serving on committees. This type is rare in a profession that generally requires hard work and in which workaholics thrive, but they can be found.
You can tell Miss Still-a-Student by her bike, book bag, long hair, and jeans. In other words, she looks like a student, and may in fact still be a graduate student or was one recently. She also perhaps identifies with other students, seeing herself as one, and invites her students over to her home and socializes and spends time with them over her colleagues.
This is a mercifully rare type in a profession where people are committed to helping each other, but again she can be found. Mrs. Saboteur may, for example, deliberately set out to undermine a colleague with negative comments to students and staff. The behavior probably arises out of insecure feelings and a need to make others look bad in order to feel or look better herself.
Ways to Deal with Troublesome Colleagues
Identify the Behavior
The first part of dealing with any problem is identifying it as a problem. “Oh, I get it. Jonathan keeps saying negative things about me to students because he’s a Mr. Saboteur. It isn’t me.” There is something liberating in this—recognizing the set of troubling behaviors has something to do with the problem colleague—it is his or her “thing” that he or she does with everyone or nearly everyone, in all probability, and is not an overreaction on your part.
A direct approach is usually best when dealing with problem colleagues. Someone who talks nonstop when you come into the staff room isn’t going to get your subtle hints like deep sighs—or even putting on headphones or leaving the room! She might just follow you out and continue the routine.
A direct approach works best: “I’m sorry; I’m correcting papers now and can’t talk now.” And then take out your papers and begin grading.
Related to taking a direct approach is setting boundaries: in establishing boundaries you are directly stating what behaviors you will tolerate in relation to yourself and others. For example, to the colleague who keeps popping in and out of your class when it’s in session (it’s surprising how many instructors do this even with classrooms that are otherwise free for hours at a time), you might say, “I’m sorry; we’re in class until 11 am. After that, the classroom is yours as you need it.” She probably suddenly won’t need it at 11, but this sends a powerful message on protecting your and your students’ instructional space.
Be a Role Model
Ultimately, a good teacher is a good role model to her students and her colleagues. This is especially important for colleagues like Mr. Work-Ethic Challenged. If he sees his peers staying after class, correcting papers, and heading up committees, he will begin to get a message about the culture of the school and of the profession. Miss Still-a-Student, also, in seeing her colleagues spending their lunches lesson planning and sharing ideas will get the idea that she is now one of these professionals and should join them—at least occasionally—instead of hanging out with her students in the union.
It takes all kinds to make up a teaching staff, as in any profession.
Most of the types you will meet as a teacher are positive role models—hard workers who communicate well and are good with people. There are a few more problematic types, however. But with communicating directly, setting boundaries, and being a role model, you will find you don’t need to hide out in your office and can confidently return to the staff room!
Dr. Stacia Levy teaches writing and reading skills at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California to both native and nonnative speakers of English. She also has taught academic and creative writing at the University of California, Davis. However, she began her teaching career twenty years ago as an instructor ESL in adult education programs and still primarily defines herself as an ESL teacher. Publishing credits include two academic works based on her dissertation, several short stories, and a novel, California Gothic, a story of romantic suspense. Google+
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Thank you Dr. Stacia for the article.As for me, I think the Saboteur is the most annoying type because they can ruin a teacher's career with their negative comments. Unfortunately they are not rare in the school where I work.
This tells it the way it is! I'd like to take on the other viewpoint here, though, and say that there might be valid reasons - and valid roles - for why they are behaving that way. For instance, the saboteur might be insecure, might be a product of her own history (might have been severely sabotaged in the past? grew up in a household of critiques? believes that this is an indirect, valid, less hurtful way of sending out warning signals? believes that she's [why is it always a 'she'?] better than the sabotee?). The still-a-student type might believe that this is a valid way instructional or learning approach: rapport and relationships can be strong incentives. And so on....
Hi, Marga! I think you are entering the profession at a more difficult time than I did, when I was fortunate to be mentored by very giving teachers. Everyone is frightened about the economy and their jobs now, which I believe exacerbates some of the negative behavior. Seeking the company of positive colleagues and minimizing negative behaviors is the best we can do. Stacia
Thanks for your article, Stacia. I found it interesting, and a little compelling, to be honest. I've been in the profession for a rather short time, but I've seen more types of better-avoid-them teachers than the ones you list- people who directly mob you or deliberately ignore you, for example. But then again, there are nice, hard-working colleagues who make it all worthwhile. They are one of the best aspects of this profession indeed! :-)
Thanks, Peter! I agree with you--we "shouldn't" have to put up with certain personalities--but we do, people being who they are, regardless of who they "should" be. We can, however, address specific behaviors we find unacceptable. And I do think these types are the exception, rather than the rule! Best, Stacia
There shouldn't be this kind of situation among colleagues, mainly because we're "examples" to our students. But, as we have to accept each othe the way he or she is; each mind is a universe. I loved your article.
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