Yes, I知 Sure Your Class is as Good as Mine and Your Students Love You: Dealing with Overly-Competitive Colleagues and Building Relations

Yes, I知 Sure Your Class is as Good as Mine and Your Students Love You
Dealing with Overly-Competitive Colleagues and Building Relations

Stacia Levy
by Stacia Levy 8,964 views

If you’ve taught for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced it: the colleague who stops to you in the hall with glowing reports of her own class.

Or she might give veiled criticism of your class that she’s allegedly heard through students. If you are leading a work meeting, she may make cynical remarks, interrupt, or even leave the room. If confronted, she’ll probably deny any knowledge or intention of what she’s doing. Competition in and of itself, of course, is not bad, necessarily, if it’s in good spirit—seeing whose class can read the most books over a term, for example, and sharing ideas of how to reach the goal. But the overly-competitive colleague, whose actions are probably based on deep-seated insecurity, is focused on looking good at other instructors’ expense. She is particularly difficult to deal with because her behavior in passive-aggressive and difficult to smoke out and confront. Fortunately, there are ways to address the overly-competitive colleague and remain pleasant.

Methods of Treating the Overly-Competitive Colleague Fairly

  1. 1

    Acknowledge Her Efforts as a Teacher

    Again, the overly-competitive colleague’s behavior is probably based on deep-seated insecurity and need for validation. So validating her upfront will probably go a long way to smoothing the situation over. When she brags about her class and her great interactions with students, validate this by asking about her activities in class, for example, or what she does to build relationships with students, such as, “Oh, it sounds like you have such great student-teacher relationships! What are some ways you facilitate that?” In this way, the instructor may open up and share her ideas because she’ll feel less threatened.

  2. 2

    Pleasantly Set Boundaries

    If some of the overly-competitive colleague’s behavior is unacceptable to you, say so while remaining polite. “I’m sorry, but I’d really rather not discuss student gossip with you. Actually, I’d rather you not gossip with students, either.” Or make a small joke: “You know, I really believe what people think about me in none of my business.” This sends a message of what is and isn’t acceptable to you, and the kind of communications you will participate in, while still remaining polite.

  3. 3

    Be a Role Model

    If the overly-competitive instructor sees you unfailingly focused on your class and serving your students, not getting distracted by what others are saying or undercutting colleagues, he may follow suit in also spending his time more productively on lesson planning and marking papers so that bragging about how great he is becomes less necessary or even possible, given time constraints. At minimum, he will probably get the message that you don’t have time for and are not receptive to gossip and complaints, and he may look for someone else to pull into the negative dialogue, as it is impossible to carry on a conversation with a brick wall that is not responding.

  4. 4

    Unplug Yourself from the Grapevine

    Another positive element of focusing on your work rather than on chatting with challenging colleagues is that it unplugs you from the sometimes toxic grapevine of the teacher’s lounge. Networking with other teachers can be great—if it’s focused on the positive, such as trading lesson and materials ideas, for example, or how to serve specific students. Such an environment can quickly turn negative by one person who is not focused on the productive. Removing yourself from the teacher’s lounge and complaints, bragging, and gossip limits the negative energy and again shows that you won’t participate in these behaviors. It also frees up time and energy to be spent more positively. Saying something like “I’d love to chat, but I have papers to correct and lessons to plan” speaks volumes about where your priorities are.

  5. 5

    Befriend the Overly Competitive Colleague

    Sometimes the overly-competitive colleague actually feels isolated and lonely—not surprising, given her alienating behavior—so attempts at befriending her might be effective. When she begins complaining about other’s classes, for example, or bragging about her own, divert the conversation by asking about some favorite activities she does in class and then perhaps moving the conversation to the more personal by asking about her life outside of class, what her favorite free time activities are, and so forth. This may give the instructor the recognition she wants and less need to complain and brag.

  6. 6


    Sometimes the more indirect methods mentioned here so far are ineffective with the overly-competitive colleague: he doesn’t acknowledge your boundaries, for example, or respond to your efforts to befriend him. It is at this point you may have to say directly what it is that you find unacceptable in his behavior and ask for a change: “I find your conversations with students about my classes unacceptable. Please stop. Send students to me if they have concerns.” The colleague here may protest he doesn’t invite the complaints from students; they just find him a natural confidante. Acknowledge that might very well be so, that students find him more approachable—but you would still prefer that he send students to you with concerns about your class. Usually the instructor at this point will either agree with the request, or he may then come out and admit that he really is the one with concerns about your class, not so much the students. This is a more difficult conversation, of course, and it is up to the individual instructor how much she wants to listen to the competitive colleague’s concerns. Perhaps the best choice is to ask what his concerns are, listen briefly and say you’ll think about his comments, and then suggest that his time might be more productively focused on his own class. Again, this sets a boundary of what you find acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Dealing with overly-competitive colleagues is not so easy because they are insidious: few people, of course, will come out and say directly, “I am the greatest, and you are not!” However, by setting boundaries, being a role-model, and befriending the competitive colleague, the negative energy from the relationship can be limited or even turned into something more positive.

Do you encounter overly-competitive colleagues?

What are some methods you use to deal with them?

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