This is the Way We Should Do It: The 5-Minute Guide To Dealing with Control Freaks in the Classroom

This is the Way We Should Do It
The 5-Minute Guide To Dealing with Control Freaks in the Classroom

Stacia Levy
by Stacia Levy 13,843 views

We all know controlling people and perhaps deal with them on a daily basis: those people who need to be in charge, in control, and refuse to share leadership is the simplest definition of “control freak.”

We don’t necessarily expect students or other school staff to demonstrate this personality type, however, as the cultural expectation is that the teacher is the leader within her own classroom. However, since control freaks occupy all walks of life, it should be anticipated some students and school staff are control freaks or demonstrate some of their personality traits, and the traits of course can also be found among parents and others within the larger school community. Because their behavior is insidious and can damage a classroom environment, the behavior of a control freak must be recognized and addressed.

Remember These 6 Traits of a Control Freak

  1. The first step of addressing the control freak personality, since the task can be quite overwhelming, is simply recognizing you are dealing with a control freak. Again, control freaks can exist in all walks of life, but they share common characteristics, which follow.

  2. 1

    Takes Leadership Automatically

    The first sign that you are dealing with a control freak is there’s an apparent assumption on her part that she will be in charge. Some students, classroom volunteers, instructional assistants, and parents will enter a classroom or school committee and automatically assume, or try to assume, a leadership role. They will use tactics such as correcting students and teachers, bringing in material such as books and pictures from home--without mentioning it to the instructor or committee chair-- and then take up time showing it off. These methods bring attention to the control freak, and from there, control of the agenda and direction of the class or committee to the control freak, which is her intent.

  3. 2

    Assumption of Expertise

    In addition to taking leadership in areas she really has no authority in, the control freak will often assume expertise in an area where she has no apparent qualification. Her very conviction that she is qualified to lead will blind her to her lack of competence, such as assuming that a group of Asian students working together are all “Chinese” and that an apostrophe goes in front of all “s’s.” The control freak will not hesitate to point out such “lapses” in classroom procedure and expectations.

  4. 3

    Dwells on the Inconsequential

    Perhaps because of the lack of expertise, there is a lack of sense of the “big picture,” so the control freak “micromanages” and get wrapped giving orders over the inconsequential, such as the “correct” method to stack books or arrange papers--again, not hesitating to give orders on the matter.

  5. 4

    Disregard of Other’s Input and Feelings

    Because control freaks are so strong in their conviction that they are right and that certain calamity will ensue if their orders are not followed exactly, they don’t hear other’s input, such as that you’d really rather not dwell on whether or not the postures are hung “correctly” on the wall and in fact don’t care very much.

  6. 5

    Needs to Be “Hit over the Head”

    The control freak doesn’t respond to subtle signs that her behavior isn’t appropriate and that her orders will not be followed: unreturned phone calls, unread emails, and simply ignoring her orders and plans don’t register with her because she assumes it was an oversight on your part.

  7. 6

    Oversensitivity in Her Own Feelings, Easy to Take Offense

    While being often insensitive in her treatment of hers, the control freak, because of her social tone deafness, is unaware of her own dictatorial qualities and therefore is offended when other’s negative responses such as ignoring her, refusing to follow her orders, asking her to please wait her turn to speak, and so forth, finally register with her. She may accuse others who do this of being “rude,” taking challenges, even relatively polite challenges, to her authority as an offense.

Because of her strong personality and poor interpersonal skills, the control freak can be quite difficult to deal with, but some strategies prove effective.

... And Learn These 7 Ways of Addressing a Control Freak

  1. 1

    Don’t Take It Personally

    Control freak behavior is not about you and your lack of competence, weak will, or over-niceness (as the control freak might herself imply), but rather the control freak just being who she is and engaging in behavior customary to her. Recognizing this will help you pinpoint and then address the control freak’s inappropriate behavior, rather than internalizing it as something deficient in your own.

  2. 2

    Remain Professional

    Control freaks are unsettled and often stymied by a cool, professional response to their behavior. It can be very difficult to respond to the objective verbal or written observation that “We have standard curriculum we need to address today, so your cooperation is greatly appreciated.” However, if you snap at her to shut up and sit down, this is the response the control freak is often looking for, resulting in an argument over who is ruder, right, or wrong, and so forth.

  3. 3

    Don’t Alter Your Plans to Accommodate Her

    If you had envisioned a shared leadership in your curriculum committee, for example, don’t yield to her assumption that she is going to be “the leader” but proceed with assigning leadership roles within the group. Again, this can be hard for the control freak to address because it would require her actually coming out and demanding to be in charge, which may not be well received by the rest of the group.

  4. 4

    Gently Fill in the Where There Are Gaps in Her Knowledge or She Is Simply Incorrect

    Be courteous, but if she doesn’t know of a major author in an area of study, for example, feel free to share it yourself. Educate on her on the standard use of punctuation or the different cultural groups that may be called Asian. Again, remain courteous and professional, but don’t let the incorrect or incomplete information stand. Consider this one more opportunity in your role as teacher to educate someone.

  5. 5

    Acquaint Her with the Big Picture

    Point out the areas of symbolism, for example, or of inference, that go beyond the literal interpretation or surface features of the text she wants you to focus on. Instead of getting hung up on how the books should or should not be stacked, discuss with her the value of group work/peer learning. Again, consider this an opportunity to educate someone in a field she has taken apparent interest in, for whatever reason.

  6. 6

    Share with Her Your Feelings

    A simple interpersonal technique is to use “I--” statements. So instead of saying “You’re being really pushy,” which she will probably heatedly deny, say “I feel disrespected/frustrated when you interrupt me,” which she can’t really argue and say that no, she doesn’t think you do feel that way. In addition, this provides needed feedback to the control freak of the effect of her behavior on others.

  7. 7

    Be Prepared for Tantrums

    Because she is so used to taking power and not sharing leadership, the control freak may be angered when she understands that isn’t happening. And then because she is can be easily offended and doesn’t know another means of dealing with her anger, she will may as a last resort throw an adult tantrum and threaten to quit the project, leave the class, or resort to name calling and other ad hominem attacks. Don’t be swayed by these tactics. Remain firm, express regrets about her anger, but let her know that her anger is hers to own and that threats will not change matters.

Dealing with control freaks is a major life challenge. However, their behavior must be addressed in order to maintain peace of mind and a productive environment.

How do you deal with control freaks?

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