In Which Negativity is Like a Tumor

I had my first dose of dealing with a negative co-worker while being in a leadership role yesterday.  I wanted to sit down and write this right after it happened, but the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my teaching career is to never say (or write) anything while upset.  So I slept on it.

This year, I’ve been put in charge of small group meetings with our middle school pod (about 12 people).  I facilitate the meetings and act as a liaison between my pod and our principal.  One of my pod-mates is a very cynical, pessimistic person when it comes to change, as he’s been teaching for nearly 30 years and is somewhat stuck in his ways.  He resents having to attend our bi-weekly meetings.  He’s a good teacher (usually), and he genuinely cares about his students.  He’s just not good at keeping his comments and complaints to himself.

So, as I was leaving yesterday, he and a group of other staff members (not all part of our pod) were standing near the front door.  As I walked by, he made a comment about our pod meetings being awful.  I stopped, looked him in the eye, and said, “Thanks,” then continued walking out of the building.  A good friend and co-worker happened to be listening too, and I’m sure he got an earful from her after I left.

When I got to work this morning, there was an apology e-mail in my inbox, and he also made the effort to walk by my room and apologize in person this morning.  I accepted his apology, but I still felt that I needed to let my principal know that it happened because it was not just between he and I, but other staff members as well.  My principal, of course, was very supportive and ensured me that I was doing a good job.

This wasn’t the first time Mr. Negative has been brought up to them, and I’m sure it won’t be the last before he retires (which could be very soon).

Was I right to inform the principal?  Did I react appropriately?  I don’t know.  I’m always looking back at these kinds of exchanges and analyzing what was said and what I could have said or done differently… I’m usually a really positive, optimistic person, and I don’t often let these things get to me – especially since I know that’s just his personality.  But it really did this time.

Any advice on dealing with Mr. Negative?

Until next time…


6 thoughts on “In Which Negativity is Like a Tumor

  1. I think it was good for you to let the principal know. If Mr. Negative is just speaking to you, that is one thing. I think it should be made clear that he is continuing to belittle people’s efforts publicly instead of going to the source. Apology or not, it is an ongoing thing that destroys morale.

  2. Hi Kelli,
    Dealing with people like this is always difficult. I’m glad you have supportive co-workers, too.

    Doing things through the boss might be officially right but person to person reconciliation is always preferable. I had a couple of instances when I was reported by people who didn’t like the way I did or said things and costly official investigations had to take place when speaking face to face could have cleared things up much quicker and a lot cheaper. in time and money. I was exonerated in both cases but it made me mad that the people who complained didn’t have the guts to face me with their grievances and discuss them rationally.

    In this instance, after Mr Negative had apologized both by email AND in person, it seems a bit mean to report him. The fact that he showed contrition means that he realises what he has done. He is older and is finding new ways difficult – I understand this (I’m 59). It is a pity that you didn’t use his apology in person to begin a discussion on the subject. He might need some reassurance that the world, as he knew it, is not going to completely tumble around him. I don’t know him, but an apology is so often the hardest thing to do and should be appreciated. He needs to be encouraged to be more positive.

    Perhaps he needs to be told that he is wanted at the meetings for the contribution he can make with his long experience.(Don’t tell him he’s old, though!) There was a time when age was respected but now older people with experience are so easily rejected by a quick- thinking new generation. You say he is a good teacher, then use that. Get him involved in the discussions positively. Use his experience. Why is he a good teacher? Why is he so negative? There must be reasons and, as a teacher, he should be able to tell you. You just have to approach things carefully and with the right, tactful questions.

    Sorry if this sounds preachy but I’ve been on his side of the fence. There needs to be give and take. He probably has much more to give than you give him credit for or he would not be a good teacher. Don’t let this escalate until it gets out of hand. It might not work if he is too entrenched, but the two things you say that I think are most significant in indicating hope are a) that he is a good teacher and b)that he was prepared to say sorry. Hopeless cases aren’t like that. If he is upset at being reported, he will feel betrayed because he apologized in good faith, so you might need to be prepared to do the same and helpful, reconciling dialogue could ensue.

    If I’m wrong, you try it and it all turns sour, feel totally free to point the finger at me. Please don’t sue, though, because I haven’t any money to pay you and I’m a long way away! I have an adage that I thought of myself as I got older, which is also true in the case of this situation getting out of control – don’t let it go too far: “Life is too short to spend it in court!” – Unless you happen to be a lawyer, of course.

    Best wishes for a good resolution,

    • Lots of really good points… I went to admin, though, because this a persistent problem. Making a comment like that undermines my authority as a teacher leader in front of our peers. He’s been getting away with things like that forever. If it had just been a comment to me privately, I would have just accepted the apology and forgotten about it.

  3. Awww it sounds like you handled it properly. He may have acted more out of line because of something going on in his personal life or he is feeling less relevant. It was a good sign that he reached out to you. I know it is difficult to keep a cool head in those situations but you did a great job. Thanks for working so hard to keep our kids educated.


  4. I meant to comment on this a long time ago when I first read it, but my list of “meant-to”s is 100 pages long. Anyhow, I tend to agree with Rosemary. Unfortunately, I know all about working with contrary, intractable older teachers. My opinion is that you kind of have to let them be who they are. Take the negativity with a grain of salt, and take their wealth of experience in the classroom as a positive. To some degree I can understand their cynicism. In education, we keep recycling the same tired ideas and try to put them in shiny new packages, and those who have been in the profession for decades recognize this easily. Now, I can only speak from my own experience, and I endured department meetings where I wanted to hide under the desk, because people were so set in their ways and viewed any difference of opinion or attempt at reasoned discussion as a personal attack. We actually reached a point where the principal had to call a special meeting with us to lecture us about collegiality and professionalism (and he was barely more than half the age of the guilty parties). I digress, but my point was– I always feel that going to the principal is tantamount to grown-up tattle-telling. We always encourage students to try to work out differences with their peers among themselves whenever possible, so shouldn’t we model by doing the same? But, your situation is unique to you and I am sure you made a measured decision. Just remember, they all have to retire eventually. :)

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