A Teammate Who Will Not Team?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker-teacher who  is dependent: What I’m trying to understand here is the mentality. I think I am looking for an explanation that is more palatable than thinking someone is self-centered, obtuse, and lazy. Is there?

I read through a ton of your archives, but didn’t find this one. I am puzzled by a colleague teacher of mine. We have both been teaching several years. It is a career that will never stop being a challenge, and I’ve resolved myself to feeling at the edge of exhaustion for the next 20 some years. (Don’t worry; the students themselves make it all worth it.) Of course, teamwork is essential to surviving the insanity of public education and its quirks, and I am all for working together to lighten the load.

However, (and maybe you can guess what’s coming next here), with this colleague, it’s more like working solo and then giving all the answers to her for her to copy! Call me human but, after a semester of no reciprocation, I began to avoid her like the plague! The pivotal moment came when she came to my classroom and asked me to design a worksheet she could use for her class. At that moment, I was busy with another matter, so I told her I’d be happy to show her how to design it on the computer later, and that way she’d know how to do it for herself. Gee, I thought I came up with a great diplomatic way to subtly say, “You can do stuff, too, ya know?”She floored me when she said, “Well, since you’re making that for you class anyway, I thought I’d ask you because my time is precious and…”

Actually, she went on but I honestly have no recollection after that because puffs of smoke began spouting from my ears. She also spends much time letting the world know what a perfectionist she is (like I’m not?), but sometimes 90% of the job is just doing it and tossing perfection to the wind. I’m afraid it comes across to me as more of a ruse as to why no work is accomplished.What I’m trying to understand here is the mentality. I think I am looking for an explanation that is more palatable than thinking someone is self-centered, obtuse, and lazy. Is there?

Not a part of my question (Please edit out), but…On the bright side, I found your info on handling nosy people great! Guess what? This same colleague is also constantly asking me nosy questions and is not deflected by “Why do you want to know that?” My favorite was when she asked about something that came in the form in a private memo in my box. When I asked how she knew, she said, “Oh, I just happened to accidentally look in your box and saw it.” (My box is at kneecap level.) My principal said he ought to write something earth shatteringly false and see how far the rumor went, just to get her back. We immediately said, “Nah! That would be too mean!” (But it was a good laugh anyway!)

Signed, My Time is Precious, Too–Grr!

Dear My Time is Precious, Too–Grr!:

First I must commend you for your healthy attitude toward this problem. You have not become stressed out over it and you even seem to have a humorous view of some aspects of it. However, before the latter nosedives into the former let’s look carefully at some possible strategies. (The attitude of your principal toward the perusal of a private memo is disturbing. There is nothing on the face of this behavior that strikes me as humorous. Private memos should be delivered in a sealed envelope. Why not tactfully request that in the future he handle such memos in this fashion? He could cause himself serious problems by not protecting private information or directives.)

Your situation will not change in my estimation unless you directly confront it. I am assuming that the current term has ended and that any relief will come next year. Could you ask for a transfer to a different team? That might be the easiest solution but would not help the peer teacher rectify her problem. If I read your personality correctly, you don’t want to run from the issue but instead wish to solve it in the best interest of all concerned- -especially the peer who poses the problem.

Let’s shell down the corn. A conference with this peer seems necessary. Over the summer think back over the incidents in the past when this peer has imposed on your time and talent instead of pulling her own weight. Make a list of these. Do others on your team feel as you do? If so, collaborate with them on this list. Then decide upon the method for the conference. Also, decide if others need to be present. A perfect time might be shortly before school begins over lunch or brunch. Invite your peer to your home or nice restaurant and indicate to her that you want to discuss a work related problem with her.

If you do not want to approach the matter in this fashion, an alternative would be to keep an incident log once school starts. Include in it date, time, others involved, and a detailed narrative of the incident. I would suggest you do this for the first reporting period (6 wks, 9 wks, or whatever time frame you use before issuing report cards). Then evaluate the situation. Is it as serious as you currently surmise or have you overstated it in your own mind? (I don’t think so but- – -). Then either have a conference or feel good in that you have used a recognized process to evaluate the situation and found it not to be as serious as previously thought. If you have the conference before school starts the biggest problem will be how to broach the subject.

You have laid the groundwork, however, in your invitation. So after having your meal and chatting, just say something to the effect that you want to have a good school year for the children you will share but need her help in one key area. Then lay the cards on the table. “Several times last year I felt that you compromised my (our if you have collaborated) time by- – -. Enumerate your list.

Then indicate that she has too much on the ball and is too effective in the classroom to let this problem continue to negatively impact the team. Ask simply for more reciprocation in organizing, planning, executing, and evaluating. Tell her point blank that you in fact began to avoid her last term and do not feel comfortable doing so. Indicate that you want her on the team but ask if she could pull more of her own weight.

If you are having the conference once school begins, use your incident log and share it with her. If you hold the conference at school involve a third party as a witness. You can expect one of two things to happen. She will either be offended and isolate herself from you at school, or she will cry, apologize, and attempt to do better. If she isolates herself, the problem is solved. If she does better, she will have relapses probably, and you will have to say something like, “Yeah I will do that and you can help the rest of us by- – -.” I feel that if she does actually isolate herself it will be of short duration. She needs the rest of you and knows it! However, if she becomes overly offended, you might need to share the situation and your attempt at a solution with your Principal.

You seem to be on congenial terms with him. He most probably will appreciate your efforts. (If it comes to this, consider sharing this workplace solutions document with him so that he won’t think you are out in left field.) If your peer accepts your conference in a positive light, schedule a follow-up. In the meantime, consider maintaining an incident log focusing on positive improvement, and share it at this follow-up.

Now, you must decide if the risk is worth the potential consequences. Will temporary isolation hurt the team? Will you be the one isolated by the team? Is the peer in question professional enough to accept your constructive criticism in the spirit in which it is delivered- -an attempt to help the team and ultimately your shared students? Only you can measure these dynamics.Good luck. Let us know how things progress. Crossing troubled waters often requires the initiative of one individual to get others to join in bridge building. That bridge leads to WEGO collaboration and achievement.

Barry Hester, Guest Respondent