Should I Report My Creepy Coworker?

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I was chatting with a group of former students over lunch. They showed me a bunch of pictures they’d taken over the summer that all looked similar, so I jokingly asked if they all hired the same photographer. That’s when they told me one of our social studies teachers took the photos for free. I didn’t react but decided to do some digging on my own. I found his Facebook page and discovered he has dozens of albums of girls from our school. While none of the pictures are overtly risqué, a lot of the captions were things like “The beautiful Georgia” or “I love the way the light hits Paloma here.” He’s a longtime teacher on our campus, and I don’t want to get him in trouble if this is a legit side hobby that he does with parental permission. I just can’t shake the gross feeling I got after finding his Facebook page. What should I do? — Creeped Out in CO

Dear COIC,

There aren’t a lot of situations where I recommend talking to a principal before trying to work things out with a coworker. This is one of them.

Most districts have guidelines on spending time alone with current students outside of school. Things like church, sports teams, and other community groups are recognized as appropriate. This doesn’t sound like something most schools would be OK with, especially if he’s not a professional photographer. But it’s not your job to investigate this, it’s your school’s job (and potentially the job of law enforcement).

We have gut feelings for a reason. Good on you for listening.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m at a wonderful new school this year but am realizing I’m on a team whose after-hours commitment level far exceeds mine. The department chair asked us to meet for hours to plan on a Saturday before school started. This was already outside of my comfort zone, but I wanted my new department to see me as a team player and figured this was a one-off. Now I’ve discovered not only the Saturday planning session is a monthly commitment, but once a week they stay an hour after school to go over data. This is in addition to the daily planning time we have built into our PLCs! How do I politely excuse myself from all of this without seeming like the grumpy new guy? —Probably The Grumpy New Guy

Dear PTGNG,

We’ve been talking about boundaries a lot lately here at WeAreTeachers: what they are, why we need them, and how to phrase them. Setting boundaries is tricky even when you know the other person really well. Doing so with your new team (that apparently runs on unpaid labor) adds a whole ‘nother layer of yikes.

It sounds like you have a great opportunity here to clarify your boundaries with your team. Being clear about your needs shows your team you are reliably honest. Making excuses month after month or showing up with a negative attitude would only build resentment.

I don’t think people always need to explain why they’re setting a boundary. In this case, though, with people who are still forming opinions about you as a professional, it might help to illustrate your prior experiences with overcommitment or burnout. Say something like, “I feel so lucky to be a part of this team. I want to make sure I’m a valuable and trustworthy team member, and part of that is being transparent about the commitment I’m comfortable with. I’ve seen at my last school how patterns of overcommitment negatively affect my personal life. I’m not in a position where I’m willing to take on more outside of school right now, but I still want to help our department. I would love to talk about other ways I can be a valuable and supportive team member.”

It could be that your team is in a totally different life situation. Who knows? Maybe other people on your team feel the same way and have been afraid to set boundaries. I have a feeling that this conversation with your coworkers will model not only your integrity in addressing an issue but a healthier work-life balance for everyone else.

And if they don’t take well to hearing no? Maybe it’s time to find a different team.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I teach fifth grade and love it. My assistant principal—who is also my appraiser—and I could not be more different when it comes to teaching. I think silent reading time is hugely beneficial. She thinks it’s a waste of time. She is authoritative; I’m more gentle. I like using natural light and lamplight in the classroom instead of the overhead lights. She flips on my light switch every time she comes in. I like to have wordless music playing softly while kids are working. She says it’s a distraction. What do you do when you and your appraiser are totally at odds over what seems like… everything? —Sighing Into the Void

Dear SITV,

Oof. This would frustrate any teacher.

If your appraiser was simply noting differences in your styles, that would be one thing. But it sounds like some of these discrepancies between your way and Her Way could unfairly hurt you on an evaluation.

First, do your homework. Gather data on why silent reading is good for kids and the guidelines you’re following. Find information from reliable sources on whether natural or artificial light is better for students’ eye development and mood. Even better is if you can provide your own data on how these factors affect student performance on standardized test scores in years where you did things differently.

Then, the next time she passive-aggressively (or aggressive-aggressively) belittles the way you run your classroom, invite her into a conversation about why. Knowing your data can help you meet her where she is and gently show her she’s wrong that your classroom decisions are backed by research. (“Oh, I thought the same thing about natural light in classrooms at first. But did you know…?”)

If she keeps it up, though, just turn off her light switch the next time you walk by her office.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected]

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Last year was my first year at a new school (kindergarten teacher here). Looking back, I almost had exclusively negative experiences with our receptionist. She gossips, plays favorites, and vents about who she likes or doesn’t like often within earshot of parents waiting in the office. But the worst was when my partner teacher needed to send a child to the office for hitting another student. I was making copies right next to the office and heard the receptionist laughing, joking, and agreeing with the student that Mrs. Evans “can be really mean sometimes.” I never told anyone this—it was the last week of school and didn’t seem like the right time to bring up a potentially explosive issue. The receptionist seems to really like me, but it bothers me that she’s so toxic and unprofessional. Should I complain this year, or will this come back to haunt me later? —Do Snitches Get Angrier Receptionists?

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