How to Deal With Mean Girls at School, and I Don't Mean the Students


I’ve always been a people pleaser, and it is in my nature to want to be liked.  I don’t know if that is good or bad, but it is who I am.

I think there are a lot of us out there in education– the teachers that want to be liked by students, parents, administrators, and colleagues.  Sometimes this can be contrary to what the job entails such as student and parent relationships.  It’s just not possible to be liked by everyone and be seen as the leader of your class.

And sometimes you just have to deal with those that are not so nice themselves.  Quite honestly, it can be a blow to your confidence and self-worth.

So today we will talk about how to deal with challenging administrators, aloof colleagues, and some just plain mean girls (or boys).

Most of you know I’ve been in this business for a very long time and every few years I come face to face with a 'bonafide ‘mean girl’ and I’m not referring to the students.  Now I use this term loosely.  A mean girl by my definition is someone you work with who may make you feel intimidated, ridiculed, or discouraged.  They may have a very negative presence, a snide look, or speak to you in a tone that is condescending.  They may even completely ignore you.  None of these make you feel great regardless of how many years you’ve taught.

And yes there are a few of these ‘mean girls’ in education.  Not many, thank goodness, but enough to make you want to reevaluate your position.

There’s some irony here that an industry that strives for inclusion and equity with students hasn’t always done the same with their staff.  There are some legal protections for teachers in serious situations through your union, but that’s not what I’m talking about today.  In situations of harassment, racial or sexual misconduct, or anything where you feel physically threatened, stop everything and file a report.

This conversation is really about how you feel when presented with uncomfortable situations and what you should do about them.  

How to handle a mean administrator:

I once worked with an administrator on my campus and I always got the feeling that she didn't like me.  Why? It was the little things I guess:  not being included in group conversations, only talking to me when I initiated a conversation, rarely smiling or sharing a happy moment.  I just felt like an outsider.  

I began to feel intimidated and my confidence suffered.  I was always walking on eggshells and felt as if I did not have her professional support on any level.

This was a tough situation because she was in a position to evaluate me and to influence the course of my time at this school.  

I felt sick to my stomach when I was alone with her and I dreaded seeing her.

Let me also say, this was at the height of my issues with anxiety and just before I sought medical advice for it.  I try to look back and ask myself if I was overly sensitive or was there really some animosity there?  Hard to say really.  But here’s how I handled it:

  1.  I learned how to work around her.  I only dealt with this person when I had to.  I feel like this was best for both of us.  I had a principal I loved and went straight to him when I could.
  2. When I did have to work with her, I mustered up as much confidence as I could and was always professional and friendly.  I vowed I wouldn’t let her ruin my day.
  3. I found support and friendship with my other colleagues.  I’m a people person so I found my people and let the rest go.


I did this for two years before she took another position and left our school.  Strangely, I felt I could breathe, and I blossomed immediately after that.  

What lesson did I learn? Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t want to, and if there is a way to work around them and get the job done, that is okay.  Your sanity may depend on it.

How to handle a mean colleague in your department or grade level:

This is a tough one.  When you have someone that you work closely with, the working relationship is very important.  You have to spend time together frequently.  

This situation happened to me when I was a bit older and had developed a thicker skin.  I didn’t feel this person was personally mean to me, but rather was just a miserable and unhappy person that brought negativity and drama with her.

I handled this situation differently.  I went out of my way to befriend this colleague.  She kept to herself mostly, so I would pop into her room and say hey.  If she was cranky, I would ask what was going on and if she needed to talk.  If I saw her do something great with her kids, I dropped a note in her box or sent her an email.  I asked for her opinion on things, and gently opened sensitive conversations about teaching.  

Eventually, her mean exterior softened a bit, and we became friends.  When I saw the old persona reappear, I would call her out on it.  It was a relationship that I think she needed probably more than I did.  Others would avoid her, but I tried something else and it worked for me.

What did I learn? We all have a story.  Everyone we work with has their own set of baggage, pain, and fear.  When we open our hearts to listen to someone, we may find that we are there to help them in some way and not the other way around.

How to handle a mean staff member that you don’t work closely with:

I’ve had a couple of these moments over the years.  I’ve had my integrity questioned, and my professional reputation challenged.  I’ve been a part of meetings where a colleague will cross a line with parents or another teacher, and I’ve had to decide how to handle it.

When dealing with mean staff members that aren’t on your daily radar, start with determining where you stand and what you will allow.  

You teach people how to treat you.  The best way to handle these mean girls is to privately confront the situation.  I’ve made appointments, walked into offices, closed the door, and proceeded to explain what behavior or treatment I would and would not tolerate.  

Start by explaining the situation as you see it.  How it impacted or affected you.  Do not accuse… just state the facts and how you expect to see things change.

It’s hard to do, but the look of shock on their faces is pretty awesome.

Other suggestions:

  • Ask for a mediator.  There are some situations where you don’t need to be alone with a person.  In that case, ask for a mediator or union rep to join you.
  • Document everything.  I strongly suggest you communicate through email and cc someone else.  It keeps everyone accountable.
  • Be professional always.  Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
  • Find a way to coexist.  We sometimes have to realize this might be as good as it’s going to get.
  • Check yourself.  If you are frequently finding yourself surrounded by ‘mean girls’, the problem might lie with you.  Be honest with yourself.

The dynamic of the workplace is important to your performance and mental well- being.  When the adults work well together the students will reap the rewards.   Don’t let perceived mean girls take away your passion for teaching.  Find ways to handle the situation professionally like an adult.  

Each time you do, you will grow as an educator.

Until next time, thank you for what you do! Bye for now.

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