Coping w/ Negative Colleagues

Negativity from others is something you may experience in all walks of life, but how does one deal with negativity when it’s pervasive in a close-knit International School community?

I’m not at a particularly great International School, I’ll say that much. It’s a third-tier school but I make it work and I am happy here. The admin, however, has been making major changes which, (we’re told) will be positive in the long-run. But I feel the constant upheaval in the short-term is creating some issues, causing some teachers to develop a negative attitude. Most of those issues have to do with the admin implementing the changes all at once.

My problem is that there’s far too much negativity because of this happening. Normally I’m an optimistic, upbeat person, content to simply do my best in my classroom, contribute through extra-curricular activities & go about my workday as well as I can. However, the negative attitude by a group of teachers has really been getting to me lately. It’s impossible to ignore or to remain uninvolved.

I can feel a negative mind-set creeping in. How do seasoned teachers cope with negative colleagues that bring you down?

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23 thoughts on “Coping w/ Negative Colleagues

  1. I used to stay so far away from negative people at work, especially in a group. I was at a school where every Friday a LARGE group of teachers trashed our admin and it use to make me so uncomfortable because I actually agreed most of the time with the admin and could also see their humanity. I stopped going and lost friends. But I am happier to be away from the negativity. However, there are times when I see a staff member getting bullied or unfairly treated by admin and if someone needs to vent to me privately and I can see what they are saying, I am okay with that. There are poor admin out there who are cruel to some staff and I have witnessed that over the years. I think in international schools they get away with a lot of bullying, the admin, I mean. I don’t think international principals are as good at their jobs as public school administrators, in my experience. I have worked in both sectors. I think so many international administrators aren’t accountable to staff but rather the board or can be arrogant. But, I still like to stay as positive as possible overseas because you need a support system when you are away from family, not a gripping group.


  2. A lot of these responses deal with negativity at toxic schools – which I can somewhat understand. You’ve been in a country too long, the country is difficult to live in, administration makes your life harder while not having your back, colleagues that you don’t get along with…. I get it and have been there.

    But what about negativity at the top schools in desired location? Fortunate to be at one now and simply cannot get over the people who turn negative over just about everything. Even a Friday afternoon beer turns into a moaning session about just about everything. My strategy is to avoid at all costs but this doesn’t always work. Ideally a transfer program from the top schools back down the ladder would be the best solution!


    1. I just read your post with a smile, Dizzle. Sadly, over the years, I’ve gradually withdrawn more and more from socialising with colleagues – they are either miserable, negative and bitter, OR worse – gossiping, bullying, patronising etc. I smiled too when I saw the TED talk by Ken Robinson, when he wryly painted a picture of the anti-social image that most teachers have…

      Find friends who are not teachers, or at least work at another school…


  3. After more than 20 years in the profession, I find that if I haven’t something constructive to say, better to say nothing. If you can’t be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem.
    Complaining on its own is a very negative, destructive response to unsatisfactory work conditions, environment, terms, pay, too many kids etc. There’s a whole raft of potential causes for negative attitudes. What DOES need to happen is that staff need to have a forum where they can vent their frustrations and comment on those issues that bring them down on a day to day basis. Whether it be a regular meeting for all disgruntled staff or a chat group on a social media platform – or something else. If people can share their problems they can often find both comfort in knowing they’re not the only one who’s irritated by this or that major/minor issue as well as hopefully reaching a collaborative solution that everyone buys into.


  4. I’m not one of those people who can easily shut up – and I’m also not one of those happy-go-lucky “everything’s coming up roses” people who drift through their two years then bugger off elsewhere leaving others to clear up the mess. But equally I will defend management where it’s justifiable or understandable.

    The simple way to deal with negativity is to ask “well, what would you do?” If they have a well considered answer, then fine – but most I’ve encountered don’t. They also don’t have an understanding at times of what binds senior management – and senior management sometimes need to learn how to get across the message that they understand the problem but can’t do anything about it.


  5. I try to redirect the conversation to something more neutral. It is sad when a very competent classroom teacher poisons the air around her/him with negativity.


  6. We are in a really testy situation. A tough country (poverty, security, smog, dwindling enrolment numbers, the most difficult parents ever encountered, the worst students, cheating – name it, this school struggles with it) BUT the worst part – we have a miserable Superintendent. She has been here a long time, apparently got the job by default 3 years ago, married to a local (aloof, entitled too) and word has it they are only committed to seeing their child graduate.

    Miserable: distant, haughty, a messenger of half-truths, appears to withdraw when questioned or challenged, does not keep promises made during interviews, low energy, intimidated by anyone competent.

    Dealing with this negative environment and dysfunctional head: We are hanging onto our sanity by keeping to ourselves, focusing on moving on, upskilling and building resume, have stopped questioning anything. Everyone is doing the same. No social life whatsoever, not even within our housing community.

    Will do a school and head review when out of country on a different IP address.


  7. I have found that some of the least competent teachers are also the most negative. I avoid them like the plague and stay out of the clique situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I minimize my time in thr staff lounge because many complaining types hang out there looking for an audience. If someone does share a complaint with me I quickly say I am late to go to a meeting or somewhere–sorry gotta run OR if I am trapped I respond to what they are saying with a “hmm” and no more. Once people find out you won’t participate in the complaining game they quit airing their complaints with you. Seriously there are some crap jobs out there, crap students, difficult bosses, dreadful conditions. But if I can’t change it then I won’t spin my wheels by listening to others’ rants/complaining as they tend to go round and round on same topic(s) and waste massive loads of my time.


    1. Yes you are totally right. And internationally, what can you do to help. The admin and board have all the power. If a person can’t make it work, even if they are right, they need to move on to another position with a better fit.


  9. One of the worst principals I had in international teaching told me he used an old management strategy of “not taking the ‘monkey off the back’.” The idea was that if teachers came to him with problems, he would send them away with the problems, or he would end up with the ‘monkey on his back.’ A very selfish approach that alienated him from the staff, caused a multitude of problems to develop and eventually got him fired.

    Being a good colleague OR a good manager involves being a good listener as well as finding ways to solve problems. There are too many mercenary and selfish people in international teaching and ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed.’


  10. Now on my ninth international school..can I be racist and say that the negative doom-sayers are in my experience always teachers from the UK…the rest of the citizens of the world always seem pretty positive to me.


    1. Nothing like a good old generalization and tarring with the same brush to bring people together.
      You would have thought that people would take the invitation to share solutions to the problem rather than point out one particular nationality and make a generalization which is invariably not the case at all. Maybe in your experience, but your experience is clearly prejudiced anyway.


  11. I had a colleague in a Mexican school who was an American, an old timer and a real pain. He was rude, aggressive, judgemental, dismissive of change, jealous and rancourous to a fault. He confronted me in every staff meeting and sniped from the sidelines. I finally had had enough and reported him to the school principal, who took action and shut him up. After that we rarely talked or even acknowledged each other. Then I decided that maybe things could be repaired or remediated so I sat down with him and asked him about his experiences at the school and why he felt it necessary to be so confrontational. He actually turned out to be cooperative and this talk paid dividends as I used some of his better ideas to help the kids (who he genuinely cared about), to succeed in their graduation objectives and he felt vindicated as well….


    1. The obvious question is: why wasn’t it a good idea to have the valuable conversation before reporting him to the principal?


  12. I have worked at about 6 international schools around the world, and the one that I work now is extremely toxic. I also consider myself pretty positive, but I have been negative than I’ve ever been at this school. Therefore, I decided to leave this school at the end of the school year.

    The coping strategies that I have used are:

    1) Don’t hang out at the staff room. – People gossip a lot.
    2) Keep things professional and focus only on what you can do in your classroom(focus on students).
    3) Do what you love doing with students. Ex. I love reading aloud to students.
    4) Compliment people that deserve it. Share how you respect them for whatever they do or why you appreciate them, etc.
    5) Treat yourself once a week to whatever you love doing.
    6) Silence. No talking or commenting on whatever the issue is in the conversation. Nothing I say has ever really changed anything, so I decided I will not waste my energy.

    I know these strategies are not ideal and will not make the environment positive or change people, but they helped me survive this year. I hope some of the strategies will help you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t find the nationality matters: it’s the person. I have actually enjoyed working with the jovial British people and Aussies and it’s been a welcomed relief. I don’t think that the worst administrators are defintely American, but I am American so what does that say about us? I think it is the person, not the country that makes a complainer or a bad admin. I have worked in mainly American based schools with Brits, Aussies, Canadians and Americans. It is not one group. I have had mainly great colleagues and made many friends of any nationality.


  13. I would posit that every teacher wants to be happy and positive. If they are not, what in their environment could or needs to be reviewed and modified? Just as a child acting out is generally a sign of their needs not being met, almost always a teacher not being passionate about their work is a sign of their needs not being met.

    (Note that by needs, I refer to basic needs such as the need for safety and adventure, community and autonomy, honesty and empathy, contribution and rest, meaning and sustenance. These are required for the vitality of any person, and our negative feelings generally stem from an issue with one of these needs).

    It is possible that these teachers are externalizing their criticisms and doubts around school because they have not been given an authentic outlet for them, in which they trust that they will be heard and considered.

    If that were the case, it would be crucial to see whether leadership chose to ignore the grumbling, squash the rebellion or…open channels of communication, hear the feelings and needs of these teachers, consider whether anything can or should be changed, explain the reasoning behind decision-making and encourage a positive team relationship, bringing them back on board with the overall team goals.

    Blaming or isolating those staff members seems to be the default. However, that is not what we would do with students (for good reason) and I don’t believe it’s what we should do with adults.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very mature response, in my opinion. A little empathy goes a long way. People have good reasons for being unhappy or negative, and if you don’t want to hear their problems, even making the effort to have a coffee (or beer) and show a little friendliness with the agreement not to talk about work may help to pick your colleague up. A lot of these people are single, lonely people who don’t have a supportive home life.


  14. This old tired refrain is the sign of a dysfunctional school, I’ve heard it so many times: “…content to simply do my best in my classroom, contribute through extra-curricular activities & go about my workday as well as I can.” It means that everyone is isolated, there’s no collaboration, and it sometimes means that this is exactly what suits the administrators. If I were you, the next time somebody complains, I’d ask “Well, what do you propose we do about it, collectively? How do we make the administrators know this isn’t working–not for us, not for the students?”

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I keep this quote above my desk, wherever I work. It’s a good reality check, considering Frankl survived the concentration camps.

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


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