Sycophants, Brown-Nosers & Snitches

Full of compliments, wheedling for information & eager to use you for their own end, sycophants, brown- nosers & a snitches have one thing in common: They’re not your friend, & given the chance, can prove quite detrimental to your emotional & professional well-being at your current school & beyond.

The aforementioned species of teacher is easily spotted. They compliment admin no end at faculty meetings. They pump you for information when they just happen to run into you in the hall. They have their noses where they don’t belong. They’re the self-appointed eyes & ears of admin, reporting all they see/hear back to their “master.” Members of this species may even enjoy favored teacher status, chumming around with their Director or Principal who have been known to send them out on “spy missions” like so many minions. Sadly, instances of this are well documented in ISR School Reviews.

My last school had its share of sycophants, brown-nosers & snitches who hung out with the Director. A member of this group unfortunately had it in for an outstanding teacher & filled the Director’s ear with gossip & half-truths. Sadly, the Director encouraged & rewarded the ‘snitch.’ Soon the situation led to a conference where differences of opinion quickly escalated into an ugly situation. The targeted teacher was soon thereafter drummed out of the school.

The question is: How do YOU deal with sycophants, brown-nosers & snitches? If they are supported by a weak, suspicious administrator it can be a particularly delicate situation. Short of isolating yourself in your classroom, how do YOU rise above this situation?

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19 thoughts on “Sycophants, Brown-Nosers & Snitches

  1. Vile toadies elevated to positions of responsibility is a red flag for poor leadership. At my current school, keeping a low profile (not attending their happy hours and other unofficial, self-paying, off-campus social events) resulted in retaliation, further ostracising, and repeated reprimands (some public) from admin for ‘not being friendly and social’ enough. I work in a highly collaborative role which is based on developing relationships across the school – I cannot just ‘shut my door and teach’. This is not my first rodeo – I have worked in international schools for almost a decade – so I do my best to ignore the toxicity and continue to do my job and slowly but surely build up trust and collaborative relationships. But at the end of the day, I am human and it takes a huge psychological toll.

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  2. This seems to be a common problem in international schools. Especially schools where people are living together in a work-related expat “bubble” community. I don’t really consider placements where one has to live on a compound or is not able to make a real connection with the culture/country/local population outside of school. I think the best thing to do is not to socialize too heavily with colleagues if you don’t have to. I’ve seen it create a LOT of drama and the immaturity and unprofessionalism was surprising to me after teaching in the public sector of my home country. There are some really toxic people out there that probably wouldn’t really be able to get positions elsewhere and you will see that is why they stay at the same jobs for a very very long time. It’s a lot like middle school from what I have observed :/

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  3. Manly years ago I worked at a new school that was just opening on the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand. The director came from IS Bangkok and brought with him his favorite little group of Sycophants to open the school. To my dismay I had landed in a nest of brown-nosers and Sycophants who the director supported no matter how ridiculous their accusations. It was one of the most disgusting, insulting situations. I eventually told the director and each member of his little group that I refused to be part of this idiotic situation and essentially told them all to F off. I finished out my contract and left as did many others. The unfortunate part of International Schools is the directors are often not qualified to lead. A summer course or a doctorate in education does not make leader.

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    1. So spot on with your comments. Resonates with me on many levels. There is also a new breed of heads of departments who are handpicked by administrators to check boxes (sometimes due to common nationality they share), rush their agenda without duly consulting teachers, or just go to their favorite two or three teachers and ignore the rest. These folks won’t stop at anything until their masters promote them to a senior leadership position. The same heads aren’t often the most well-informed teachers nor have the required expertise in matters of teaching and learning. They simply memorise a bunch of buzz words at workshops and simply repeat like a parrot. Some of them are as hollow as bamboo.

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  4. I once worked in a school in where the academic staff regularly walked into the principal’s office to cry or complain to him about people around the school or every minor issue. If there were issues with professionalism, he rarely made the effort to hear both sides of the stories, but would entertain those who went into his office to whinge. He treated them like his mates. As such, everyone kind of felt like they had to be the first ones to run into his office if they had issues with other staff members or else they would look bad, or he wouldn’t like them as much as they whiny ones who ran to him to complain first. People who minded their own business and people who weren’t in his ‘complain circle’ were the butt of jokes and gossip around the school. It was such an incredibly toxic environment. The ironic thing was that they also complained about him behind his back, but he didn’t know and he still treated them like royalty. It makes me laugh to this day because they all left and he’s still there now.

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    1. When I have the opportunity to open a new school or go into one that needs support, I take my team with me wherever possible.

      Yes it rattles people a bit, but having a team that you trust from the start, you know will make decisions that are best for the school and don’t take any nonsense makes life easier.

      We are most certainly not the A-team and I can’t always guarantee who is available but I can usually get two to three key positions filled with people that I know.

      They enjoy working for me, but more importantly they have the same shared vision for education, which means having others there to question decisions if they are sometimes a bit wayward, as they can be in more challenging places.

      Do you wanna be in my gang?

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  5. You will always find people like this in any school or place of business. Getting out means you just wind up in a similiar situation. Just be above it all, chose your friends and ignore the rest. Thats what I did, no problems. Its human nature, there will always be competing groups no matter what the size of the staff.

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    1. Anonymous, many many years ago now my father once said you will always come across people in work who you don’t get on with, and also, if you are unfortunate enough, bosses you do not get on with. He said as you do, just stick it out. I was young at the time, but I remember my response to him (this was back in the 60’s), and the response was why go through all that hurt when if you simply looked next door you might find a boss and a bunch of people you do get on with. True, difficult in the ‘international’ arena to meet people who have integrity, but they do exist, albeit rarely.

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  6. Toxicity was rampant at my last international school. People trying to leap-hop one another and treating others badly in the process. It’s fairly normal in most schools unfortunately. My advice: get on with your job, keep away from toxic people and stay positive.

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  7. What’s described here are people that exist in schools where that kind of culture is cultivated. This speaks more to leadership than to the existence of such self-appointed eyes and ears. My thought is that if you find such people in a school with any level of authority themselves, you will find an administration that condones it in the first place, and there are probably other warning signs that it isn’t the place for you.

    Basically, as I see it, you have three options:

    1) Lay low, get a good recommendation from your supervisors, and look elsewhere. I eventually reached this point with a school that had obvious issues with leadership playing favorites. Best decision I ever made.

    2) Lay low and hope for a change in leadership. How long that might take is anyone’s guess. I tried this in the school I referenced in #1 and found that it wasn’t worth the wait. Even though I was never one to be targeted as an informant or one being tattled on (it helps when you give them nothing to hold over you) I found the morale to be so poor that leaving was what was going to resolve the issue for me.

    3) Deal with it. This is probably the worst choice because it requires you to continue existing in a potentially intolerable situation. But for some, the move can be difficult, for example, if you’re at an age where changing countries would be difficult or you have trailing dependents that schools don’t want to take on.

    Fact is, there are likely more problems than sycophants, brown-nosers and snitches in a school where they exist. In the immediate sense, the best thing you can do is much like what you do on the Internet: don’t feed the trolls. Professionalism is defined in part by not engaging in that kind of behavior. So, one is best off to do his/her job and evaluate options that would remove one from the situation in the intermediate and longer terms. I know it’s an oversimplification of a more complex set of circumstances, but for brevity’s sake I think it’s about as much as I can boil it down.

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    1. In a very similar situation I found the best defense is to become invisible and concentrate only on job performance. Luckily I found a better school with better colleagues and the sycophant that made my professional hell for a few years moved away and became Italy’s problem.

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  8. In my previous leadership role there was a teacher whose behavior was very unprofessional. She was friends with the head of school and therefore thought she was untouchable. The HOS seemed to be using her as his spy. The information she would share with me, and about me, was stuff she should not have been privy too. Luckily circumstances changed and I didn’t have to be there any longer. I definitely could have seen myself having conversations regarding her professionalism in the near future.

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  9. After my first year, I ate lunch in my classroom. The most toxic place in the entire school was the staff lounge. Sadly, most of the people described in the article above tend to become admin themselves because the “masters” always reward their little birds with recommendations. One dude that I worked with ended up as Principal of ISD China after being a classroom teacher for only three years. All because he sucked up so hard to the admin team they over sold him to ISS. Sad.

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  10. I found I was much happier isolating myself in my classroom. Kids started hanging out there during lunch and I had a ball with them. Would they have done so had the temperature not been excruciatingly hot? Maybe not. But if you hang out in the faculty lounge, you’ll surely meet the pathetic quislings you reference – and there may not be enough airsick bags available. I know the vile “species” you are talking about only too well. Failing that, take Got the t-shirt’s advice.

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  11. I avoid anyone who tries to instigate problems at work. I rarely disclose my true feelings about the work place to anyone as you never know if you can trust your colleagues. From past observations, I have seen some who truly appear sincere and approachable but is really working undercover. I do my job snd keep my nose down

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    1. You definitely can’t fix it from the bottom up. It’s indicative of deeper issues, ones that usually start at the top and filter down. So, I agree. If at all possible, secure the positive reference and get out.

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