Handling Disrespect from Supervisors and Others

For the most part I'm a very easy-going person. However one of the things that I cannot tolerate is being disrespected by an colleague or superior. I don’t tolerate being disrespected by a child either, but I digress. A few years ago, I had a job where I work very close with our unit lead. This individual made it a habit to berate everybody within our unit when they felt justified. I had a number of run-ins with the individual and needless to say after a few years of working with this person I was eventually let go. There wasn’t a specific event that precipitated my dismissal; it was more a buildup. I reached a point where I would no longer allow myself to be disrespected, nor would I brown-nose to keep my job. I started to stand up for myself. I spoke truth when it had to be said (sometimes to my detriment), I put my head down and did my job… and I was damn good at it. Thankfully, I landed on my feet. I have no regrets; once I stood up for myself, the blatant disrespect stopped immediately. I know I was talked about. I know I was hated on. But my work stood for itself and the people that mattered vouched for me… and they still do. Now, my decision (and implementation of it)  may have led to my ouster, but I knew my worth and I got another job.

As a teacher, I was very cordial with individuals and very polite. I am that in my current role as well. Yet I continuously strive to give  an aura of no-nonsense cordiality. Thankfully, I've never had a serious confrontation…. well, there was this one time; a “curriculum consultant” tried to son me in front of my students – “son” is the vernacular for embarrass.  I don't even remember why; it was something I forgot to do and the guy called me out on the hallway with some bass in his voice. I walked out the door halfway and he told me to do something I disagreed with and he attempted to check me. Had he came correct, I probably would have done it. But since he came at me, I told him not to ever interrupt my class like that again and I shut my door on him. Of course, he was pissed but I didn't care… don't disrespect me. This guy was a bully. He was notorious for disrespecting teachers fearful of losing their jobs because they were without tenure. I didn’t have tenure at the time this went down… made no difference to me. Needless to say, I had no more problems with dude. The encounter didn't go a long way in keeping me there, but you see my point; actually, homeboy respected me for it. He went out of his way to converse with me, and I exchanged pleasantries as well The point is, I am a professional and I will be respected.

Unfortunately, I have seen teachers get disrespected. I've seen administrators berate teachers, I've seen administrators undermine teachers, and I've seen teachers disrespect each other. That is not cool. Even more unfortunate is that there are some teachers who allow this sort of behavior to happen to them. What should you do when you're confronted by an administrator who mistreats you in the middle of an observation or during a conversation or has a lapse in momentary judgment and gets out of line? I can never advise people what they should do. However there are some tactics you can employ to assert yourself while maintaining professional poise and not stepping out of character.


  1. Sternly suggest the individual to try again; to do a conversation reset. This suggestion serves as a warning. Sometimes, any given moment may get the best of any of us. A quick reminder to anyone with the wrong tone may be enough to deescalate a disrespectful exchange on their part. If the individual catches themselves after you make that mention and apologizes, then no harm no foul. If they disregard your warning and continue in their disrespect, be prepared to engage.
  2. Check your emotions and remind yourself this is business. When outside a professional setting, anything goes i.e. cursing, low blows to one’s esteem… but this is a professional setting and the concern is over professional business so when you check someone, it should be professional. No emotion should fuel your potential response. This is a procedural issue… the procedure is that if you have an issue with my work performance or behavior, you can discuss it with me respectfully so that we can come to an agreement on what is to be done about it. An individual choosing not to follow the ‘procedure’ is breaching that procedure and that individual must rectify it before continuing. Address them in that spirit.
  3. Allow the person to finish there point and allow a pause before you address what they said and how they said it. As the individual is disrespectful to you in word and tone, stand (or sit) calmly while staring them in the face. Let them have their say. Once they have finished speaking, take a 3 to 5 second pause (10 seconds if you got some swag), and begin to talk. Not interrupting them reestablishes the expectation of respect in the conversation because you haven’t breached the procedure. Throughout the conversation, you can always comeback to reestablishing the respect necessary for this conversation to take place i.e. “please do not interrupt me while I am talking. I did not interrupt you.”
  4. Address the disrespect first, the issue wrapped in the disrespect second – do not allow the individual to escape without an apology. Do not move to discuss whatever problem or issue the other individual has until you’ve addressed their disrespect. Make sure that you immediately make the point that they disrespected you, you did not appreciate that and they need to make amends.
  5. If they apologize, good and move on.
  6. If they do not apologize, express your disappointment and
    • (6a) Hope that they come around to apologize for being disrespectful and anticipate that as a leader in the building, they would set a better tone. This gives the individual an out to continue with their problem and you an opportunity to avoid more conflict and/or regroup for a later conversation. Nevertheless, you were gracious to move on but not before you expressed your anger and intolerance of their disrespect. This is the “Tread Lightly” option. There is honor in choosing this option. You still have to work with this individual. Expressing your displeasure with their disrespect doesn’t mean future encounters need to be unpleasant.
    • (6b) Inform them that you will speak to them when they apologize, tell them you’re leaving and walk out. This is the “I am Not The One” option. If you feel like the conversation doesn’t need to go any further until the individual apologizes or if you feel like you may go back to your neighborhood self and curse out this individual, this maybe the option for you. I am an advocate of this option because I never want to say something that I will regret later on. Not to mention, this takes back control out of the hands of someone disrespecting you.
  7. If the conversation turns ugly, don't let it get any uglier… simply leave the conversation. If this happens outside the classroom, walk back in the classroom. As with 6b, just walk away. If they yell back at you to return to them, let them yell and sound crazy. You remain calm and return back to what you were doing. If they get so mad that they tell you to leave the building, get your things and leave. When you arrive at your car, write down the exchange, email or call your union representative (if you have one) to inform them of the exchange, have them advise you on what to do and get a bottle of wine on your way home. If you are without union representation, refer to United We Stand and file a complaint with human resources.
  8. Document the conversation. As soon as the conversation is over, write it down. Whether or not the conversation turned ugly… you need to write it all down and keep your account handy. Moving forward, you should take notes of every conversation you have with this individual. You never know when you will need to refer to it.
  9. If the disrespect happens in an email, request a meeting and get clarity before assuming the worst. I hate email for this very reason. If you have an issue with someone’s performance or behavior, if you can, speak to them over the phone or in person. Emailing misconstrues tone and can create problems where there was none to begin with. So either meet or call them. You may find out that it isn’t a big deal and the disrespect was in your mind… now, if an email has CAPS anywhere, it may be disrespectful. In that case, you could either speak with that person or check them over the email. Email wars aren’t the best thing to get yourself into. My suggestion is to speak to them and check them.
  10. Kill them with kindness. Remember number 2… its business, not personal. Once you’ve moved on, be kind to this individual. Do not give the individual the satisfaction of knowing they pissed you off. It sends the message that although you will check disrespect, you are unbothered by their immaturity. For example, at my school we have assigned parking spaces. I parked in an assigned spot after hours (as I do daily), and the person who the spot belonged to was mad I did that on back to school night – mind you, I did this last year with no problems. The person wrote me a stern note and put it on my car. It wasn’t nasty or disrespectful. They had a right to be mad, but the note was tone heavy. I was led to purchase a Dunkin Donuts gift card for $5. I gave it to the individual… when I say heaps of coal fell on them…The individual can hardly look at me when I pass by them… and I ALWAYS speak to them. Kindness may not kill, but it certainly humbles.

Working in an urban school district can be tough. It can be high-strung and everyone is under a lot of pressure to perform. The stakes are indeed high. But folks also need to know how to act. I’ve seen school leaders and supervisors lose their good sense being disrespectful… I’ve seen teachers do it too. You may be on the receiving end of the disrespect. But you can advocate for yourself. NEVER allow yourself to be disrespected by anyone. For years, I remained timid because of my young age. One day I got tired and made my mind up to no longer tolerate it… and not tolerate on behalf of students. My path has been interesting since. But my dignity, my respect and my word is what I stand on both professionally and personally. Always choose to defend yourself against the bullies in your building.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!


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