In every school environment, or any work environment for that matter, there will always be that one staff member that may prove difficult to deal with.  However, developing strategies to help you to deal with those difficult individuals is the best way possible to avoid any unnecessary conflict.

This difficult individual may be someone that always wants to have the last say, is critical of the way you may be operating in your classroom, the way your dress, or your relationship with parents or other members of staff.  They can often be competitive with work tasks or compete with you for the spotlight when it comes to working as a team member.  This can often be a challenge if you are working in a school on an irregular basis, however, if this happens during a temporary block, the following tips may prove invaluable for you. 

The first thing that should be done to handle any of these types of situations is to address the issue head on and early on. If the unaddressed conflict is left, you will eventually become miserable and will not look forward to going to work each day, which in turn has a domino effect on the other aspects of your work, such as losing interest in your tasks, avoiding important tasks, and calling in on the occasional ‘sickie’. 

If the conflict is not resolved, you could run the risk of being labelled as “unable to solve their own issues” amongst the staff members of the school, or “unable to resolve conflict”. Each could potentially pose risk on your career or future bookings at the school. Other staff may members may notice and perhaps not recommend you for future bookings. 

So, how exactly do we deal with difficult people in the workplace?

Ask yourself these questions:  

Is the other person the root of the problem? Are you overreacting? Is there a pattern of conflict following this certain individual?... meaning have you had conflict with them before or have they had similar conflict with other staff members or parents? It is important to answer these questions in your mind first before addressing them physically to avoid imposing a personal problem you may have onto someone else. 

Discuss what you are experiencing with a trusted friend or another staff member: 

It is always a good idea to confide in another trusted individual for advice and guidance of how best to address the issue or to talk through feelings about the situation, as each person has a different perspective and different ideas of a situation. An outsider's point of view is always helpful.  As a Relief Teacher this can very often be challenging.  You may know of other Relief teachers who have been to that school and perhaps you could have this conversation with them, preferably away from the school. 

You may need to approach the person:  

When you feel confident is the best time to address the person you are having conflict with to hopefully resolve the issue once and for all. Now, this conversation could go two ways: the conflict could be resolved, or the conflict could get worse. How you handle the situation will determine this outcome, and if the other person involved is open to mediation. 

It is vital to remain calm and rational during this conversation and to be a good listener to the other person. Using “I” messages gives off the impression to the other person that you are expressing how you feel as an individual about the situation and are not attacking or accusing the other person of the wrong doings. Raising your voice, pointing your finger, or speaking disrespectfully to the other person will add fuel to an already heated situation. Use a low, calm, even monotone voice. Don't try to talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath and then speak. 

It is also important to express the impact this conflict had on you, as well as the other person, this may not be the first time this particular staff member has caused conflict with other staff members. After all, if you work in the same school, it is best to try to resolve the issue to improve the working environment and attitude. 


It is always important to follow-up after the discussion to see if the behaviour of the other person has really changed for the better or for the worse. Hoping it is not the worst, but if it is, decide if you would like to ask an executive member of staff like the principal or your head teacher to step in?   

Your focus now is to “fly under the radar” to avoid your reputation as a Relief Teacher being damaged further if connected to the conflict, this can be particularly challenging and isolating for relief teachers as you may feel unsupported by the school.  If the situation warranted, then it is wise to get some feedback from the Teachers federation to guide you. 

It is essential would be to take anecdotal notes of each incident that has occurred with this certain staff member, as physical evidence to provide if the conflict appears to worsen over time. This will support your case and a diary record is always recommended to document these incidents.  

Debrief. After the situation is over, talk to someone about what happened. Discharge your own stress. You had to put your natural reactions on hold for a while. Now is the time to discharge some of that pent-up adrenaline. Go for a run. Take your dog for a walk. Don’t let the emotions stay stuck in your body.

If these approaches fail to work, try to limit the difficult person's access to you. Protect your needs but avoid working with the person when possible. Don’t hurt your own career but avoidance is always an option.  

Jay Johnson has a great TED talk that gives some very useful tips and strategies to help you deal with difficult people in the workplace and in your personal life. 

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