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, knowing how to deal with those difficult individuals in the best way possible will avoid any unnecessary conflict.  

This difficult individual may be someone that always wants to have the last say, is critical of your way of running 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, slacking off on 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, after all that, let's talk about how to deal with difficult people at work, since that is the topic for discussion in this blog. 

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 pinning a problem you may have with yourself on someone else. 

Explore what your 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, they are not necessarily in themselves. 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 have this conversation with them. 

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.  

It is important 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. 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 other staff member has caused conflict with other staff members and may be a turning point for them? 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 individual 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 a superior individual, 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. 

Another tip 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 way you can avoid being accused of things you may not have done.