When Your Principal is the Bully

What to do when your principal is the bully.

When I wanted to become a teacher it was because I had a passion for teaching and learning.  I had a fairly positive experience in school and I just felt a calling to teach kids.   But college did not prepare us for the politics in schools.  It did not prepare us for dealing with difficult people.  So what do you do when you are being bullied? And even more so, what do you do we the bully is your principal?

Let’s start with a general definition of workplace bullying. I define workplace bullying as the mistreatment of individuals that is purposeful, unfair, and continuous.  Bullying happens between teachers and between administration in many schools all over the world.  It is often not talked about publicly because of repercussions taking a stance.  In the legal sense, it will vary from state to state and I am by no means giving legal advice.

What do to When Your Principal is the Bully

  • Document every interaction.  Print out email conversations and keep a written journal of things that happen.  This is super important.
  • Document the positive too.  Write down and start collecting artifacts proving you are a good, strong teacher.  Test scores, things that happen in your classroom, quotes from parent and students, and those kinds of things.
  • Be prepared every time when you speak to your principal.  Be thoughtful in what you say.  If you are meeting with them about a certain topic, go into the meeting prepared with list in your notebook of positive things you have done with regards to that.  Often times when you deal with a bully, you are so taken off-guard and this will help you to remember what to say.
  • Think about what they are saying?  Their delivery may not be the best, but do they have a valid concern about something in your classroom?  Make changes and document it.  Make sure you are putting forth effort to grow and become a better teacher.  For example, if your classroom management is the issue, try our Pass the Positive strategy. It really works wonders with the kids.
  • Try to build a positive relationship with your boss.  Talk to them about things that are not related to the issues you are having.  Be friendly.  I know it’s hard, but it may just be that your administration does not really know you are a great person.
  • Build positive relationships with others.  Your vice principal, behavior coach, reading specialists, and people who work closely with your principal on a regular basis.  If these people know you are a good person, they will speak highly of you and that may help.
  • Be very careful who you talk to about your issues.  Pick one or two very close teacher friends to speak to about it and that’s it if you must.  Even if everyone knows your principal is cray-cray, don’t participate in the negative talk.  It’s just not good and it won’t help the situation.
  • Try to keep some perspective.  An administrator is one person and usually they have to have some pretty heavy documentation to get rid of someone (tenured or not.)  If you are not on a formal plan, you are most likely not on the road to being let go even though it may feel that way.  And if you are on a plan, do as many of the ideas as you can here to help build a more positive relationship with your admin.  Remember, this is just one person’s opinion and you have formal processes started, you are most likely fine.
  • Start planning a school change, if you can.  If you are having issues with an administrator bullying you, I would guess that it is not a very positive environment you are in.  “I can’t move, I won’t get a good referral.”  Don’t worry about it.  Good principals know that this thing happens out there.  And any principal who is going to take your bully-principals word over other references is not somewhere you want to be anyways.  Deciding you are going to make a change and mentally letting go of your stuck situation will take a huge load off your shoulders.  Read here for some tips about how to knock-em-dead during a teacher interview.
  • Contact your union if you have one.  If you have outside help, why not use it right?  Does everyone have a union, no.  But if you do, you should definitely contact them.
  • At a certain point you might want to consider getting your district involved too.  I am by no means saying go over their head, but you don’t have to be bullied either.

A little story.  A small part of the article I wrote about Teachers Who Bully Other Teachers was about a principal I had worked with in the past.  My relationship with her did not start well.  This principal thought it was appropriate to give me my first informal evaluation on my first day teaching a new, very strict reading program on my second week of working for her.  First day.   It was a mess.  I was taken to her office and basically told she regretted hiring me and was concerned for my students.  It was the first day.  I did not know the flow of the program.  I was new to the school and so I did not have processes really in place yet for my management to seem effortless.  Sigh, extremely frustrating to start the year like this.

This relationship went on for months this way.  I cried a lot.  I felt very threatened and scared for my job.  I joined the union and I even questioned leaving.  I questioned if I was fit to be a teacher in today’s world if this is what it is like.  It was so bad, I remember days driving to school and thinking to myself, “if I just get in an accident this morning, I can go to the hospital instead of work.”  Sad really.

I know I was not the only teacher at this school who felt this way.  I quickly figured out I chose to move to a school that did not have a positive environment.  It got better as this woman and I got to know each other more, but it was never really a good environment to be in and I eventually left the school.  I eventually left over this and some of the things I was expected to do with my students – it just did not align with my beliefs about teaching and learning.

What to do when your principal is the bully.

I know there are lots people out there who are in this situation.  I get emails from you all every week because you are afraid to talk about it.  Know that you are not alone and that you WILL BE OK.  You are in charge of your life. I am hopeful that you will have the strength to make it through the year and even more strength to make the right decisions for your placement for next year.  You don’t have to be in a negative school environment and it is not this way at every school.  You are in ultimate control, not them.  Hang in there, you got this.

There are many of us out there in this situation.  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.  And share this article with your teacher friends, you never know how may be going through a tough situation like this.

Are you dealing with a teacher bully?  Read our Open Letter to Teacher Who Bully here.

An Open Letter to Teacher Who Bully Other Teachers


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