Tom Starkey on learning to live with your colleagues

  • Tom Starkey on learning to live with your colleagues

We can’t necessarily learn to love all our colleagues, says Tom Starkey – but not hiding from them or attacking them with office equipment is a good start…

Even if you’re naturally beloved by all, like yours truly (I haven’t heard any different, alright?), statistically, you’re bound to come across someone you have difficulty getting on with at work at some point. Now, I’m not talking about the truly repulsive specimen of the workplace bully – those guys need to be identified, flayed, put somewhere dark and damp and forgotten about; I’m referring to those who, usually through no fault of their own, just rub you up the wrong way. Like a hedgehog on gauze.

For example, if someone describes themselves as a ‘character’, I will, without a shadow of a doubt, instantly find them to be the most irredeemably tedious individual imaginable. Whenever I hear the word ‘character’ I immediately get up out of my seat, run for the nearest classroom, and start teaching whatever to whomever. Same goes for the use of ‘zany’. Or anyone with a ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here… but it helps!’ mug. Or people who smile.

And OK, I’m also fully aware that I might be ‘that’ person for other people. I’m irreverent to the point of offence in reference to the kids; I can suck the joy out of a room like it’s a punchbowl at happy hour; and I like to offer a running commentary when I mark.

Even if you’re naturally beloved by all, like yours truly (I haven’t heard any different, alright?), statistically, you’re bound to come across someone you have difficulty getting on with at work at some point. Now, I’m not talking about the truly repulsive specimen of the workplace bully – those guys need to be identified, flayed, put somewhere dark and damp Because it’s very important to me that people know that I am marking.

But you can’t spend your day teaching classes who are perplexed by your presence seeing as it’s not your subject, class, or floor. You can’t go hiding in cupboards when you spot Smiley Smilerson coming down the corridors (after all, some of them will be locked). You might even have to share an office with one of these people.

And the thing is, they aren’t malicious, nor do they have a hidden agenda of undiluted evil (they aren’t management after all*). They’re not going out of their way to make me want to shove markers in my ears, drowning out the infinitesimal detail of ‘the mad thing’ they got up to at the weekend (they went shopping at a supermarket that was not the usual supermarket where they go shopping); they’re just going through their day same as me. It’s not their fault. Or my fault. (OK the marking commentary thing is completely my fault – but you get my drift.)

People are different and sometimes these differences manifest themselves in ways that make them want to take staplers to each other. So what to do? In my crueller moments I imagine fighting to the death. With staplers. But as much as I would like them to be, schools aren’t supposed to be Thunderdomes. Schools are communities, and if we chuck departments into the mix they are communities within communities. Communities full of people doing their best for the greater good of those who are most important.

So Tracy sounds like a recently unblocked plug-hole when drinking her pre-Y11 coffee. Well, it could be worse; she could not give a damn about the kids she sees after she has finished up, slammed her mug on the desk like a Viking and strode out of the office to the classroom.

So Dave claps you round the shoulder and says ‘Cheer up! It might never happen!’ to you. Every. Single. Monday. But then again he also gives up his lunchtime to run the reading club twice a week. And yes, Tom does like to broadcast his weekly marking sessions to everyone within earshot but as well as that he… he… well I’m sure he does other, non-annoying things to level it all out somewhere.

Basically, what I’m saying is that people will get on your nerves sometimes – but as long as there’s no nefarious scheme behind it all, the right thing to do is put some headphones in, nod politely at the enthralling tale of how the veg aisle was in a completely different place, and suck it up.

Because none of us is perfect. And none of us is as annoying as the kids.

About the author

Tom Starkey is a teacher in an FE college in the north of England. He blogs at stackofmarking.word press.com. @tstarkey1212

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