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Q: I work part time as a teacher. I made this decision after working full time for years. The tipping point was having my second baby. My husband travels frequently because he consults for an out-of-state client so I wanted more flexibility. My principal totally gets it, and she’s been super supportive, down to freeing up my early mornings so I can take my baby to daycare. She also concentrated my classes in the middle of the day so I have my late afternoons with my son. So far, so good. 

Here’s where things get ugly. My direct supervisor is openly hostile about my arrangement. She doesn’t think anyone should be able to work part time because “it makes teachers impossible to manage.” She tells me I’m a burden but has no basis for the complaint. She can’t resist making digs, asking me if I stopped for a croissant on my way in to work. She’ll frequently say cutting things like, “It must be nice to take off in the middle of the day. Are you getting another manicure?” But it’s more than just the rude, bullying comments about my hours. If I make any suggestions, she’s dismissive, rolls her eyes and makes me feel like I’m not a “real” part of the department. I feel like a second-class citizen. I’m a hard-working professional just like everyone else, and I’m a good teacher. For me, it’s not a part-time job. It’s my job, period. I’m having trouble saying anything because I really love my school otherwise, and I’m afraid she’ll give me a bad review. She might even try to convince the principal to eliminate my position, if she hasn’t already. Can I fix this, or should I move along?

A: It’s always difficult to speak up when you feel vulnerable, but saying nothing isn’t working for you, either. You’ve done nothing wrong. You applied for an advertised position that makes your life more manageable, and the school chose to hire you. You meet your responsibilities and work the required hours. You’re not looking for much, just respect and a sense of belonging. It shouldn’t be hard for your supervisor to understand that people adjust their lives when their circumstances change.

My guess is that her feelings are more complicated. She sounds resentful that you have flexibility. By belittling you, she’s abusing her power. You could try talking to your principal, but I don’t recommend waiting for her to rescue you. That would be nice, but there’s no guarantee she’ll intervene. Besides, her efforts might fall short. Things might even get worse for you, especially if your supervisor knows you complained. I’d focus on making sure you’re not an easy target. That means getting in the habit of standing up for yourself now, before the cutting comments totally strip you of your confidence.

That doesn’t mean you have to be loud or argumentative. When she hurls an insult, make it clear that it’s offensive and say “that’s hurtful.” You don’t need to go into a long explanation. For example, if she asks whether you’re getting another manicure, calmly tell her the question is surprising and feels hostile. If she’s dismissive at a meeting, call her on it when you’re alone. When you self-advocate, you will feel less stressed and more in control.

Don’t feel like you have to justify your choices. She has no right to know what you’re doing after work, or why you have the freedom to work part time in the first place. Your job isn’t to make her feel more comfortable, it’s to teach kids. Her job isn’t to harass you, it’s to lead her department and help you be an effective teacher.

Besides, you’re not getting paid to work full time. You made that compromise, and while it hasn’t been ideal, it’s been the right choice for now. Your supervisor might want to eliminate all part-time positions, but I doubt your school district feels the same way. Schools invest in their employees, and they like to retain talent. To keep teachers from leaving, they need to offer some flexibility. Your supervisor is stuck in all-or-nothing thinking, and it’s coming out as contempt.

As for whether you can fix this, I don’t know. It’s worth a try. If you find that assertiveness gets you nowhere, you might want to work on a backup plan. Keep an eye out for other jobs. That way, you’ll have options if it gets really bad. You also could consider talking to human resources. Whether you work part time or full time, you deserve to be treated with respect.

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