Teacher is annoyed parents view colleague as a ‘special expert’

equality concept between two men


Q: I’m a middle school social studies teacher, and I’m no expert in executive functioning, but it irks me that one of my colleagues, Sara, is chosen Every. Single. Year. to present to parents on the topic. I feel like she’s singled out as the expert when her qualifications are no more impressive than my own. What makes her the end-all be-all? The fact that she regurgitates the same tired presentation at every Back to School Night? Maybe I shouldn’t care, but it really bothers me, partly because it elevates her in the eyes of the parent community, and partly because I think I’d like to present to parents, too. How can I handle this situation? I know I sound competitive and petty, but why does she get to be the “special expert”? 

A: Let’s start by reframing the situation. Educators are lifelong learners by nature. They can and should seize every opportunity to learn from one another. What do I mean by that? Let’s say three teachers attend three different conferences. Maybe one is on diversity, one is on learning differences, and one is on social-emotional learning. Ideally, each teacher comes back energized and eager to share their new knowledge with colleagues. Perhaps they write up a summary for a staff newsletter or present at a meeting. My guess is that you’d appreciate their generosity and the fact that everyone can benefit from their experience. 

That might feel different than your scenario, but it’s not. Just as everyone can’t attend every conference, no one can be an expert in everything. Sara might be viewed as the “special expert” in executive functioning, but you can impart a different set of tools. Her presentation and reputation among parents may threaten your ego, but they have no bearing on your end goal. And the more time you spend resenting her, questioning her credentials, or insulting her “tired” presentation, the less time you’ll have to figure out your own plan. 

In other words, invest in yourself. You say you want parents to view you as the expert in something, and you hope to accomplish that goal by presenting to them. But you haven’t said what, specifically, you’d like to master. It’s like saying you want to write a book and do a public reading without identifying a topic first. 

You need a clearer action plan. So ask yourself the following questions: “Am I willing to put in the work necessary to develop expertise? What valuable knowledge do I already possess and want to share? Is there an area in which I hope to hone my skills? How can I make sure I really know my stuff? Are there conferences I should attend, people I should meet, or books I should read? Would my expertise address an unmet need in the community? Can I identify an appropriate forum for my ideas and make a strong case to my administration?” 

You might decide in the end that you don’t want to pursue any of this, and that’s OK. It’s possible you’re simply feeling overlooked and grouchy. Just recognize that your feelings, while completely legitimate, have nothing to do with Sara or her presentation.  

For more Career Confidential: http://bit.ly/2C1WQmw

Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email contactphyllisfagell@gmail.comAll names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers.

PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; phyllisfagell.com) is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog. She is also the author of Middle School Matters, available at https://bit.ly/2RNXVu3.

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