Q: The assistant principal who supervises me, Mike, called me into a meeting last week. I had no idea what I was walking into. When I entered the room, the parents of one of my students were sitting there, looking enraged. Mike put me on the spot, asking, “Why did you throw Zander out of class?” I explained that Zander had gotten into a physical fight with a classmate, threw a chair, and generally lost control. Even so, I told them, I didn’t throw him out. Another teacher heard the noise, came to investigate, and coaxed Zander into the hall. She got him to take a breather — kind of the middle school version of a time-out. I was grateful for her help. Things settled down once the boys were separated for a while. But Mike didn’t ask me any questions before calling me in and accusing me of being hotheaded and out of line. So as Zander’s parents sat there looking ticked off and confused, I asked if we could call down the other teacher. She immediately corroborated my story. Zander’s parents realized — to their horror — that their son hadn’t been truthful, and they backed down. Meanwhile, Mike was beyond embarrassed. That embarrassment now seems to have morphed into anger. He’s been acting hostile to me ever since and hasn’t apologized. It’s going to be a long year if things continue like this. I want to change the dynamic if possible, because it’s stressing me out. No matter what happens next, I’ve lost trust that he’ll treat me fairly. Any ideas?
A: There’s some positive news here. Mike feels embarrassed, which indicates that he knows he erred. And it’s only been a week. Embarrassment is a tough emotion. It can take some time to shake it off, and Mike may be having trouble figuring out how to approach you to make amends. You’re sensing anger, but he could be directing that anger toward himself more than you. Still, it’s clearly leaking out in unproductive ways. Try showing him more grace than he’s shown you. Don’t generalize. Yes, he’s treated you unfairly, but he might go out of his way to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. Human beings are wired to remember the negative. You won’t do yourself any favors by assuming he’s a lost cause.
In other words, give Mike a chance to apologize and repair the relationship. In the meantime, act normal and resist the temptation to overanalyze every interaction. If you’re able to sit with some discomfort, you might find that his demeanor improves over time. I doubt he wants to feel this awkward around you, either. But if nothing changes and Mike continues to act hostile, ask for a meeting to clear the air. If you go that route, be honest. State that while you felt ambushed at the meeting, you’re equally uncomfortable with the current dynamic. Ask him if he also feels your interactions are strained. Then listen to what he has to say. He might admit that he bungled the situation or is worried that he looked bad in front of Zander’s parents. He might be worried that you’re judging him and have lost faith in his leadership skills. To be fair, he wouldn’t be wrong. He messed up and he knows it. Along those lines, keep in mind that you’re angry, too. You’re entitled to your bruised feelings and might benefit from some space and time as well. If the situation stays the same or worsens, ask your principal to advise you on next steps or, if necessary, to intervene. You run the risk that you’ll compound Mike’s embarrassment by going over his head, but that might end up being your best option.
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