I Don’t Want To Be the Bad Guy

I love the discussions that happen at holiday gatherings. This year I listened as a Dan, a teacher in our extended family, told me about his New Year’s resolution to speak to his HS students again about respecting each other, acceptable classroom behaviors, and the responsibilities involved in being a community of learners. He had spoken to them a several times already; but a small number of them were still “acting out” when they got to his class and they were disrupting learning for the whole group. Clearly, Dan was having a rough time with these kids.

Dan hoped that they would get the message that they should want to do the right thing if kept communicating it to them.

I asked, “What if they don’t?”

He answered, “I don’t know. I don’t want to be the “bad guy” or anything.”

What struck me immediately was that Dan’s classroom dilemma is no different than many of the dilemmas of educational administrators or the “captains of private industry”. Leaders want people to do the ‘right thing’ and go along with the direction in which they are leading (and most do go along); but sometimes one or more team members have their own ideas about where the organization or class should be heading and resist.

In Dan’s classroom the resistance was overt and “in your face” with students acting out in front of him. Outside of the classroom with adults this “acting out” is usually done covertly via corrosive conversations that take place near the water cooler and in lounges and cubicles.

It only takes one student in a class or a single individual on a corporate team to undermine the entire flow of progress. These individuals make up a miniscule percentage of the whole group or team; but consume most of our energy

….and the killer in all this? We choose to live with them.

Yes, WE Choose!

It is our choice to avoid the messy situation that inevitably emerges when we decide to uphold the standards of the team or the class; and things can and do get messy. It is our choice when we decide that it is better to “get along”… to be liked, than it is to be effective. And once again, it is we who choose to live in the “hope” that if we keep repeating the standards but not enforcing them that things will get better on their own.

It’s like being in an abusive relationship. We can blame the other person for all our problems, for the abuse they heap on us, and live in hope that the other person will change someday; but at some point we need to CHOOSE accountability for our own lives, deal with the mess, and move on.

None of this is easy and we may wish things were different. We may not understand why people “act out” the way they do; but unfortunately they do. We can choose to live with it; or deal with it.

The classroom is not much different than the Board room in this respect.

In Dan’s case, not only does he owe it to himself to deal with the disruptive element in his class; but he owes it to the other children who want to learn.

Choosing to be accountable and dealing with situations like this doesn’t make us “bad people”.


13 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Be the Bad Guy

  1. In the Navy there are a couple of things that we teach our new leaders as they are becoming Chief Petty Officers, which is our senior leadership.

    *You will spend 90% of your time on 10% of your people, and

    *Accountability will take place with the lowest common a-hole. As the Chief, or the leader, the lowest common a-hole should not be above you.

    Just like you said, it doesn’t make you a bad person. And while it is uncomfortable to deal with the resisters at the moment, they actually respect you more in the end for your honesty.

    Great post here. And great advice too.


  2. Miguel,
    There’s that enigmatic and beautiful poet that you have within you speaking out again.

    Thanks for having the courage it takes to let the poet speak.

  3. I can see why Dan would speak to the group initially – a general, expectations-setting discussion.

    But when undesirable behavior continues in a smaller group of individuals, I would be having one-on-one conversations with those kids.

    I find that taking the time to ask questions (and braving that uncomfortable feeling that comes with “confrontation”) are often key to better solutions. Ask questions, seek to understand the other person’s needs, identify and communicate your own needs and LISTEN (with an open mind and authentic interest).

    Not always, but many times, people need to be heard and you can find a mutually beneficial solution – that both of you can buy into and own.

    Then you’re not trying to control the other person (which will be resisted) – you’re assisting them in achieving their own objectives.

    Only when this approach fails and the team is still being distrupted by one person would I consider the use of “power” to force a solution onto the situation.

    Human respect, really hearing and acknowledging another person and authentic caring go a long way in tough situations!

    And about “bad people” – http://www.iwasthinking.ca/2007/12/30/there-are-no-bad-people/

    Happy New Year!

  4. Oops – one more thought!

    In order to have the “tough” conversations, you have to remember to not react to what the other person is saying, not get hooked into an arguement about what is “true” or “right”.

    Instead, listening objectively, acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint (whether you agree with it or not), and calmly providing your opinions and needs.

    Don’t take it personally.
    Don’t let your own fears and insecurities cloud your viewpoint.
    Allow the other person to express their thoughts without your judgement.
    Be open to solutions that fall outside the realm of how things “should” be.

    To use Barbara Coloroso’s terminology – it’s a good solution if it works and leaves both your and the child’s dignity intact.

    Hmmm – I guess that was more than one thought… 🙂

  5. Heidi,
    Absolutely, positively!

    I have learned this the hard way.

    The most difficult thing that I have had to learn is that I tend to develop subtle judgments about people. The other person is always sensing this judgment on an unconscious level, even if they are not overtly aware of it…and it always gets in the way.

    There is a practice I do that helps me empty myself of judgments and that increases the odds of connecting to the other person.


  6. Good point!
    That fits in with making assumptions about who someone is, or what they mean when they say something, doesn’t it?

    What is the practice that you do?
    I’m interested in hearing more.

  7. Choosing to be accountable and dealing with situations like this doesn’t make us “bad people”.

    You are right Pete. It doesn’t. I have learned that, while I may be a friendly teacher, I am not my students’ friend. If I am worried about how much my students like me rather than how much I am creating a learning environment well, I don’t think I am being true to myself as their teacher.

    As a consultant, I use the same approach. I focus on the goals, and worry less about my popularity and more about the goals of the group I am with.

    As I write this, I realize that – even though I truly believe what I just wrote – it is not always so easy. Prior to this Christmas break, about a whole month prior, I down-shifted my teaching. I allowed the criticism of an attendant in my classroom to erode my vision because I wanted her to think I am a good teacher.

    I just realized this now.

    Need to think about this a bit more…but bottom line is that it isn’t always easy to stay accountable and true to our vision in the classroom or out.

  8. Tracy,
    Obviously, this is a rich topic that deserves a lot more discussion. There are so many different directions to take the conversation.

    I was over at your site and was checking some of your students’ blogs…it brought back memories of my own teaching days.

    My very first year teaching I started a class newspaper that was mimeographed. (no blogs in those days) The kids did all the work and the title of the paper reflected their view of school….”News from the Tomb”.


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