On Ending Up in the Middle of Conflict

The Spring of my student teaching, I was interviewing for my first job as a bona fide school teacher. I was terrified and excited and hopeful and nervous. I had chosen to ask for a student teacher placement in Spartanburg, over an hour drive from Furman, because I wanted to work in Spartanburg school districts eventually. When I was asked to interview for an open position at the school where I completed my student teaching, I was thrilled.

And then I found out, I wouldn’t be interviewing with the principal I had been working with for a whole year. He was moving schools. I was going to interview with the new principal. Although I was conflicted about having to start all over developing a new relationship with my administrator, I knew there were many other teachers who had know the previous principal on both a personal and professional level I had not. I knew it was going to be easier for me to start over than for them.

What I didn’t know is that a change in administration (especially the principal and vice-principal) is a drastic change for an elementary school, especially an elementary school that had been not met adequate process for the past 2 years. The other thing I didn’t know was how very resistant to change people are.

I was offered the job of second grade teacher, and I took it thrilled that I was going to be a professional teacher and ecstatic that I was going to have my very own classroom. It was a hard start to the year, but I had been prepared for that. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the overwhelming atmosphere of conflict that had slowly engulfed our school. For me, it was a palpable difference between the school I had student taught in and the school I was teaching in. There had been that much change. Conflict had impacted the school that drastically.

The reasons that conflict happen are many and every participating party played a part, so find the one source of conflict was impossible. There was no way to unravel why and how because there were too many levels.

I have heard more people than not describe themselves as wary of conflict, scared even of conflict, but that wasn’t my reaction. While I didn’t want to end up in the middle of the conflict, I was walking around in the pervasive periphery of the conflict…everyone was. I began to do silly things that I thought might change the way people were interacting with each other. I brought in bagels from Panera one Friday morning. I wrote notes to colleagues expressing my gratitude for their help in my first year of teaching. I attempted to bake muffins. Little things that I hoped would change the overall feel among the staff.

In reality, I have no idea if those things worked for anyone else, but they changed me. They changed my attitude from one of hopelessness and negativity to one of problem-solving.

Somehow I knew I needed those changes for the sake of my students and my classroom. I knew it was my job to stand between them and the conflict that was surrounding them. I knew it was my job to stop the weight of the conflict from falling on their shoulders.

Being in that environment during my first year of teaching was difficult, but it taught me a lot about how change impacts people and environments, especially work environments. Being able to anticipate in part where those conflicts are going to arise and work through the inevitable conflict before it takes over makes all the difference.

Change isn’t inherently bad. Conflict isn’t inherently bad. Both are a part of life.

If we can change our view of conflict and our reactions to conflict, there might just be less of it in the world, but that would take admitting that we, ourselves, need to change. And that’s a conflict some people just aren’t ready for.