my coworker is changing her appearance to match mine and rips my work off the walls when she’s mad

A reader writes:

I’m an elementary school employee and relatively new to the job. I get along well with most of my coworkers, with the exception of “Therese.”

Therese is in her 60s and works next door to me, and when I first started this job, I thought she was a friendly (if eccentric) coworker. She called me “new bestie” when I started setting up my classroom, and I thought that was just a quirky way of welcoming me to the school. But it seems like she genuinely means this.

I could have been fine with that, and am always very professional with her, but strange things have been happening since I started working. These include:

– Therese started dying her hair a brighter shade so that it matches my hair color. We both have the same color hair, but mine is much lighter. The dye job happened a few months into me starting at the school.

– Therese has started styling her hair like mine. Originally, she would (I think) put her wet hair in a braid and leave it that way throughout the day. Around the same time she dyed her hair, she adopted my hair style, which is pretty unique and labor-intensive.

– Therese often asks about my love life, even when I say that I just don’t want to talk about it/there’s nothing to report. (I don’t like the idea of talking about my partner/anything romantic at work, because we work with kids and it seems weird to have discussions about my personal life when a bunch of eight-year-olds are walking by.) At one point, Therese was also convinced that I was engaged and just not telling anyone. That was absolutely not the case, and I don’t even know how she got that idea.

– Therese, who never used to wear makeup to work, began wearing bright lipstick in the same shade I wear, in addition to using makeup to make her eyebrows the same color as mine.

– Therese has started dressing like me. I typically dress very formally for work and usually wear the same shades of clothing. Therese used to wear athletic wear, but she has started to wear the same kinds of shoes and tops that I wear, in the color that I wear them, and other coworkers have commented on this.

– During my prep time, Therese will come into my room and ask me to answer questions for her. Often, they’re questions I’ve already answered (sometimes questions I’ve answered that day, or the day before). When she gets her answer, she will just find a place in my room to sit and either do her work or just sit and look at me.

– On more than one occasion, I’ve seen Therese in my room taking phone calls when I am not in the room. This is concerning to me. When I go into the room, she’ll leave, but only after a few minutes, and never with an explanation about why she can’t be in her own room or any of the empty rooms in our ring.

– I’ve tried to be polite and say that I have work to do and don’t have time to chat when she comes into my room, but she either won’t listen or guilt trips me until I look like a bully.

– Sometimes Therese will ask me to do favors for cash. When I tell her that I’m too busy, I’ll often still find her cash sitting on my desk with a thank-you/instruction note. I’ve given it back and told her that I really don’t have the time, but then she will get upset again. Once I stepped in and covered a class for another teacher, and Theresa made a passive aggressive remark about how I “must not have been that busy.”

Beyond all of that, though, this is the part that really concerns me:

– She usually sits next to me at lunch. I don’t really want to sit by her, but I’m not going to be rude and get up and leave. One day, I sat next to a different teacher and there was no space for Therese. She stated daggers at me, and then later that day, I saw that all of the student work I had hung around my door had been ripped down. Theresa said that her student must have done it accidentally, but when I pulled that student aside and (very gently) asked what happened, he explained that Therese told him to tear the work down.

That makes me afraid of any direct confrontation. I already talked to my boss, right after the tearing things down incident, and I told her everything. She sympathizes, but Therese is tenured, so there isn’t much they can do. And my principal knows that I’m worried about Therese retaliating, so she says it would be best not to pull her in to talk. I’m kind of inclined to agree, because I don’t want any weird retaliation either.

I’m still probationary, so I can be dismissed for any reason. I don’t want to get a reputation as someone who causes problems or doesn’t play well with others, because I can’t afford to lose this job. But I’m honestly not sure what to do about this situation anymore. I love my job, but I’m very uncomfortable with this coworker (and these examples are only a few of many).

I’ve heard she’s had problems with other teachers in the past (I asked a close colleague about her, and he said there have been problems and it’s best to stay on her good side). I’m not super close to the other teachers in my ring, though, and they tend to be unfazed by her antics, so I don’t feel like I could talk to any of them about her.

I don’t think I’d go as far as saying I feel unsafe, more just unsettled. I don’t think she’d do anything to physically hurt me, but I’m worried that she’d do something like make up a rumor or something to hurt my career if she’s upset with me.

Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

I’m unsettled just reading this.

If Therese were just copying your clothes and your hair, I wouldn’t be that alarmed and would tell you to let it go. It’s a little annoying, but trying to call dibs on clothes or hair styles at work doesn’t have much upside.

And if it were just a matter of her trying to chat too often or hanging out in your room, I’d tell you to get more direct — that it’s okay to ask her to leave your room or stop taking calls there and not to worry about her guilt trips when you set those boundaries.

But what worries me — and I’m sure what worries you — is the punitive streak she’s bringing to all this. She feels entitled to your time and attention, and she’s reacting as if you’ve wronged her when she doesn’t get it. The snarky and immature “you must not have been that busy” remark is bad enough, but having a student tear down artwork from your door? That takes this from “immature and annoying clingy colleague” to “seriously troubled.”

In a different situation, I might suggest you be really, really direct and tell Therese to lay off what she’s doing — to make it clear that she’s alienated you and violated your boundaries and that the behavior needs to stop.

But I’m worried about advising that when you’re worried she’ll try to hurt you professionally if she feels rejected (and where there seems to be good reason for that worry). Given that, three other things might be worth trying:

1. Be pleasant but relentlessly distant. Greet her cheerfully. Spend a minute talking if she initiates conversation but then be busy with something else you need to do. Keep doing stuff like returning her unsolicited cash (!) and if she makes passive-aggressive remarks about how you don’t seem that busy, stay cheerful and upbeat: “Yep, stuff keeps coming up!” Ignore the snark and the resentment and just stay steadily upbeat when you’re dealing with her. But keep her at a distance — don’t share anything, don’t let down your guard, and don’t let her pull you further into her orbit.

If you’re thinking this sounds exhausting: Yes! It sounds exhausting to me too.

2. Do you have any options for building more physical distance between the two of you? Can you try to get assigned to a different room and/or a different lunch period next year?

3. Perhaps most importantly, really work on building relationships with other teachers there, and your administration as well. You might find people who have some insight into Therese and what might be effective with her (and who are more willing to share that when they know you better / trust you more) — but even if you don’t, strong relationships with others can only help if Therese does escalate in some way.

Ultimately, will this be enough to make the situation better? I don’t know. It might not be.

It’s frustrating that the person with authority to step in and deal with this, your principal, is washing her hands of it. If you had downplayed the situation in any way when you spoke to your boss, I’d encourage you to go back and share the full scope of it now. But it sounds like you already did, and she’s declining to act.

And that claim that she can’t do anything because Therese has tenure — tenure doesn’t prohibit a conversation about what’s going on, and tenure doesn’t prevent saying, “This behavior is unsettling people and needs to stop.” (It does make it harder to put real teeth behind that if it becomes necessary, but it’s ridiculous for her to act as if she’s just a bystander with no ability to shape anything that goes on among her teachers.)

Ugh, this is an awful situation, and made more so because your options are so limited. What do others think?

{ 450 comments… read them below }

  1. Mental Lentil*

    Therese may be tenured, but it’s quite obvious that she has some mental issues. Administration needs to handle this from that angle. She needs a leave of absence to get some therapy. Escalate this past the building level, if necessary, and definitely report this business to your building rep. You need to loop your union into this.

    This is a headline just waiting to happen. Please don’t let it get to that point.

    1. Pidgeot*

      I was thinking the Union Rep is the other avenue to pursue – they may be able to advocate for you when your administration is unwilling to help.

      1. 2 Cents*

        +1 to the union rep. Not sure what access you have, OP, as a probationary teacher, but someone active in union leadership might be able to officially (or unofficially) help. Therese sounds like a nightmare and o hope she takes early retirement to Nut Island.

    2. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      Yes, if you’re union, please bring your rep in! What’s also concerning is that she’s actually bringing students into her retaliatory behavior- which I think is enough to go to the guidance counselor for help.

      1. JSPA*

        +1 (knowing we don’t “+1,” but there’s not much to add, except that this is absolutely an avenue).

        1. getaway_girl*

          Except that OP is still on probation. If that union is like mine, there is little to no protection at this point.

          1. Susie*

            Maybe, but not necessarily. I was relentlessly bullied by a colleague in my first year in a new school district, so while I’m very experienced, I was starting at year 1 in the tenure ladder. Luckily, in my case, another colleague reported the misconduct, however, I was able to get support from one of my union reps. Evil Co-worker did (does?) spread rumors about me. It was really challenging. However, keeping my head down, doing strong work, and building relationships with colleagues was how survived the rumors.

            OP–While I encourage going to the union rep, get a sense of the politics first. Who else does Therese talk to? Try to figure out if there are any long standing connections. The union rep I worked with HATED the colleague bullying me, so she joyfully helped me. Does the union rep value supporting colleagues above all else (and thus might brush you off to support Therese) or do they really want to stick it to leadership? You might also have a good union rep who is able to facilitate a compromise with all parties.

            Also principals have a number of strategies to make teachers miserable, if they choose to use them. Even though the process to get rid of a teacher is hard, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make Therese’s life difficult in the way she makes yours. That’s basically what the admin is doing in my case.

            This isn’t easy–I’m months away from tenure now and get glowing reviews from my evaluator, the principal, colleagues, etc. I STILL have panic attacks about not getting tenure–It’s a really frightening position to be in.

          2. Charlotte Lucas*

            Some union reps will get involved early, especially if someone who’s in the union supports the grievance. At the least, better let them know now.

          3. jojo*

            Document. Everything. She does. Why is she taking calls in your clas? Shouldn’t she be in her office or class? Sounds like Theresa is admin. Not teacher. Why is she in your class when you are have students in class? She should be in her area during class time. Not yours. Yes talk to union rep. And perhaps a labor lawyer. You are being stalked. And harassed.

      2. LQ*

        I’d go to the union, but when you do be aware that Therese is in the union, has a longer standing, and OP is temp so may not have much if any standing with the union (depending on how the contract works). So go to the union, but be careful because it could potentially create issues too. I would definitely be fully aware. I would be surprised if Therese has strong union connection, but if she does, know that going into that conversation. give the contract a review for standing of temp status.

        1. Paulina*

          Especially since this is an elementary school — that’s quite a young kid she roped into her bizarrity.

        2. Super Admin*

          Yeah, this is alarming and this should severely worry the principal. OP could have disciplined the kid (rather than the sensible way they handled it) and the kid could have complained to their parents. Or the kid could think it’s ok to tear other things down around the school. Or other kids could get in on it. Therese could use it against the kid in future. Or drag the kid/other kids into more misbehaving on her behalf. This is honestly disturbing behaviour in a teacher, and if I were a parent of a child in that school I’d be outraged. That the principal dismissed this with a shrug is very disturbing when you look at it from the angle that she dragged one of their students into this.

          1. Florp*

            Yes! If I were the parent of that student I would be raising holy hell with that principal. Part of a school admin’s job is to protect the school from liability. Sounds like Therese has been bullying everyone.

        3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          If I were a parent who found out about this, I would be raining down fire until she was fired. I cannot believe the principal is doing nothing about a teacher that involved an elementary school student in vengeful destruction of student work because she was mad at the students’ teacher. I might also be going after the principal if I found out about this as a parent.

          1. Silamy*

            Is that a realistic potential avenue for the LW -go to a parent, perhaps especially the parent of the child Therese dragged into this, and bring up concerns? “Wakeen was found pulling student work off my door; he told me that Therese had instructed him to do so. He’s not in my class, so I don’t know him all that well but from what other teachers have said [/from what I’ve seen of him on the playground], that’s very unlike him. Is everything alright?”

    3. Joan Rivers*

      I always think, Why not set up a secret nanny cam to catch video? But there often are reasons why that’s frowned on.

      It’s so easy to video her in your room, ripping down things, I’d be tempted. If she’s vindictive and she’s roping children into being vindictive against you too, that’s very bad.

      What more might she do? Maybe consulting an attorney would be a good move.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        She’s not denying it, though. She said Wakeen, Jr. tore them down. That’s true. She just didn’t add that he was told by his clearly inappropriate teacher to do.
        I’d ask the principal, what you should tell the students and their parents?
        Start with, hey, can I have second? I’m composing a note to the parents:
        “Sorry your child’s work was destroyed, but my coworker had temper tantrum and instructed a child to destroy class work but, wellspreads hands tenure. And please, parents don’t follow up on this at all, because the principal told me that the teacher will retaliate against me if I call out her inappropriate actions because spreads hands tenure.
        And the principal’s hands are tied and the mistreatment and retaliation will not be stopped because spreads hands tenure.
        Oh, and don’t forget to join us for the open house where will discuss our zero tolerance policy against bullying and assure you that YOUR CHILD is safe here.
        Sincerely…confused.

        1. really*

          THIS — I know she can’t, but this.

          Tell us why Therese doesn’t like Mondays again? Because this sounds *that* disturbed and scary.

      2. Sister Michael*

        If it were LW’s private property and it’s legal in her area, that might work well. In this case, it would mean that LW is recording a group of children for long stretches and that’s not a good idea.

        I wish it was feasable, though, because this letter is pretty scary.

        1. Threeve*

          There are probably some feasible ways to determine if she’s doing anything–not hard to set things up so that you can tell if someone has opened your desk drawers, for example.

        2. Momma Bear*

          Agreed – there are guidelines on what can and cannot be recorded by teachers re: students so this would likely be a non-starter.

      3. Enby*

        In some states, it’s illegal to record people without consent from both parties! So this would be risky.

      4. BRR*

        I would logically agree that cameras would often be a very practical solution, but I would almost never recommend them. There’s something about responding to Therese with “I secretly recorded her” that I don’t think paints the LW is a flattering light. I think the broad concept of cameras is just more of a society thing because again, it would make logical sense.

      5. EPLawyer*

        Video taping is a very very bad idea. We like to think there are exceptions to consent to catch people in bad acts but there are not. Do not do this, unless you really want to end your employment.

      6. Essess*

        Most places have laws against recording students without parental consent so a video would not be feasible.

        1. Laura D*

          Can she record audio only? I am very curious about those phone calls. And if she’s saying shady things to kids…

    4. Hey Nonnie*

      Also, document everything. Therese has already escalated to violence against property (by proxy, but using a child to do it really makes that worse). I don’t know if it’s enough for a police report yet, but I’d have your notebook full of dates/times/incidents in it ready to go for when that time comes.

      Because I am definitely getting Single White Female vibes from this.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        I was coming here to say just this, document, document, document. But I would not only document your co-worker’s behavior, I’d also document all communication about the situation with your supervisor and anyone else in authority, union reps, etc. I’d document any meetings and conversations in a follow-up email sent to them so you both have a written record of your bringing it to their attention and what was discussed regarding how to handle it, actions to be taken, etc. That way you have a written record of the behaviors, what you reported, what was said, and action or inaction the occurred as a result. You may need to get an attorney involved if nobody is willing to intervene because this sounds like a hostile work environment to me.

        1. Inca*

          Document everything indeed. Also, the leaving of cash would be illegal here (non-US though) as far as I know, since teachers are tied to certain non-corruption codes and they cannot accept cash or substantial offers, nor offer it.
          It’s not that it’s regularly enforced on minor errands between collegues, but if someone leaves you cash *unwanted* that seems to me quite a large infraction that is worrisome and manupulative, but also illegal because it is not the ‘normal’ kind of exchange for errands and the odd grocery.

          1. Peace out*

            I would give the cash and the note to the principal and ask them to return it to the teacher. No matter what the rules are in the OP’s country or state, it might be a good idea to make sure that no whiff of corruption attaches to the OP.

            1. Peace out*

              Oh, and also that there is a pattern of this happening in case one of the kids picks up the cash. Kids have a pretty strong “finders keepers” mentality about money they see on the floor.

        2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          “That way you have a written record of the behaviors, what you reported, what was said, and action or inaction the occurred as a result”.

          Not only that, but sometimes receiving that type of email will say “Oh hell! What do we do about this?” The mere act of putting something into writing gives it gravitas.

          1. I'm Not Phyllis*

            This. And it makes it more difficult for the administration to feign ignorance (or ignorance of the severity).

      2. Momma Bear*

        Yes. I agree. OP should document everything. Write a letter back to the boss to summarize the conversation so it’s in writing. Print it out because some school districts purge emails more than x days old. Keep other colleagues in the loop. We had a terrible principal who made decisions few liked. Some of the teachers walked a fine line with him. When the kids asked why their lemonade stand was suddenly axed, she said Mr. Principal made that decision. She put it back on him. I don’t know what OP told the student, but maybe she should start saying things like, “This is my classroom and you need to talk to me about removing anything from my wall or room.”

        I would also start locking my classroom when I was not there, and locking up anything important. I don’t know how common it is for teachers to linger in each other’s rooms, but OP could say, “I really need to work on my lesson plans now, so please find somewhere else to eat/work/etc.” I realize that OP is worried about retaliation but that’s where the part about other allies comes in. Make friends with other teachers so that OP isn’t dealing with this person alone. Tenure or not, the principal should have some leeway in things like moving classrooms, moving teachers to different grades, or in general informing teachers not to mess with other teacher’s stuff.

        I don’t know what kind of guidelines OP has at the central office level, but if this person is directly going against written protocols, that could be something else OP can bring to the boss.

        But, yes, document everything. Especially if it escalates outside the building.

        When I first started reading this I thought of a time in college where my roommate was copying my friend and my friend started to do really stupid things to see what the roommate would copy. But in this case…it’s just creepy. Esp. since other people are noticing/commenting. OP needs an ally.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          I agree with everything that Momma Bear said except for the suggestion that she tell the child to check with her before changing anything in the classroom. That kid has already been manipulated by Therese; he should NOT be put in the position of being in between two teachers with conflicting instructions. Therese was totally out of line to have roped that child into her bizarre behavior, but it would be almost as bad to now tell him not to obey Therese. He – not she! – would get in trouble for refusing a teacher’s instructions, and Therese would be able to rack up another grievance against the LW.

          FWIW: Therese sounds batspit crazy, quite possibly delusional and I hope she can be removed before she does something a lot more dangerous than use a child to tear down artwork.

          1. Momma Bear*

            While I get where you’re coming from, this coworker is using children to do her dirty work in other people’s classrooms/wall space. It could be a more blanket statement of “this is my classroom and you don’t mess with other people’s things in here without my or that person’s permission.” Otherwise nothing stops this creep coworker from using all the kids as her minion army. And maybe it won’t, but if it’s now part of the Class Rules, then OP can document that she’s trying to control her own room. I was the kid who once had my work destroyed by another student because the teacher said so (different situation) and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s not just about OP when her students are affected.

            1. Inca*

              Really don’t get the kids involved. Absolutely do not put this back onto students. What are they supposed to do, say *no* to an explicit instruction by a teacher, who also has a vindictive streak and there’s no telling how that no would be received? That teacher may be forever hold a grudge against the student!

              This is one of the many reasons this should be dealt with. Outline this to the principal or board or whatever as well: you very much do not want to put children between this but children are *hurt* when she takes revenge through the students.

              But children are not equiped to deal with that and should not be put on the line.

              (And I don’t know what the situation was you have encountered, but I think that should be a situation where one should be very clear that the accountable ones are the adults, not the students, and put in deliberate effort to make it not stand between students but take responsibility. The teacher requested it, they made the error. Not the student.)

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Union was my first thought too, but I imagine that Therese may have established connections across the school district that aren’t as intimately familiar with her unstable behavior as the other teachers and administrators at her own school, so tread carefully there too.

      For the OP, have some fun with her copy-cat behavior if you want: go goth one day and bo-ho the next; find or make custom one-of-a-kind accessories to really throw off her game. Once she realizes that she’ll always be out of sync with your fashion whims, she might back off entirely.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        There is a Robert Munsch book about exactly this! Spoiler – the protagonist gets sick of everyone copying her hairstyle, so she tells them she’s going to shave her head. Then when everyone else shows up at school the next day with freshly shaved heads, she’s there rocking her original hairstyle. This is probably not useful advice for the OP, but it’s very satisfying to imagine!

        OP, this does sound very unsettling, and I agree with Pay No Attention that Therese probably has union connections as well. I hate to say it, but your best option may be to transfer out of that school entirely, if you can. It sucks that you should have to go that way, but T is really getting too close for comfort, and it seems like nobody in the administration has your back on this.

        Good luck, and I’d love to hear an update when you have one.

        1. Gossip Whisperer*

          I have to agree, as much as I know the OP loves the job and wants to give it a go in her career, I would have noped the hell out of there. It isn’t worth it if they’re going to let this person just continue to harass her, or at least it wouldn’t be for me, and me personally I would be more exhausted in chasing around documentation than actually being able to do my job at hand.

      2. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Being a K-12 teacher, OP’s options may be limited. Dressing too outrageously could actually get them in trouble. The US still has rather restrictive views on how teachers of minors, especially female teachers, should dress.

        1. Momma Bear*

          It depends on the school. Private school, sure. But many public schools allow some wiggle room. One of my kid’s teachers was practically Ms. Frizzle and another had green hair. OP may have some options.

          1. pancakes*

            Either way, the problems the letter writer is facing go well beyond Therese copying her look, and I think it would be a big mistake to focus on that aspect of her behavior.

        2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          From the way the OP described how Therese originally dressed, I assume that there is a lot of leeway on the dress code. Also, “goth” or “bo ho” doesn’t have to be outrageous, wear a black knee-length dress with black tights and shoes one day, and earth-tone peasant blouse and ankle-length skirt the next. Or decide to wear scarves everyday until suddenly you don’t anymore.

    6. FormerStaffing*

      i would invest in a namny cam to catch some of this weird, stalkerish behavior. absent of a union, is this something you could go beyond the principle with, perhaps a superintendent or someone on the board of education? tenured or not, there must be some loophole to muzzle her or get her out given that she has some serious mental issues. i bet a background check would probably reveal a litany of restraining orders.

      i worked with someone like this at an accounting firm… they all knew she was a problem and much turniver was attributed to her, but she regularly brought in million-dollar clients so they looked the other way. if no one is willing to help you, it may be worth it to look for employment elsewhere.

      1. GL*

        A nanny cam in this context would mean a high risk of secretly recording students – which could easily raise legal problems and is just not a great idea even if not. If there’s sound capture too, that’s even worse.

      2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        There’s no question about proof though. Everyone knows and thinks there is nothing they can do about it.

      3. Enby*

        In many states there are laws that require consent from all parties before recording – in addition to the concern about accidentally recording minors, this seems like a risky strategy. Though the general idea of getting as much documentation as possible seems important!

      4. President Porpoise*

        Why secret? Set up a camera after telling parents that you are going to be recording all lessons for students as a study aide (and getting their consent on behalf of their students). Actually use those videos for that purpose, after rendering the kiddos anonymous via pixilation or something. If you’re lucky with your camera set up, it’ll catch Therese doing these weird, weird things.

        1. Veruca*

          Are you an elementary teacher? Not asking in a snarky way, but most teachers can tell you the one thousand headaches that would come with this suggestion.

          1. Momma Bear*

            They can’t even record zoom lessons if a child is speaking in some places. OP would do better to see if there’s a school security camera around her room. Some schools do use them in hallways and keep footage for a short time.

      5. Middle School Teacher*

        No no no DO NOT secretly record elementary students!! OP would never teach again, ANYWHERE.

    7. Heidi*

      I really hate the “She has tenure” excuse for not checking bad behavior. There has to be a limit to what kind of actions can be protected by tenure. Even stuff less creepy than this shouldn’t be allowed to pass. The principal really messed up in this case by basically leaving OP to handle this on her own; exposing the behavior and letting Therese know that others are aware of what she’s doing would probably be a more effective way to make it stop.

      1. AK*

        I hate that reply too. I work at a school and am a union rep. It’s not impossible to remove or discipline a tenured teacher. Administrators just have to follow their own policies and document. They just typically don’t want to do the work. Further, I’ve heard administrators turn around blame the union for a problem employee. Nope! We want them gone too but we also have to represent all members and make sure you follow your own board policies and master contract. Frustrating.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I would seriously consider researching exactly what CAN be done to a teacher with tenure (and how hard it is), and then go back to the principal with a very specific list of things you want her to do. Even if she doesn’t say a word to Therese, she could move the LW to a different classroom or a different lunch period in the middle of the year. And if LW does want her to talk to Therese, go in with a very explicit request for what she wants the principal to say, and what she wants her to do if retaliation follows — all backed up by a clear understanding of the tenure terms and make sure that showed through in how she describes it to the principal. Don’t leave her the excuse of being vague about what she can and can’t do due to tenure… go in knowing what she can do, and let her KNOW that you know what she can do. Then tell her not just “please do something!” but what. It’s much harder to turn down that way (especially if you have backup options if she rejects your first request). Not impossible, but harder.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            This- the principal is being the worst kind of manager by being unwilling to manage. Just because it’s hard to manage tenured teachers doesn’t make it any less *her job*. /End rant

        2. memyselfandi*

          Thanks for speaking up. Unions don’t exist to protect bad behavior on anyone’s part. The principal’s response was very frustrating.

        3. Properlike*

          Yes. All this. It’s usually an excuse used by people who don’t want to do the hard work of documenting and escalating.

        4. GreenDoor*

          If she’s pulling students into stuff, that’s got to be abuse of authority or some other misconduct that tenure wouldn’t necessarily protect her from. OP should definately report anything involving a student! And “has tenure” doesn’t preclude a manager from having a conversation and asking for a change in behavior. “has tenure” doesn’t mean “is completely untouchable.” THat’s just lazy management

        5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          It sounds to me as if the principal is rather afraid of Therese and doesn’t want to become the target of her wrath. That’s understandable, but letting her get away with progressively more outrageous behavior will only encourage her to behave outrageously.

        6. I'm Not Phyllis*

          And surely the administrator could at least have a conversation with the tenured teacher (I don’t think LW is asking for her to be fired – yet – just asking that this behaviour stops). They do have a responsibility to ensure that all of their employees have a safe and healthy work environment, no?

      2. Ms Frizzle*

        Agreed! I have tenure, but if I tried pulling anything like this my principal would have a serious conversation, pull in HR, and start formal documentation. Districts and contracts vary, but there’s a lot they could do (starting with letting her know that it’s not ok? That seems like something an educator, much less a manager, should be able to handle).

        1. A Poster Has No Name*

          Thank you for sharing this!

          I’m not a teacher, but I do have kids in school, and if a teacher told my kid to rip down artwork from another teacher I’d be a) really mad and b) 8 kinds of ticked off to be told “well we can’t do anything because they’re tenured.”

          Words would be had and the situation would be escalated. I have to assume that tenure doesn’t give you a free pass to any and all bad behavior.

        2. I'm Not Phyllis*

          Absolutely. While one teacher may have tenure, I’m assuming/hoping that the other still has rights not to be subject to this kind of treatment at work!

      3. Paulina*

        I expect the principal’s reluctance to act is a combination of the process being difficult, potentially previous experience in trying to deal with Therese (she didn’t turn like this just now!), and a hope that because Therese is in her sixties, she will retire soon and the problem can be solved without a serious disciplinary process. But this last part may be fruitless, if retirement isn’t mandatory/heavily incentivized. Therese’s SWF-like behaviour doesn’t sound like she’s got one foot out the door and has significant retirement plans. Documenting bad behaviour and working on disciplining people close to retirement age can help induce them to retire, however.

        I expect others are aware about Therese, and some of the LW’s other colleagues may be keeping their head down because they don’t want her behaviour turned on them. If so it’s a shame, since if they banded together they could potentially do something about her.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, I’m not impressed at all by the boss’s response. Even if you can’t fire someone, you shouldn’t be so afraid of an employee’s reaction to something that you can’t even address disconcerting behavior. A good boss, too, would not throw OP under the bus but would be more visible in their ring/pod and observe Therese’s odd behavior herself. No doubt tenure would make it harder to hold her accountable, but I surely there are rules in place to require that you follow the direction of your principal to stop.

    8. WellRed*

      This is very Single White Female (movie reference) and I bet this isn’t the first time she’s become fixated on someone. Your boss is very much wrong here (and chickening out on tough decisions). I mean, Therese tried to throw a student under the bus!

      1. SophieJ*

        I know I’ma few days late, but this was my very first thought reading this.

        Though I desperately hope that it doesn’t play out nearly to the degree of drama of a big-budget Hollywood dramatization, this type of behavior is not indicative of a well-adjusted individual and should not be given free reign to thrive.

    9. laowai-gaijin*

      Yeah, my first thought was to bring in a union rep. That’s one advantage teachers almost always have.

    10. Katrinka*

      yes! Tenure doesn’t protect bad behavior, it simply protects one from being fired arbitrarily or in a downsizing. Tenured teachers are still subject to the same rules as all the nontenured ones. They can (and should) still get written up for bad behaviors.

      1. Payroll Lady*

        Unfortunately, this is where I disagree. Tenured teachers are NOT subject to the same rules as untenured. An untentured teacher must watch every move they make, can be excellent at what they do and have ALL the students love how they teach, and still be let go from the school district (atleast in my state) for absolutely no reason except the district does not want that person to have tenure. Once tenured, trying to get a teacher, who is NOT doing their job, every parent conference is an issue between the parent(s) and teacher unless the student was on the team he coached. 90% of his students failed his class every other year. VP brought to Principle, and the school board (The head of the school board was a relative and one of the failing students was myself when the rest of grades were A’s & B’s). 20 years later he was still teaching at the same school, Union would not allow for the teacher to be terminated. They did not see any reason and he is TENURED.

    11. Lavender Menace*

      Gently, I want to say that it’s not ‘obvious’ that she has ‘mental issues.’ I’m not trying to be pedantic, but these comments can be hurtful and harmful to those of us who have mental health disorder. It’s possible that Therese does have a mental health disorder, and needs therapy. But it’s just as possible, and frankly more likely, that she doesn’t. There’s not enough information here to tell – all of these behaviors, even taken together, are behaviors that a jerk or a stalker can engage in without having any kind of illness.

    12. MJ*

      The next time she does leaves money and a note for you, please immediately take a picture and give them back.

    13. Alma From Canada*

      I work for a teachers union. We would be having kittens in this scenario. Administration has a LOT of options. Most places have at least 5 or 6 vague categories of immediately fireable offenses. (Insubordination, gross misconduct to name a couple) Before that they can have chats, move teachers, force transfers to other schools, suspensions without pay, disciplinary letters (get 3 in a year and your fired) are the ones that come instantly to my mind. Check your collective agreements, no set of managers bargains away firing.

      Contact the union. We hate this stuff because we do represent both of you, but we would absolutely make sure your admin got off their butt and did something. It was a teacher stealing from money another teacher in our board. (Not that anyone knew that until the cameras in the teacher lounge that admin put up caught it.)

      We are suppose to support safe working environments. Therese is not safe. Involving the student is beyond the pale, and should horrify anyone and everyone.

      Also, DO NOT PUT UP SECRET CAMERAS YOURSELF. You will never work again, anywhere.

    14. Hats Are Great*

      I am late to this party, but OP, talk to the union if you have one. If you do not, talk to a lawyer *who has sued your school district before.* There will probably be at least a couple of firms in town, even if it’s a very small town, who take on school district litigation on the regular. The point is not that they have anything against your district, but that because they’ve done litigation against them before, they know a lot of the ins and outs of your district, and what sorts of leverage you should apply to get action. (Your union rep and union lawyers would also know this kind of thing, though sometimes unions will wrongly refuse to get involved in intra-teacher disputes.) In some districts, the principals are the ones to act; in others, you want to be talking with the superintendent, or get a school board member who’s incensed about it.

      I spent several years on a school board and, yes, firing tenured teachers can be a pain in the butt. And, yes, sometimes you will have administrators or school boards who are reluctant to go through the hassle. But the “telling a kid to tear down the work” would be an immediate suspension followed by a firing after we went through the hearing process. Honestly the money and notes asking you to do things would also be grounds for a reprimand. You have enough documented here to have her fired.

      However. You do have one further tool in your toolbox, and this is why you want to be talking either with the union or a lawyer: You can get a restraining order. (In my jurisdiction, you would be able to get one just based on what you’ve said here.) Sometimes, this is the only way to force a school district to act when there’s a big problem like this; once there’s a restraining order, they HAVE to deal with the problem. In theory, the teacher who takes out the restraining order should be protected and the teacher it’s against moved or dismissed — partly because you have a GREAT case for wrongful termination and damages if you take out a restraining order against a woman who has already done property damage in the school building and you’re dismissed or moved as a result. But the real world can differ from theory, and a local lawyer with experience with your district would know how the school handles things like that and how good or bad local courts are when the cases come up.

      Good luck. This is a nightmare. Also keep in mind you CAN directly call school board members as a teacher, although that can lead to principals/superintendents being shirty that you jumped the “chain of command.” But if the chain of command isn’t doing their job, a good school board member wants to know that. And can be relatively savvy about obscuring where they heard about the “tearing down work” incident.

    15. Retired Prof*

      Chiming in late, but… OP, follow Alison’s advice for the rest of this year, then transfer schools. I assure you that the principal already knows what Theresa is capable of, and is not willing to engage her. Schools have baked-in cultures, and the culture here is “don’t piss off Theresa”. I bet the principal is just waiting for her to retire. You don’t want to work for this principal – if she doesn’t have your back now, she won’t under other circumstances. I work with a LOT of schools, and this kind of situation where one senior teacher makes everyone miserable is more common than you might think.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’m not sure that it’ll be lost, it might be a cult classic. Fairly certain my film-buff son has seen it. Therese certainly sounds like she watched it several times and took notes!

            1. Ms Yvonne*

              Fatal Attraction
              Then watch Single White Female (not what people are referring to here, but Therese has a heavy case of that happening, too)

              1. Dream Jobbed*

                The stiletto reference was definitely for Single White Female (when copycat takes out victim’s boyfriend with a heel through the eye.) Bunny murder is all Fatal Attraction.

              2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

                My immediate thought while reading this letter was Single White Female. From the copying OP’s style, to wanting to know all the details about her love life, it’s like Therese is desperately trying to BE her in a really creepy and disturbing way. Definitely don’t give her any more information that absolutely necessary, and especially not personal information. And maybe don’t bring your partner to staff events, just in case.

              3. Payroll Lady*

                I really think it’s more Single White Female myself, we’re not seeing any rabbit stew atleast not yet

          1. Temperance*

            I’m a Millenial and definitely watched these movies at far too young of an age.

            Other Millenials …. it’s like Swimfan but the OG Swimfan.

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          I’m pretty young (33) but I totally get the reference- it’s a classic now, even if it came out before I was born!

        1. TeacherProblems*

          Hi! I’m the OP, and laughed out loud at these comments (my older sister is a movie buff, and she’s made some Fatal Attraction and SWF references). Thanks for making me laugh :)

          1. Dream Jobbed*

            As I read your letter all I could think of was SWF. It’s equally terrifying in RL. Please protect yourself and build as many allies as you can to support you, and protect your job (and maybe even you.)

    1. Dream Jobbed*

      Bad movie jokes aside, what a ridiculous position for administration to take. This idea that tenured faculty/employees can behave however they wish needs to die a quick death.

      Tenure is meant to protect ideas and academic freedom, not the freedom to torment co-workers. Yes, there are more hoops to jump through when someone is tenured, and probably more stakeholders to bring in to make sure it is not retaliatory or discriminatory (although it always should be even without a faculty review committee), but this type of stalking and abuse needs to be dealt with. And even tenured people can be told their behavior is inappropriate.

      I am so sorry you are dealing with this OP. But this person has a reputation. I think you are safe saying “back off” so some degree.

      And yes, I’d have a poster of Single White Female hanging in my office to make my feelings known.

      1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

        Those “hoops” you refer to – what are the chances that this tenured employee, the minute she is called out on her behavior, escalates it?? and that during this escalation and potential retaliation that the OP specifically stated she was extremely concerned about, those “hoops” drag out any process and basically create an elongated, perfect opportunity for this tenured person to make OP’s life WAY more intolerable? The employee clearly knows to cover her tracks – she had a student tear down the artwork! Tenure may have been originally intended to protect academic freedom, but just like union “termination for cause” rules, in reality it is an incredibly effective shield for bad employees who engage in bad behavior. Those advocating for OP to approach her union – you think the union is going to take a position against the tenured employee??

        I disagree with Alison that the principal is washing her hands of the matter in a way that is inappropriate. The principal’s hand are tied, and they are tied by the fact that tenure will effectively protect and give tremendous opportunity to this person to escalate her behavior, which she almost certainly would do if she were called out on it. OP is in an extremely difficult position, and while tenure is not solely to blame, it is an absolutely crucial part of the equation.

        For the record, I think Alison’s advice is spot-on; OP should effectively adopt a persona with this person. Picture yourself as the most annoying version of a Pollyanna-type, and try to boomerang ALL of her comments/remarks/negativity right back at her. If you can make her exhausted by you, you may be able to drive her away a bit!

        1. Observer*

          You have some valid points. But even in an area with strong tenure and union protection, it’s not true that you can never stop an employee from misbehaving. It IS harder, but it’s still possible.

          The fact is that this is apparently an ongoing problem. What is it going to take for the principal to even try to fix the problem?

        2. sequined histories*

          Speaking as a tenured teacher, I have not seen that tenure gives anyone carte blanche to act like a fool.

          Also, it’s not that hard for a principal to make a teacher’s life miserable, for any reason or no reason. Extensive documentation—even of imaginary shortcomings—can sink the career of almost any teacher, and I’m guessing Therese is not without other deficits.

          But principal has to put in significant time and effort. A principal unwilling to do so in this case is far more of a problem than Therese herself.

        3. Lavender Menace*

          The principal’s hands are not tied. Disciplining or firing someone with tenure may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and it’s literally the principal’s job to deal with this sort of thing.

          I’m not unsympathetic to the point about this coworker potentially making it worse, but that’s not a good reason to leave this unaddressed. If you do, basically that means that all an employee has to do to begin a reign of terror is threaten to escalate their behavior. This employee can continue to stalk, harass, and terrorize her coworkers until…what? Until she hurts someone physically? Until the end of her career?

          The reason tenure is an effective shield is, in part, because administrators would rather throw up their hands and say “my hands are tied” than at least try to oust bad apples. I mean, I get it if it’s just Fergus who clocks in late, does no work, and checks out early but doesn’t actively hurt anyone or anything. But this is a coworker who is destroying student work, enlisting the students in her schemes and showing stalker-ish behavior with one of her colleagues. Where does this end? How do you keep good employees around while also letting this person run around and stalk them? (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have worked in academia.)

      2. Caroline Bowman*

        This is what I thought. I’m not US and quite ignorant of the way it works, but surely in most countries / places, being tenured doesn’t equal ”free to do literally anything up to and including getting young children to destroy art work”?

        I can imagine being on probation hinders things somewhat, but you’re still a person with the right not to be terrorised and if it were me, I’d at least speak to your union rep unofficially and ask what they would do and then document everything.

        1. JustaTech*

          It depends on the level at which one is teaching, what freedoms tenure allows.
          In my first week of college I was introduced to my advisor at a dinner with him saying “I could be chainsaw-ing guinea pigs in the parking lot and there’s nothing the administration could do about it.” Which was not what this guinea pig loving freshman needed to hear, especially a week after 9/11.
          (That professor, while inclined to say some outrageous things, was actually very supportive and a good teacher. We also had two tenured professors asked to leave while I was in school; one for utterly failing to do his job and costing the school hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one for just phoning it in on both his research and his teaching. It’s a teaching school, not a research school, so you have to actually teach.)

          I don’t know for sure but I have to expect that the rules about what a tenured K-12 teacher can do are a lot more limited, if only because they work with minors.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            I’m sure you know this, but for the purposes of this thread, your professor was exaggerating a bit. Tenure agreements have escape clauses – sexual misconduct (especially with students), criminal behavior, financial exigency, sometimes even a morality clause (particularly at religious institutions).

            Your advisor’s sense of security was perhaps due to a combination of tenure and his ability to bring money or fame (or both) to the institution in some way.

  2. Llellayena*

    I might go back to the principal and tell her you plan to push back a little on some of Therese’s actions (specifically the taking calls and hanging out in your room and the requests for favors) and mention your worries about retaliation. This flags it as “if Therese comes to you with problems about me, get another opinion first.” You’re entitled to some privacy in your classroom for concentration on work and sharing your time as you see fit. If she does try to retaliate with affecting your reputation, the principal should be able to back you up and counter the rumors. It doesn’t sound like your principal would do this, but she really should talk with Therese about not taking down other teacher’s student’s work. That can harm the students if they were told it would be up for a certain amount of time (or it gets damaged when it’s removed).

    1. Kitano*

      This, plus is there a way to lock the classroom when you’re not using it? It might not be an option because of the students, but if it is, then it would be worth the extra trouble.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        I was about to suggest leaving your room locked, too. It’s not a bad idea in general, it avoids confrontation, and you can always tell her you’re doing it for safety.

        1. Seltaeb*

          At the school where I work, the same key opens every classroom, so keeping the room locked would not keep another teacher out.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, push back where you can and get buy in from the Principle if possible. Also, document every time you need to do this, just note it down somewhere. Also fully document any retaliation, including taking photos if something like the tearing of the art on the door happens again.

      I second Allison’s suggestion of making an effort to get to know other teachers and asking for a new room assignment next year. Build your support team and get as far away from her as possible.

  3. AndersonDarling*

    This was like reading a Tina storyline on Bob’s Burgers.
    I’ve worked with toxic people where 50% of your job is just tip-toeing around the landmine people. It’s exhausting. It’s so disappointing that people need to spend so much energy on handling their work environments instead of actually working. I have no suggestions for the OP, just sympathy.

    1. PJ*

      (Not all of Notes on a Scandal, mind you, but the part where the older teacher has a crush on the younger one!)

    2. Choggy*

      Ha, I was thinking the same, and can imagine this teacher being the character played by Judy Dench! Yikes!

      1. Sunflower*

        That’s the first thought that popped into my head. And I doubt the OP is the first she did this to. I fear for the OP and the next new teacher.

          1. Choggy*

            No, not at all, but she may try to use something against OP if she is displeased. I’m sure she knows how protected she is, and so will push boundaries.

  4. CeeBee*

    she’s being single white femaled and it needs to STOP. I’d honestly be keeping a journal and let ppl outside of school know what is going on. The thing with getting a student to do her dirty work? that alone should have the stalker reprimanded.

    1. Teacher Problems*

      Thank you. That part really bothered me as well— I can’t even wrap my head around blaming a little kid and hoping they’d get in trouble for your actions. —OP

      1. JustaTech*

        Let me guess, this kid has already had some behavior problems, been sent to the principal’s office? And then their teacher offers them a “special” task, and then they get in trouble for it?
        That poor kid. At the very least *they* need a different teacher.

        1. Veruca*

          I thought this too. I’m sure Therese selected a child she knew wouldn’t be believed and that probably doesn’t have supportive parents. That’s the part that really sickened me.

          1. Teacher Problems*

            Actually, the strange thing was, the student was one of those perfect-never-does-anything-wrong kids. I can’t imagine him telling a teacher “no” if they asked him to do something, so I’m sure he thought he was being nice by “helping take the work down.” The whole thing was just unsettling and I felt bad for the kid (and made sure he didn’t feel accused and let him know he wasn’t in trouble)—OP

            1. Observer*

              I can see the logic here. Claim that PerfectKid “made a mistake” and no one will think twice because PerfectKid never does things wrong. Not thinking that someone would actually ASK the kid “hey, what happened?”

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        As someone whose kids had their share of, how would I say it? odd elementary-school teachers, I gasped at that part. It is not okay that she teaches kids, IMO.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yeah, this is bananas. Keep track of what’s going on in some way and let people outside of work know you’re having this issue.

  5. Elizabeth*

    Also, document and document… But I think I’d also re-read Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, if you haven’t already. OP may only be unsettled, but if I knew this was happening to someone on my team, I’d be alarmed. I’m only reading it and my spidey senses are tingling a LOT.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Yes, this is EXTREMELY alarming. There’s a whole bunch of individual odd things that would just be weird or offputting on their own, but the combination is giving me goosebumps.

  6. Narise*

    I would do everything I could do to get moved to a different classroom/different lunch/schedule as much as possible. And remember how she acts towards you and if/when a new teacher starts make sure you support them if similar issues arise.

    1. Teacher Problems*

      This is a great suggestion, and one I’ve been thinking about. I’ve started eating lunch in my classroom more often than in the teachers’ area, just to have an excuse to not eat by her. I’m up for tenure this year, so I’m thinking of looking for a new job once I’m tenured (in my state, if you get tenure in one district then you don’t have to wait as long to earn it if you move to another district). I’m kind of hoping to tough it out and quietly move to a new job before the next school year.—OP

      1. Des*

        Just be aware that hiding from her means she is isolating you from other teachers, and forming good relationships with them.

        1. pancakes*

          No, the letter writer eating lunch in her classroom more often doesn’t mean that Therese is forming good relationships with their colleagues or improving existing relationships.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I don’t think Des meant that Therese was forming stronger relationships with the other teachers, but that by scaring Teacher Problems away from eating with the other teachers, she’s preventing her from forming those good relationships.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          I kind of think that Therese is already preventing her from doing that — if it were me, I’d be worried that people would think I actually liked Therese, or that they’d see me as her flunky or whatever. I think LW’s best bet is to be really intentional about forming relationships with the other teachers, and forget about the lunchroom.

      2. Observer*

        Why not go to the teachers’ room and and make sure to seat yourself next to someone right away so she can’t glom on to you so easily. That allows you more chance to form relationships (professionally!) with people.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I think this is where Alison’s advice to try to form closer relationships with other teachers in the school might come in helpful. If you start forming relationships and get yourself some lunch buddies, there’s a) less opportunity for Therese to glue herself to your side, and b) less likelihood that the other teachers would believe any rumors Therese may decide to start about you. You need a much stronger Team You at this school, so see if you can find ways to bond with the other teachers and the support staff.

        1. Ananon*

          I think this is really important. Bullies are much less likely to go after people who are well-liked and connected.

  7. anonymous 5*

    Chiming in with a couple others who have already said this: contact your union rep (assuming you have one) and let them know what’s going on, especially the part about your principal not acting to intervene. Therese instructing a student to tear down things you’d hung around your door is a huge flag. The other “quirky” behavior is concerning, especially in aggregate, but actual destruction of your work is a problem regardless of the context.

    1. Nea*

      This is an excellent idea! Any instruction notes could also be turned over to the union as proof she’s trying to use you as her staff.

    2. Double A*

      Yes. Therese may be tenured, but they are both represented by the union.

      I admit I haven’t had good luck with my teaching unions, especially as a new teacher. But see if you can find someone sympathetic.

    3. Joan Rivers*

      I’m shocked that she’d rope a child into destructive behavior! That goes against every principle of a school. This won’t get better.

      1. Observer*

        Yes. It’s bad enough that the principal won’t even try to rein in some of the other issues. But pulling a child in?! What else is the principal going to let slide?

    4. employment lawyah*

      FWIW: I would advise DEFINITELY NOT do this without first talking to a lawyer.

      “How you think a union should work generally,” “how your particular union is supposed to work;” and “how your particular union actually works” are often very, very, different things.

      Most obviously, the union is not what it says. Sure, it protects you, right? But she’s a longer member and she’s paid more dues and she has more connections and more pull. So even if she’s breaking a union rule, they may throw you under the bus in a split second to protect her–or her image, or some other bargaining chip which you don’t even know about at all.

      People who are “supposed” to help can be firmly against you; things can be very different. Generally a union is at its best when your goals are firmly and evenly aligned with the goals of the powerful union folks, but you probably don’t know what those are here. Moreover, those goals are probably not going to include “getting rid of a respected teacher with a lot of pull.”

      I would not do this.

        1. employment lawyah*

          This is a classic “the sign on the door says Americans for Freedom so they will support my civil rights claim, right?” mistake.

      1. LQ*

        We’ve had a few folks here mention that unions are contractually obligated to defend Therese in this case. (It came up in conversations around LEO unions.)

        I would be a little surprised if Therese had strong pull in the union. But it’s worth knowing who her friends are before you bring them all your evidence and lay it all out on the table.

      2. Teacher Problems*

        Yes, this has been part of why I’ve been hesitant to take this to the union. I don’t want to escalate things with Therese more, and I don’t want to damage my chances of being tenured in cases the union backs her. My district is small and everyone knows each other. I moved here from out-of-state and am still kind of new to the district, so I don’t know how well that would go for me.—OP

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Is there time in your schedule to sign up for other district activities? Teaching after school clubs, or writing curriculum or volunteering for the district’s professional development programs might be a way for you to start forming some connections in the district and making a reputation for yourself away from Therese, which might put you in a stronger position to find someone to help you push back against the worst of her behavior.

          1. Social Commentator*

            I like this idea very much, if it is feasible for OP. If not directly useful to leverage future action, it may be excellent for mental health purposes to have a “safe space” as part of her professional life, as opposed to all of work feeling oppressive and creepy and scary.

    5. Eleanor Konik*

      I was coming here to say this. I’m also a teacher and it’s not as well advertised as it should be that one of the services you pay for in a teacher’s union is for advice for exactly these sorts of situations.

      It of course depends on how your particular union works, but in my union we have something called “UniServe Directors” (and I believe this is common throughout the USA via the NEA umbrella union) and they aren’t really beholden to the politics of the teachers in the union per se. They’re staff members, not volunteers, and often come from outside the field.

      > The idea was to create staff positions that would provide direct service to members of a bargaining unit as it related to contract issues, evaluation appeals, legal matters and grievances. The UniServ position was also created to provide advice and to act as a liaison between local education associations, their state affiliates and NEA.

      You’re not going to your union to try to get her fired; you’re going to your union to get advice about what your rights are and what are reasonable things to request from your principal (i.e. getting backup to get your schedule swapped). Some things might not be able to happen right away, given the vagaries of the school year and scheduling, but they should be able to advise you on that, too.

      1. Yorick*

        This is a great comment. You don’t even have to tell them Therese’s name to get the union to help with this. You can just ask for advice about requesting stuff from your principal.

  8. Nea*

    Sometimes Therese will ask me to do favors for cash. When I tell her that I’m too busy, I’ll often still find her cash sitting on my desk with a thank-you/instruction note.

    Do you dare tell Therese bluntly that you are a school employee and not HER administrative staff?

    Other than that, in your shoes I would try to become closer to others in the ring. Bond over school things, not her. They’ll see what she’s up to anyway – there are already comments – and may have tips. And if she gets nasty to you again, people you have bonded with will be on your side at least.

    Tenure or not, it seems to me that telling a student to destroy anything is grounds for censure. It’s a pity your principal isn’t willing to go at least that far.

    1. KeinName*

      I would not say I am too busy but maybe ‚I am good for cash, thanks‘ – I was really struck by how she thinks you need her money?!
      But that clearly is not the main problem here. I think that getting the boss to take responsibility and being very cheerful but distant (to the point of gaslighting *her*) might be the way to go here.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I thought the cash was to pay for the thing she wanted. But paying OP to run the errand, yikes?

        I wonder if you can turn the cash in at the main office, OP? Just tell her that any stray cash on your desk can be found down at the main office, as you don’t want to be responsible for other people’s money.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        I wouldn’t say “I’m good for cash, thanks” as it sounds like OP would be willing to do the favour but doesn’t need the cash, and it gives Therese the opportunity to say “no no, I insist!”

        I think the best answer here is to just say no. No, you can’t do the Thing, and no, you can’t accept the cash. Skip the softening language. And if she leaves money on your desk anyway (why???), return it to her mailbox or somewhere you don’t need to have contact with her. And do this every single time. This is one of those situations where if you say no 25 times and then finally say yes just to get her to shut up, she has learned that she needs to ask 26 times to get you to say yes.

        Frack, I’m exhausted just typing all this. I hope you can get out of there soon!

        1. aliya*

          is it immature that my reaction is she should keep the cash, not do the favor, and pretend to not know what Therese is talking about when she brings it up? :)

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            “What cash? Oh, in an envelope on my desk? I threw that out since it wasn’t supposed to be there, oopsie-daisy.”

        2. miss chevious*

          Yeah, this is a combination of what Gavin de Becker would call “loansharking” — offering unsolicited help to create a feeling of obligation and “forced teaming” — acting like you have a shared predicament with another person to create a feeling of commonality. OP, if you haven’t read The Gift of Fear, get a copy and start now. de Becker has great tips and strategies for these situations, including information about when to be seriously concerned.

          Please note that his chapter on domestic violence is problematic due to his personal circumstances, but that chapter is not really relevant to your concerns here.

      3. booksbooksmorebooks*

        To me, the money thing reads like it’s an extension of her control & manipulation issues she’s acting out – it’s straight out of the playbook an estranged relative used to use on me. She doesn’t think OP needs the money, she thinks it’s another way to bring them ‘closer’ and control OP.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            To me, it’s got more of a flavor of, “Oh we’re best friends, look what she did for me!” Then she doesn’t even have to mention that she gave her money to do it.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Copy the notes before you return them, and maybe even return them with a short note saying something like “Therese, I was concerned to find this on my desk after I had already explained to you that I wasn’t able to run your errand for you. Please don’t do this in future, especially as leaving money lying around could create problems if any were to go missing.
      Thanks”

      Keep a copy of that, too. That way, you have a paper trial showing her behavior and also that you have expressly asked her to stop.

      Is there another colleague you could talk to, and perhaps arrange to sit with at lunch so you can avoid being in a position where Therese can insert herself ?

      I am not familiar with how tenure works – I appreciate it makes it harder to get rid of an employee but presumably doesn’t mean that they can’t be subject to any discipline at all, and can’t be fired in any circumstances? It might be worth talking to an employment lawyer with experience of schools to find out what the school could so, and what sort of evidence might be needed for them to take action – and also to identify whether her current behavior and the school’s lack of action to protect you opens any routes for you to take action. I understand that you don’t want to rock the boat so early on, but it might be helpful to find out where you stand and what options there may be if things don’t improve , or get worse.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I second this one – just what I was going to say. There should be district HR or union representation that should be able to help figure out how to move forward. I can’t help but think that Therese may have engaged in these behaviors before, which are hopefully on file. If nothing else, hopefully they can help get you out of the building, or at least help reign her in. Please update us!

  9. KJ*

    OP: One piece of advice, from someone who has been in a similar position – Document Everything! If you email concerns to your superiors, keep a copy. If someone tells you something about Therese’s behavior that worries you, get a statement. Take photos for verification (such as the damage to the work around your door). If things go downhill, any documentation you have, and especially documentation that is backed up/involves a second party, will support you and your position.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, this, and keep all documentation in a file off the local server. Google Drive works well for this, but there are other options out there.

    2. cheri*

      Keep everything in email, send confirmation of what you talked about to your principal so they can’t come back later and say they didn’t, and BCC YOUR PERSONAL EMAIL. It needs to live in multiple places. Same for any photos, etc.

  10. Cassidy*

    In addition to what Alison said, tenured K-12 teachers (and university faculty, as well) can be fired for cause. I’d keep that in your back pocket as you document things. I’m sorry this is happening to you.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      That’s true but those “for cause” things usually have to involve student safety or criminal behavior, which none of these things reach the level of, and even then it takes a year or more to document and investigate, unfortunately.

      1. Anax*

        Although… If she’s lacking boundaries to this extent, and she’s really not denying it, I wonder what she’s saying to her students – both about OP, and in general. She certainly sounds like the sort of teacher who might be vindictive toward her students as well.

        Any chance of having the principal or another adult sit in on class for a bit?

        Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if a teacher with this few boundaries were behaving in a discriminatory/hostile way toward a legally protected demographic of students, which as far as I know, would open the school to legal liability. That might be a stretch, but if there’s evidence, maybe it would spur the administration to act.

      2. Observer*

        Not just direct student safety, but things that could be considered abusive to students. So by pulling a student in AND make a false accusation against the kid, she’s made herself a bit more vulnerable.

      3. A girl has no name*

        I am an elementary school teacher. Telling a minor student to destroy another teacher’s property in retaliation would absolutely reach the level of cause.

    2. Eleanor Konik*

      There’s a 0% chance this teacher is going to get fired over this. The most likely outcome is that the OP requests a transfer to a different school at the end of the year, imo.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        Depends on the school/district/contract. I’m pretty sure that some of these things would be formally documented and shared with HR at my school, and after a certain point it’s possible it could lead to a teacher being non-renewed. It’s not guaranteed, but without knowing more context I’m a little concerned about how many people are saying it’s impossible. I think the principal is making a choice here that makes it impossible, but that’s on them and their management style.

    3. BRR*

      It’s possible but it doesn’t sound like the LW’s boss (I’m assuming the principal) wants to pursue that in any way, shape, or form. I actually think the LW’s boss is dropping the ball here.

  11. employment lawyah*

    Yikes. This behavior is pretty disturbing. I think you are right to be concerned: Any individual behavior is perfectly normal, but the combination of behaviors is pretty bizarre.

    So a few things.

    First, document document document. Everything. Because it this may lead to a real problem for you, you need to have a very good “contemporaneous” record. That means that it’s something you write down daily (those are presumed to be more accurate) and not just a summary, months later, of what you remember. When you talk to your lawyer (see below) you can discuss the best way to do this. Some of my clients maintain a special ‘diary” email account and email to and from themselves, thereby creating a set of identifiable and provably-time-stamped notes.

    Second–and yes, I know, you probably think this is too involved–talk to a specialist employee-side lawyer. You may not realize that a lot of what we do is giving advice. Most of my time is spent keeping people out of trouble or helping them avoid problems in the first place, and an experienced lawyer is actually very good at this. They know your state laws and can help you with the wording of emails, the tracking of contractual terms, etc.

    I don’t mean that you should sue, but you WOULD benefit from the level of expertise which can only be delivered in a back and forth detailed chat, not online. Yes you’re probationary and yes she’s tenured, but there are still state laws (different ones so I can’t predict) and you may have some protection here. How does your contract define harassment? Retaliation? Etc. They can also advise you on documentation and how to set things up for the future.

    How long before you’re off probation? If you can smile and nod for a short time you’re probably best off sucking it up, though, again, talk to counsel.

    1. Former Fed*

      ALL of this. AND, I would start to grey rock Therese, too. (Google it – basically be as boring and non-responsive as a grey rock. Don’t feed her drama.) And, yes, a million times – document everything like crazy and keep it at your home, don’t trust the work system. AND an attorney. Also, others suggested union rep, I’d try that, too. Godspeed, OP.

  12. mlk*

    OP, can you keep your classroom locked when you’re not there? That would at least keep Therese from leaving the cash/notes, taking calls, and otherwise considering your room, her room.

    I would also push back with the principal on the ‘enlisting student’. If another teacher or employee had seen the student ripping down work, that student would have gotten in trouble! That’s totally not right.

    1. Double A*

      Yes, this would absolutely be my first step. In fact, even without a Therese, the OP should do this because students shouldn’t have access to an unattended classroom. Anyone who needs to be able to get in will have a key.

      Of course it’s possible that teachers have keys that open all classrooms, or work for all classrooms in their wing.

    2. Teacher Problems*

      Hi, I’m the OP— thank you for your comment. I have been locking my door and my desk, but we all have master keys to everyone’s room, so I’m not sure how much good that will do.

      I will talk to admin about the thing with the student again, because you’re right, that’s the kind of thing I should make sure is on the record.

        1. Annonnymmous*

          If there are windows, earphones (not earbuds – visible earphones) will give you plausible deniability of not hearing her.

        2. OhNo*

          No, don’t do that, because it may cause issues if there is a fire. I don’t know how stringent the OP’s school is, but anything that would be considered a fire hazard could get her in trouble.

      1. Ashley*

        Could you James Bond it when you lock your door so you know if someone was in there? Or maybe find someone friendly in maintenance and mention someone is going into your room when it is looked and get their opinions? Again the advice of watch who is friends with her
        Relationship building I think will be key to solving many of the problems.

      2. CowWhisperer*

        A few things:

        If you have a voicemail, change the passcode regularly. I don’t know why she’s on your phone – but she can’t do nearly as much damage if she’s not calling regarding your students.

        Find other rooms to do your work in during your plan(s) and afterschool. Change them up frequently and randomly. Starter ideas: cafeteria, faculty lounge, where-ever faculty meetings are, and teachers who have similar plan times but are a year ahead or behind your students. The nice thing about sharing rooms with a fellow teacher in a different age band is you can fall back on the “Oh, so and so is helping me make sure I understand (where the students are at from last year/where they need to be for next year) as a rationale for why you are there.

        Read up on “Gray Rock” – it’s a way to make interacting with someone who you have to interact with – but find poisonous – less satisfying for the annoying person. She copies your hair – ignore it. She wears the same dress as you – ignore it. You come back from the lounge, and she’s been sitting alone in your room, – no reaction.

        1. Jane of all Trades*

          THIS!
          It sounds like you may not have a lot of options until you get tenure, but in any case while you are working on resolving this gray rock her. Basically, the less you react, the less satisfying the interactions (or her general creepiness) will be for her.
          Don’t comment at all on her hair and looks. If she asks about your love life, just say something like “oh, you know, not much going on” and then keep doing whatever you were doing. If she tries to engage you in a discussion, try to wiggle out of it – “that sounds really interesting, Therese! I’m sorry, but I promised my friend that I would proof read her resume during lunch/FaceTime during lunch/ I have a couple of things to finish, let’s catch up later (and then never do).”
          And I agree with the other commenters that you should try to build stronger networks with the other teachers!
          Good luck!

    3. Older and bolder*

      Forcing the child to take down the art work is child abuse. Every adult in that school is a mandated reporter. Call your union rep, take rep to the principal, and get this reported.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I don’t know that the child was “forced” – probably just asked. I don’t think that rises to the level of abuse … and if it is framed that way, it would mean that no other teachers are asking students to take down art work. I’m not a teacher but I can’t imagine that’s all that unusual?

        What is awful to me about what she did is telling LW that the kid tore it down as though it was their idea, and hoping that LW would get the kid into trouble. Awful.

  13. Inthemoon*

    First of all, I am so sorry for what you are going through. The kid situation was heartbreaking, must have been hard for you to have to check a kid for something you knew was coming from her.
    Allison’s recommendation on being cheerful really sounds exhausting but is your best bet, especially as you need people to see that you are no source of conflict whatsoever, and you need to counter her negative vibe and mean spirit. Also agree that you need to build a network of trust that can help you navigate some moments, colleagues might understand and support while you escalate the issue. You need someone who can tell you when she is coming into your office, that you can discuss things with more details, as you already have the basis from Allison’s advice.

    Just keep strong!

    1. LaFramboise*

      Also, and I can’t stress this enough, befriend the office staff, any parapros, and maintenance. You should do this anyway, and be sincere in your friendships. While these folks don’t necessarily have a lot of overt clout, they tend to know everything, and are good sources of intel, especially if they been in the building for years. Best of luck with your tenure evaluation, I hope we hear good news!

  14. Clydesdales and coconuts*

    Tenure doesn’t stop the internal complaint process. Find out how to file one and do it immediately. All of the behaviors listed are concerning when lumped together, but most concerning is the engagement of a child to tear down other work and destroy a display. Talk to a union rep if your administration isnt taking you seriously.

    1. Firecat*

      Yes!!! I was thinking the same thing. She is a teacher and she tried to pin misbehavior on a student who was following her orders! How else does she abuse her students???

  15. Jellybeans*

    This is scary stuff. Make sure she can’t get access to personal information like where you live and keep an eye out in case she tries to follow you outside of work..

  16. Vermont Green*

    Document every thing that happens, with date and time.
    If there are witnesses, jot down their names, too.

  17. EPLawyer*

    This creeped me out. Therese has stalkers vibes all over it. Talk to your principal again. Make it quite clear what she is doing — lay it all out here like you did for ALison. Especially the part about involving students in her stalking and trying to give you cash. Mention OTHER teachers have noticed some of the behavior. If the Principal will not take steps to protect you, talk to your Union about what to do. Take it up the chain if you have to do. You have the right to feel safe at your place of work.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I would also suggest that if you do speak to the principal again, using terms such as ‘stalking’ and ‘harassment’ may well be appropriate – and asking the principal explicitly what they are going to do to ensure that this behavior stops , and that you are not exposed to retaliation.

      Maybe ask whether your room lock can be changed so it can’t be opened with the master key, in the unusual circumstances?

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      If she escalates to stalking you outside of work, then depending on what’s happening, you can escalate outside of work too (A lawyer cease and desist letter? Restraining order? Something else? IDK exactly what but please get outside/not union guidance on what needs to happen should she do anything.)

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      And be sure to develop relationships with as many other teachers as possible- don’t let her isolate you!

  18. Forrest*

    I am absolutely HORRIFIED that she instructed someone to rip down your students’ work and the principal is just like, “eh, she’s tenured.” WTAF.

    I know this is easy to say, but I would be looking for another job. As much as anything else, if your management, is all “eh, can’t do owt” about a teacher DAMAGING STUDENT’S WORK because of a disagreement with another teacher, what else are they ignoring and letting slide? This just doesn’t sound like a good place to develop.

    1. mayfly*

      I’m worried that the principal’s response means that there have been issues with Therese in the past and the union has protected her. Seems pretty jaded.
      OP, you should still contact the union, but realistically, her behaviors are so out of bounds that I can’t imagine she hasn’t been reported to them before. They may not do much to back you up :(

      1. Forrest*

        I mean, American unions may be very different but in the UK, “the union protected her” means “the union scrupulously advocated for her rights to be treated legally and according to the terms of employment she’d signed up to”—it’s not a partisan thing. If the school can’t get it together to fire or censure her despite such egregious behaviour, that’s also a very bad reflection on management.

          1. uncivil servant*

            I actually find that commenters here usually believe that unions are generic worker-protection bodies. In my experience, they help you interpret and apply the terms of the collective agreement to your situation. My CA does not say that a nutty co-worker may not sabotage my work because I don’t pay enough attention to her, so what’s the union to do? (We have an anti-harassment clause, but it protects us from discrimination on the basis of protected classes.)

            When we all stopped getting paid correctly due to a new automated pay system, it felt like the unions sort of held up their hands and said that there is no clause in the CA saying that we should get paid accurately and on time. Until the next round of bargaining, my union posted memes on their website. (They did offer guidance for navigating the system of contacting the pay centre and requesting emergency assistance if your pay got cut off, but I get the impression that many people think a union would go to bat for you in this case. They did not get directly involved.)

            1. pancakes*

              Conflating your own union with other unions, plural, is something I also categorize as anti-union. If your own union leadership does nothing more than post memes—as unlikely as that is—then the solution should be to elect new leadership, not slag off any and all unions on a blog.

              1. uncivil servant*

                I don’t think they behaved badly! They just had limited power in this situation. I accept that all unions are different and everyone has a different experience with them, but my understanding of unions is that they are primarily collective bargaining units. Their real force came out when our CAs expired and they got us all bonuses for the pain and suffering caused by the pay system.

            2. Forrest*

              >>My CA does not say that a nutty co-worker may not sabotage my work because I don’t pay enough attention to her, so what’s the union to do?

              It’s not the union’s job to deal with your terrible co-worker. It’s your management’s job to deal with your terrible co-worker, and the union’s job to make sure that your terrible co-worker is treated fairly and according to the conditions of her employment (which should include disciplinary procedures) EVEN THOUGH she’s terrible.

              1. uncivil servant*

                That’s what I’m saying. I feel that people sometimes think that unions are there to generically promote a good work environment, but their primary tool for promoting workers’ rights is through collective bargaining, not individual advocacy.

                I would absolutely talk to my union steward in the OP’s situation. At the very least, this person has probably been around a bit and seen other disputes and be able to advise the OP on steps they could take.

                1. Forrest*

                  That’s interesting — they do both here. My union will work on mine and other members’ behalf at a collective level, but they’ll also do casework.

                  In a case like this, if the school tried to discipline Theresa she’d have a right to a union caseworker in any meetings or disciplinaries. The caseworker would be there to make sure everything was done precisely according to the terms and conditions of employment. But equally, they could represent LW in a complaint against the employer (not against Theresa herself) saying they’d failed to provide a safe working environment free from harassment.

                  My dad did casework for decades, and said he nearly always managed to find some way that HR had breached their own rules and therefore couldn’t fire someone for gross misconduct, not because the employee was in the right but because HR had done something like take 70 days to arrange a meeting when their own procedures said it should be no more than 60 days. But that almost never meant that the individual got to keep their job and carry on causing problems, it just meant that they got to keep their pension or whatever.

      2. caradom*

        Try watching the union once the parents got involved. I’m in education and If I was the manager this is how it would go:

        ‘You asked your student to collude with you so you could harass and distress a colleague. As the student is a minor I have to talk to their parents about the behaviour and put you on probation immediately. If you harass or manipulate anyone again I will have to fire you’.

        Good luck fighting that in court!

    2. Tenebrae*

      Right?! This would be awful in any circumstance but pulling students into her weird obsession/vendetta? If I had a child at this school and found out this was happening, I’d lose my mind.

      1. caradom*

        Same here. The problem is she can’t circumvent the school and tell the parents. I just wish the students would!!

  19. Ladybugger*

    Oh gosh, I feel so sorry for that poor kid! Is it possible the child’s parents might object? I wouldn’t want to pull the kid into it myself, but there’s a chance they’ll tell this story at home and I would imagine that might bring more attention to Therese’s problematic behaviour. (Again not advocating prompting that if it hasn’t happened, but maybe something to hope for – if Therese is going to keep using her students to ‘get back at you’ I wouldn’t be surprised if that makes its way to their parents soon.)

    1. Teacher Problems*

      Hi! I’m the OP. Thank you for this. I made sure to be very gentle when I talked to the kid. I talked to him privately and just said “Hey, I heard from someone that you took these papers off the wall. Can you tell me what happened?” He seemed pretty unfazed and I made sure he knew he wasn’t in trouble at all, so I don’t think his parents will get involved. Even if it would bring more attention to what’s going on, I don’t know that I want to involve the kids in this just because they should get a chance to be 8 and not involved in adults’ drama. If all of this gets back to the parents on its own, though, then so be it.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        It sounds to me like this isn’t the *first* time she’s asked him to do such things. That could be damaging to a child, teaching him that he can get away with destructive behavior if a teacher supports him.

      2. Southern Ladybug*

        OP, you are not involving a child in adults’ drama. Theresa is. As a parent I would want to be informed. This person’s actions are not just affecting you, but students and the classroom environment. (The personal stuff SHOULD be enough – none of it is ok).

        1. Southern Ladybug*

          Hit submit too soon – even at 8 this child likely knows s/he was used and manipulated (even if they wouldn’t use those words).

      3. Here we go again*

        I’m a parent and if a teacher or an authority figure told my son to do something that could get him in trouble I’d want to know.

      4. The Third Lorelei*

        OP. As a parent I would really want to know about something like this. If my kid was being used as a pawn, if a teacher was creeping on another teacher. I wouldn’t want my child in her class! And as aggressive as I have seen parents get, and what I know I’M capable of, I would do anything to make that happen.

        Parents might support you more than you think. Have you read the Gift of fear?

      5. Snarkansas*

        Another angle: if I was a parent at this school and found out that my child’s work had been maliciously destroyed on the order of a TEACHER I would be FURIOUS!!

        1. Self Employed*

          I don’t know if “torn down” literally meant “torn and damaged” or just taken down. This kid doesn’t sound like the type to tear stuff and damage it.

      6. First comment ever from me*

        Dear OP, I think the parents would be your best allies here. If some random troubled teacher did this to my kid, I would take it to the principal, the superintendent, school board etc until I got someone who would listen. Therese is seriously troubled and needs to be removed from any location where children are. What on earth is she like in her own classroom? There’s no way she’s keeping it together and being a fine teacher while pulling all these shenanigans. Those poor kids!

        1. Self Employed*

          I’m glad that would work in your school district. In my city, parents can’t even keep teachers from calling the police and having their kids arrested for talking too loud or leaving class for a bathroom emergency.

      7. Observer*

        As a parent, I think that the others may have a point about bringing this to the Kid’s parents.

        The fundamental problem here is that the kid is already in the middle of this mess. And if anyone starts investigating, the parents would be blindsided – and far less able to buffer their kid. Also, given what Therese already said, I have no doubt that she’d lie about the kid if someone did start investigating. The last thing I would want happening to the kid is to have someone reach out to the parents about his “problematic” behavior in tearing down the work of other kids from the wall and the parents having no idea of what’s happening. If they know from you what happened and why you are fairly certain that the kid is telling the truth, they have the information they need to protect their kid.

        On top of which, it’s probably a good thing that the parents should know that this teacher is doing something wrong to their child. Even if they don’t feel like they can do anything in school – this is NOT a principal who seems like she will do anything to rein in a bad teacher. Because it’s information they can use to make other decisions.

  20. singularity*

    Is it possible to keep your classroom door closed and locked so that Therese can’t come in whenever she pleases? That would at least minimize her taking calls from your class, coming in unannounced or leaving notes and money (!!) on your desk when you aren’t there.

    If she’s tenure, it may not matter (like she has a master key and can get into the room) anyway, but if you try that and she gets upset, just say you’re trying to keep your materials secure or that students have had things lost or taken and you’re trying to minimize traffic in and out of the room (especially with Covid still happening).

  21. Mission Statement*

    Do your classroom doors lock? I’d be doing all that Alison suggested, all the things commenters suggested (document, talk to your union if you have one, and talk to anyone outside school who will listen), and I would be locking the classroom door when I am in it and when I am not there. And is there any way to include parents in this? I know that is like airing the school’s dirty laundry but maybe there is a way to “accidentally” reveal this – “I loved your child’s work so much I wanted to post in on the door but another teacher gets angry and takes things down.” I know that is too obvious but something along those lines?

    I am so sorry this is happening to you!

    1. Social Commentator*

      Er, no. Involving parents would not work in the OP’s favor; it’s every bit as an unprofessional and boundary-crossing as having involved the child in the harassing behavior.

  22. Phony Genius*

    If the student is telling the truth, then the teacher told him it was OK to destroy property that was neither his nor the teacher’s. Where I live, that would be an automatic trip to the “rubber room” for that teacher.

    FYI, the “rubber room” is where tenured teachers get sent while they wait for a disciplinary hearing. Unfortunately, it usually takes months to get such a hearing, and then there are appeals. It’s a bad situation both ways, since bad teachers are kept on the payroll for months or even years waiting out the process, and innocent teachers have to sit there doing next to nothing every day until their hearing. That said, based on her behavior, it sounds like this is where she belongs.

  23. caradom*

    Aaaaah when the nutters end at work! She might have tenure but that doesn’t mean certain things can’t be dealt with. Forget the clothes copying, does your office have a key and lock you can use where her key doesn’t open the door? If not demand one, she could be doing anything in there (I would add a spy cam if I was you).

    She instructed a student to vandalise work: insist on a meeting where parents are included because this is beyond disturbing! If management disagree call in the regulators. Do NOT greet her cheerfully. Just freeze her out. When she says hi ignore her. When she comes to the same table at lunch move away (even if this means eating somewhere different for 3 months). Don’t convince yourself you are a bad person, she is the one using her power to abuse you.

    When she asks for a favour say we’ve discussed this so don’t ask me again. and if you’re unhappy she can go see her manager. Or simply walk away. When she leaves money take it to management and say the implications of this are too disturbing, she could claim anything she likes so she can come to you to get the money back. When she sits in your office tell her to leave. You know what type of things she will ask you to repeat and stick it in email.

    Basically tell her you will only interact with her on a work issue. They can’t force you to interact personally. If she complains you’re not being her friend tell your management she might have tenure but no once can force you to be nice to a disturbing person unless they want a court course.

    1. Juneybug*

      I would agree but OP is on probation. There is the risk that the Principle will let OP go “to solve the problem.” Not fair but it does happen.

      1. caradom*

        And she will have plenty of evidence to fight it. Also, I would hope a union representative would be in the meetings.

  24. EBennett*

    I’ve been teaching for 30 years and am an officer in our teachers’ association. If you are in a public school in the U.S., reach out to your building union rep. If you don’t know who that is, find out. If they don’t know what to do, ask to be put in contact with your district’s president or a state level rep.
    Document every troubling interaction – keep a diary (where Therese can’t find it) of dates, events, etc.
    Is your school part of a larger district or an independent school? Try to get your principal to understand the seriousness of the situation and if they are not willing to confront Therese, talk to HR or a central office administrator.
    Even when someone is tenured, there are still actions that can be taken. If they cannot change your schedule to move your lunch and/or your classroom, the principal should make it clear to Therese that she must stay away from your desk and out of your room. If she violates your privacy she should be formally reprimanded – this could eventually lead to her pay increment being withheld.
    I know that you feel that your situation is tenuous, but don’t allow fear of being labeled “a problem” stop you from protecting yourself. From a union standpoint, if you have documented the issue and are not rehired, you have a potential court case.
    Your school is making a foolish decision – they risk losing a promising new teacher out of fear of antagonizing a known troublemaker. Therese is a “missing stair” – people are working around her instead of confronting the problem.

    1. Dagny*

      This is exactly right.

      Pointing out the obvious: even if they have to go through a long process to dismiss Therese because she’s tenured, there’s no reason they cannot go through it. What’s going on now is a power play, and by going through that process of discipline and maybe termination, Therese will knock it off or manage to get herself fired despite her tenure.

      It also protects the LW. Much like when a police officer issues a traffic ticket to one driver in a car accident, which later serves as evidence of lack of fault by the other driver, disciplining Therese will establish for posterity that the LW is not the one who is screwing up here.

    2. Storie*

      It sounds like the principal is scared of her. Tenure aside, she could definitely intervene. My guess is this isn’t the first time she’s been asked to help with her. And her response is lame.

  25. Jennifer*

    This is a lifetime movie. I think creating distance is a good idea. Try to get moved to a different area or get a different lunch period. I don’t know where you are in the world, but if there are other elementary schools nearby, I’d start applying in earnest if I were you.

    I also slightly disagree with Alison here. I think copying hairstyles, especially fairly unique hairstyles, and clothing is a pretty big deal. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a deranged stalker, but if someone is doing something that gives you the creeps, you don’t have to wait until they do something really unhinged like ripping down kids’ artwork, before you do something about it. It’s important for women especially to listen to our instincts. It’s too late now, but in the future if someone starts behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable that’s perhaps not serious enough to report to upper management, it’s okay to start to distance yourself a bit from that person as much as you can. I hope things get better for you soon.

    1. Sylvan*

      I agree with you. You get a weird feeling about people for a reason, even if the worst thing they’re doing at that moment is copying your hair.

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly. You don’t have to call 911 or try to get them fired, but a little distance is a good idea.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had a boss copying me. It was NO where near as bad as OP’s situation. But I kept moving the goal posts. I took up X hobby, she took up X hobby. I traveled to Y place for vacation she suddenly talked non-stop about going there. I went shopping at Z store, suddenly she starts shopping at Z store. This list goes on.
      So I kept coming up with new things to talk about that I was doing, she had to figuratively run to catch up to me.

      1. Ashley*

        This is an interesting approach. If you could document that she changes things if you start changing what you wear it kind of proves the point. The problem is having a union or principal to back you before this goes full blown unsafe. Though to be honest, I would probably try always having someone sit with me at lunch and if working at all late ask someone to walk me to my car if there is a risk she might still be there.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        I think moving the goal posts is the right thing to do. It’s not a solution, but adding hobbies, shopping at different stores, changing your hair style and clothes, and then document how she is copying you at every step. It will be obvious that this is beyond just a casual issue, but basically harassing and stalking-type actions.
        Especially if the LW takes it to the extreme at times and then everyone sees her copy that extreme.

    3. Emilia Bedelia*

      I agree that in context of everything else, the hair/behavior/etc is weird, but on its own there isn’t much to actually complain about. Imagine if Therese were truly a good intentioned and kind person, but was also coloring her hair and changing her clothes to match OP. It’d still be weird, but there’s not much of a detrimental impact to OP beyond it being strange. I don’t think Allison or anyone else is saying that it’s NOT a weird and unsettling thing to do, but in this case it’s not the worst thing that Therese is doing and it’s not what OP should be complaining about.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think you’re misunderstanding me. I’m saying that when this all started with the hair and the clothes, if the OP had started creating some distance then, maybe things wouldn’t have escalated to this point. We have no way of knowing that now, but I just wanted to encourage the OP to listen to her instincts about people in the future instead of waiting for things to get really serious. I think a lot of people who have ended up in situations like this look back and realize there were small signs early on. Now maybe she’ll be better able to recognize those signs in the future.

    4. caradom*

      What Allison is focussing on is issues you can report and issues you cannot. How would anyone take the OP seriously if she claimed harassment then opened up with ‘She’s copying my hair colour and clothes style’! No, you need to open with the most extreme instance and then move outwards from there. So this element would be at the bottom if you want a complaint to be dealt with.

      1. Jennifer*

        I realize that Alison’s is focusing on what can be reported and what can’t. I’m just saying that I disagree with her assessment that it’s not a big deal. People write in a lot about issues that aren’t really reportable but are making them uncomfortable. I don’t think you have to wait until it’s reportable to take some action, even if it’s just creating distance.

        1. caradom*

          Oh yes of course. It is extremely disturbing! I was just focussing on the angle of complaints or meetings. At the moment the OP can’t stand up to her about anything so I wouldn’t suggest starting with the imitating.

    5. Teacher Problems*

      Hi! I’m the OP, and this is kind of what I’m thinking too. I should have done more sooner (hindsight is 2020), but I think part of why I was so unsettled by the clothing/hair/makeup copying is that Therese is over 30 years older than me. It would be more understandable if another twentysomething were dressing like me, but the whole thing with Therese is just odd…

  26. Exhausted Trope*

    OMG! Something similar but 1/10 as severe happened to me in an old job. I waited her, my supervisor, out. Everyone in the office knew she had issues that became odder as time went on. Fortunately for me, she transferred.
    Alison’s advice is spot on again. Be as professional as possible, take precautions, enlist allies, and wait.

  27. Wenike*

    Along with Allison’s excellent advice and the commentariat’s as well, I’d be suggesting that you really work on building bonds with the other teachers. They might not realize that you’re not OK with Theresa’s behavior and are already aware of how crazy she is and are keeping themselves away from the crazy.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yup they probably know about and have experienced the creepy behavior, as well. Even if OP never talks to other teachers about her, building good relationships with the other teachers will build up OP’s cred in case Theresa tries to fling false accusations or make dramatic complaints (“OP is SO cold and unhelpful!”)

  28. Wednesday*

    I work in K-12 HR, and that tenure excuse is ridiculous! Although tenure makes it more difficult to fire someone, it doesn’t prevent us from disciplining a teacher or just having a conversation with them. You have a passive principal, and that’s really difficult to deal with. You could go to the union, and there have been times that I’ve gone to union leadership with a “handle this among yourselves before I have to handle it” conversation and it has resolved the situation. That depends on your union, though. If Therese is friends with them or on the leadership team, that option won’t work.

    Could you ask your principal if you could change classrooms over the summer? Are there multiple elementary schools in your district/could you transfer to a different building? It sucks to have to be the one to move, but that may be your only recourse for now.

  29. HR Jeanne*

    Your principal is inept and is not protecting the children in the school. I know it is hard as a new teacher, but you should absolutely escalate this and get your union involved. She used a child to retaliate against you!. That is beyond the pale. If I were that child’s parent, I would be livid.

  30. LogicalOne*

    This is a whole mix-up of sorts. You’re fresh to this job and she saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of you. The things that really got to me were and what I suggest are:
    – She’s in her 60’s. She may have been in this game for so many years that she is acting entitled, is bored, doesn’t think she can be fired possibly due to seniority, who knows. It might be time for Therese to retire. A forced retirement perhaps.
    – She’s acting like a bully. Having a student tear down your artwork is not acceptable and is very manipulative of her to the student body.
    – If another coworker is telling you that it’s best to stay on her good side, that coworker must have either had a bad experience with her or clearly knows of her ill behaviors with others. It sounds like staff are aware of this which makes me question why she’s been allowed to act this way. Hell, even if the principal suggested not pulling her into their office to talk, it furthermore suggests Therese is a bully and your principal needs to act like a principal!
    – This makes me question what she is like or has been like with her own students! If she’s acting this way with you, God only knows what happens in the confines of her classroom with her students, with the door closed. There are such things as abusive teachers and have gotten into trouble for doing so.
    – If other staff are unfazed by her, I highly suggest you let her go and start doing the same. It may take a while for the message to sink in but ignoring her, not giving into her psychological warfare, could help you out in the long run. If you stop paying attention to someone, after a while they will find something or someone else to play with.
    -Overall, she might be suffering from a mental issue and may need help. Yeah she might fight people over that but denial is the first step towards recovery from most situations.

    I am so sorry you’re in this situation and I truly, truly, wish you the best. Sending strength to you at this time. x

  31. New Job So Much Better*

    When I first started reading I thought it would be a flattery thing, like when Barbara Jean started dressing and doing her hair like Reba. But sounds very stalkerish and you’re right to be concerned.

    1. Hazel*

      I was thinking the same thing. The imitation in hair, makeup, and clothing could be that she likes how the OP does those things and wants to improve her appearance. But the rest of it…just NO.

  32. pretzelgirl*

    I honestly hate the fact that Therese asked a student to take down other student’s work. Involving kids/students in whatever weird, twisted thing Therese is doing is just plain wrong. Frankly as a parent if I found this out, I would be LIVID.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Isn’t this reportable in some way? People are not supposed to take advantage of those in their care.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, maybe the parents could do something about that? When I was in school, they were the ones who really ran everything and could get things changed pretty quickly.

    2. Littorally*

      Agreed. Interpersonal weirdness is one thing, and bad enough on its own, but roping kids in is a whole other matter.

  33. Teacher or Keymaster?*

    Go to HR. The tearing down of student work and your principal’s unwillingness to address this is unacceptable.
    -Signed, another teacher who had to go HR on a principal that BROKE INTO HER HOUSE.

      1. Annie on a Mouse*

        Yes. Story please? How did you handle the boundaries being crossed like that—and I’m curious whether any of the warning signs were similar…

    1. Jyvur Entropy*

      How is that not an AAM letter I’m reading right now? My goodness, you can’t drop a bomb like that not spill all the details!

    2. Mockingjay*

      How about discussing this in the Friday thread, especially what (if any) actions were taken and what the outcome was. Was the union involved? (I’m always fascinated by the threads discussing unions, these aren’t common in my industry.)

  34. Not So NewReader*

    Oh, OP. I am so sorry this happening to you.

    As I read through, I got the sick feeling that she thinks of you as Mommy. She copies you, she gets mad when you don’t pay attention to her, she wants you to do care taking things such as running errands and then there is her clingy lingering thing that she does. I am thinking of the parallels with a very young child….

    I would not be so sure that other teachers don’t know what is going on. I wonder if they know full well what is going on but are distancing themselves.
    To this one I say, people can’t help us UNTIL we say there is a problem. Of course, you don’t want to say this is a huge problem. But I think I would make every effort to be more social with other teachers. Start to work in, “Oh that’s odd behavior!” and other similar comments signaling that you are changing your approach in handling this. You may find out that they have been waiting for you to say something.

    I might consider developing a new habit of wanting to be around other people all the time. Not so much that I would be physically afraid of her, but more about wanting others to witness her behaviors. But I do think I would be more aware of the possibility of a physical interaction such as watching where I am standing in a room with her or how close she is standing next to me. Just to be aware, but not to be over-wrought with worry.

    You don’t mention her calling you at home or appearing at your house. That is interesting to me. I wonder if the thought of meeting or interacting with your partner wards her off. I wonder if there is something there you can leverage. I am picturing something like, “Oh, Partner is meeting me for lunch today!” And you find out she vanishes for the lunch period.

  35. JSPA*

    Surely, given Covid, every teacher–tenured or not, provisional or not–should have the standing to decide who physically enters the room, vs who observes / beacons from outside the door. I’m also surprised there’s no provision and protocol for locking the doors to rooms when they’re unoccupied. A locking, glass-fronted cabinet for student work is a bigger ask, if you don’t have one, but it’s not terribly unusual.

    These sorts of functional changes could make the situation much more bearable.

  36. QuinleyThorne*

    I’d go back to your principal and emphasize just how uncomfortable this is making you. If it applies, throw around the word “harassment.” But given that the principal already knows about Therese’s behavior and has opted out of doing her job and addressing it, you may want to ask if it’s possible to move to another room, as far away from Therese as possible. If that’s not possible…I’d start looking to move on, before this escalates. The only thing that could effectively address this is intervention, and the person responsible for that is refusing to do so. Therese’s behavior is disconcerting enough that you probably wouldn’t want to risk staying and seeing what else she’s capable of. I’m not as familiar with probationary periods for teaching jobs, but leaving during that period might actually work in your favor (“bad culture fit”).

    One other thing though…you mentioned that you told the principal everything about Therese having one of the students tear work off the wall–is this something Therese has done before? Do other teachers know? More importantly, do parents know? Because if I were a parent, and I found out something like this happened to my child, I’d be raising all kinds of hell. I’d want to know exactly what happened, I’d want names, I’d want to know why something wasn’t done, and then I’d be going straight to the super-intendent or something. The only thing principals tend to avoid more than dealing with tenured problem-teachers is enraged parents. So it might be helpful to frame it in those terms when you talk to the principal again.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I agree about enlisting parents if nothing else works. One passive-aggressive but possibly effective way to handle this is to apologize to parents of children in your class via whatever online communication mode you have for the destruction of the children’s work, explaining that it was ordered by another staff member (do not name Therese yet) without your knowledge.

      That should set the fur flying.

      Make sure you have discussed the incident with authorities (including your useless principal) before you do this, though. You don’t want them to be able to say they didn’t know.

  37. Littorally*

    Yikes. This really is pretty unsettling — and it sounds like Therese has made herself one heck of a missing stair already, what with the mentions of “better to stay on her good side” and prior run-ins with other teachers that haven’t managed to end with Therese getting fired. If I had to guess, I would say her instant “new besties” act with you had a lot to do with you being fresh meat not yet on guard to her shenanigans.

    Document everything, and grey-rock Therese as hard as you can. It sounds like actively pulling away from her is going to invite more punishment on yourself, so taking the tack of being as boring as possible is more likely to preserve your sanity and offer her less opportunity to go fully nonlinear.

    Obviously, it sucks. Having to pull back on any displays of personality is hard, and it is monumentally unfair that you’re the one who has to do it. But this is long-term survival. If you can, stop wearing your distinctive and labor-intensive hairstyle — wear it in a very ordinary and boring way, so that Therese’s imitation stops being notable. Swap your makeup to a neutral or nude style. If you can (in terms of budget and availability), do the same with your wardrobe. The less distinctive you make yourself, the less Therese can make herself look like you.

    Your love life? Boring. Your home life? Boring. “What did you do last night, OP?” “Oh, nothing special.” As far as Therese knows, you never do anything special. You are thoroughly un-special.

    Again, it sucks. It’s unfair. But the more boring it is for Therese to try and play these mind games with you, the more likely she is to back off. She wants drama. She wants to see signs that she’s driving you mad. Don’t feed the crazy.

    1. PT*

      Your home life is nothing but chores. Laundry! Mopping! Organizing your sock drawer! Doing dishes! Shopping for cat food/masking tape/lightbulbs.

      Figure out which of your hobbies and interests she dislikes the most, then always bring that up when she asks. This is a really important skill to cultivate in general when dealing with nosy people, because you will be able to talk about it at length spontaneously, so you look friendly, while also using that conversation to push them away. A dog person doesn’t want to talk about the finer points of fish tank management, but if you have a fish tank, you likely know a ton on the subject without realizing it, for example.

      1. Threeve*

        This is so valuable. What did you do this weekend? Oh, not much. I did paint my nails, though. Actually, the really interesting thing about nail polish is…

        1. Jaid*

          Man, if you could go on about this awesome knitting project you started and then bring in a crocheted pot holder…

          Yes, I’m a bit of a troll…

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I would “gray rock” everything to do with interacting with Therese, but I don’t think OP needs to change her personal style here. It’s weird and creepy that Therese is openly copying these aspects, but it’s highly visible to everyone who set the agenda (OP) and who is doing a poor imitation (Therese).

      Think of it as taking back your power, OP. You might feel like it’s being a mean girl to cut your personal interactions to the bare bones, but it’s enforcing boundaries that Therese insists on breaking. Ask her to leave your classroom if she’s in there when you arrive = “Hey, can you take your call outside? I’m going to be [doing whatever] now.” Use the tone of voice like of course she will, you’re just being polite in making it a question.

      Go to the principal and ask (politely but clearly) why your concerns aren’t being taken seriously and why the concerning behaviors are allowed to continue. Go with the attitude that you should expect to be able to report serious issues with a coworker, expect it to be dealt with quickly, and expect any retaliation to be dealt with even more swiftly and strongly if/when it happens. And also with the completely reasonable belief that you shouldn’t have to fear working with someone who enlists children to do weird and punitive things like vandalize your classroom displays. Make it clear that you believe, as you should, that the principal should be managing these things, not expecting you to hide and minimize and otherwise try not to provoke Therese. You’re new, and the advantage of a new person is that they can most clearly shine the light on a problem that maybe everyone else is just resigned to ignoring. And by doing so, show even more clearly that it’s Not Okay and there are in fact ways of handling it far more effectively than it has been.

  38. animaniactoo*

    Tenure means that she can’t arbitrarily be fired. It does NOT mean that she can’t be disciplined or fired at all.

    It will require documentation, and you may need to lean on your union (which is, yes, also going to be her union) that you have an unstable work situation that is not being addressed by your school leadership.

    Agree with get yourself moved away from her, but also try to get the part where she told a kid to tear down the artwork from your door documented. That is your strongest case of unacceptable and retaliatory behavior that is not acceptable in a teacher/co-worker.

    Seriously, talk to your union rep and lay out the issue you’re having and ask them to advise what’s possible and what they think is the best path forward.

    1. 867-5309*

      Talking to the union rep is a good idea, if you know them to be partial and active in doing what is right for the organization. I know sometimes unions can protect even in the face of egregious behavior, especially when someone is tenured.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Agreed, but that’s why the focus is on what’s possible/what’s advised, not “please do something about this”. OP will be able to figure out from that whether the union will be any help here.

      1. cheeky*

        that’s not the case. There are unions that will fight like hell for their members, making them essentially untouchable, but never officially.

    2. DinoGirl*

      I would go directly to administration on this one. It’s not precisely a union issue, unions are there to uphold contracts. Sure, they can and often do advocate in other issues, but it’s messy. In my experience, unions also try to keep this stuff “in house” rather than go against a member. I often uncovered long-standing issues the union didn’t bring forward, like this, that should have been brought to someone’s attention.
      But the key to going directly to administration is to be matter of fact. I think the appearance stuff is odd but not what I’d lead with. I’d include that as an afterthought, lead with the most concerning- this person is often found in my classroom when I’m not there, acts out if enforce professional boundaries, and has been accused by a student of directing him to misconduct in what I believe is retaliation towards me for this.

  39. meyer lemon*

    Yikes. This letter gave me a real “Misery” vibe. It strikes me that Therese has managed to collect a certain amount of power in this school by exhausting everyone to the point that no one wants to deal with her. I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP wasn’t the first coworker she has targeted in this way. Very disappointing that the principal isn’t taking this more seriously–if nothing else, it’s so inappropriate for a teacher to ask a young student to vandalize another teacher’s property.

    If I were the OP, I would be searching for other allies who might have some insider knowledge about Therese and ways to neutralize her. I’m not exactly sure how the system works, but I’d be reaching out to a union rep if possible, or spreading a wider net outside of the small circle of colleagues who seem determined not to support the OP in the face of Therese’s disturbing behavior. I hope she’s able to find some support, because I’m already worried on her behalf.

  40. GarlicMicrowaver*

    There is so much wrong with this. I am not in the education sector, and I know Allison did touch upon what tenure means, but how is any of this fair? She is creating a hostile environment for the OP… this is not a fireable, or even probationary, offense? WTAF?

  41. 867-5309*

    This is pinging my senses from the book “Gift of Fear.” Not that OP is in physical danger… I would stay vigilant and also consider recording for yourself, perhaps in an Excel grid, every instance – date, time, what was said, including when you have escalated or talked to others.

  42. AKchic*

    A lot of people are circling back to mental issues and how Therese needs help. Yeah, that’s great in theory, but nobody can *force* Therese into getting help, or actually gaining meaningful insight from any kind of help being given. This is about OP’s work environment, not Therese’s (probable) issue(s).

    As everyone else has already said – document everything. Take pictures when she leaves you notes and cash. If you can, record it when you return the cash (because I’d be concerned about her claiming you accepted the money and didn’t do whatever little task she “asked” of you).
    Be firm about her being in your classroom without you in there. “I don’t allow people in my classroom without me in here anymore. I have had a problem with thefts.” And do see if you can start locking your door when your classroom is unattended. Also, lock up all of your personal items at all times. Seriously.
    A small camera (pen, perhaps) might also be helpful, but I don’t know if that will be legal.
    Someone above made some great suggestions, from the POV of a teacher’s union rep or HR person. Follow their advice because they have the experience I don’t.

    I am also petty enough to consider changing up my look juuuuust enough every few weeks to make things difficult for Therese to fully be able to commit to copying fully, and to make it apparent that she IS trying to imitate. Do you have similarly-sized friends who want to share wardrobes? A hairstylist friend who wants to practice? A make-up artist friend who wants to try some new trends on you (or has some great new lipstick shades you’d look great in)?

    1. Littorally*

      Agreed.

      Does Therese need help? Probably. Is the OP the one positioned to give her that help or guide her toward it? Hell no. And regardless of whether Therese has something diagnosably wrong with her or not, the OP needs to protect herself and her students.

  43. Just Another HR Pro*

    And she is supposed to be teaching our children and setting an example of acceptable behavior? SMH

  44. Mel_05*

    Aside from the good advice other people have given about dealing with your principal and union, I would also be sure to be super friendly and personable with other people at the school, so that they’re sympathetic and have more trouble thinking you’re in the wrong. It can go a long way.

    1. Ellie*

      Agreed. When I put my foot down to an abusive co-worker, she immediately started spreading lies to all over work about how *I* was mistreating *her*.

      Fortunately, my positive reputation stood up for itself and the majority didn’t believe her. I did, sadly, have a few people treat me very coldly, but I had already apprised my supervisor (and in turn, HR) of the situation and had two “witnesses” so aside from a few losses, it turn out OK.

      Building a positive reputation is always a good idea, but it’s critical when there is someone treating you like this. It’s not a matter of *whether* they will turn on you — is a matter of *when* and how bad.

  45. caradom*

    Don’t greet her enthusiastically, if it is a group just say Hi and nothing else. Freeze her out. If she’s alone just walk past her and say if it is something work related to send you an email. If you find her in your office tell her to get out and never come back in again (I doubt anyone above you will do anything but just say ‘COIVD’. You stated earlier you have the same keys but can the key to your office be changed?

    They might not be able to get rid of her but they can’t force you to put up with this OR be her friend. I strongly recommend going back about the student issue and mentioning school governors (don’t know what it’s like in America) and the union and most importantly the parents. Say you don’t need to talk about tenure, you need to talk about abuse against you and a student.

    If she wants help with her work don’t do it unless it is your job. Just simply say I don’t know, ask the boss. Play dumb if you have to. If you have to answer her questions put it in an email and so when she asks you to repeat yourself she can re-read the email.

    If I were you I would be incredibly cold and just cut her out. I had to do it with my nutter colleague early in the career. Told him he needed to shut up and any communication would be done via email.

  46. CatCat*

    Majorly creepy. Awful to deal with at work. OP, I would recommend getting a security camera at home too (and possibly on your car if that’s possible). I would be concerned this could develop into stalking you in your personal life. Keep a record of all her creepy and inappropriate behavior. Just awful, I’m so sorry.

  47. Anenemous*

    If it were me, I would bring it up again with the principal and stress that she inappropriately involved a student. If your principal doesn’t want to intervene in a staff dispute, she should hopefully think twice about ignoring behavior that involves a student. I also think Alison’s advice to make friends or at least strengthen relationships with other teachers and your principal is key if you are worried about retaliation. For better or worse, schools can become surprisingly drama-full, cliquey environments and having a reputation as friendly and solid teacher with other people is a good thing to cultivate. Right now they may just see you as being tight with Therese and for that reason may not want to go out of their way to be friendly because of her reputation. Maybe you could also find someone to trade duties or something with so you can have lunch at a different time. Can you lock your door when you aren’t in the room? That might be a way to keep her out while you aren’t in there as well.

  48. Cubular Belles*

    Document everything, even back date it by adding all the weird things she has already done. This helps build a case if you should need to and also takes the burden off you. Anytime she pulls some new weird stuff (and she will) just think “something else for the journal” and also, moving your room away from hers is a great idea. And call her on the space invading stuff, it’s okay to ask her not to sit and stare at you or interrupt you while you work and it’s okay to ask her not to use your phone when she has one. Bullies invade and infringe a little at a time and she is doing just that. Be firm but pleasant, she lacks respect for your boundaries so you have to be extra vigilant with them. Check in with yourself, how does it make you feel? Take a deep breath and speak up “No, that won’t work for me” end it there.

    The appearance thing is freaky, I would die my hair bright pink and shave a triangle on the side but, hey that’s just me. OR go full Goth mode, black clothes dark purple hair, change it up! the kids will love you for it. At least she uis out of the sweat pants, no one wants to see that!

    If you hang up art outside your room, put it behind a plexiglass, and if she asks, tell her you did it to “help her” so she wouldn’t be tempted to tear it down again. Don’t let her bull you! Even if she lies, you can let you her know you don’t believe the lies. Take you power and your space back one moment at a time.

  49. PT*

    I had a Therese in elementary school. She was a teacher who’d taught kindergarten? first? second? grade and had personal issues of some sort that my parents interpreted to mean she’d had a mental health breakdown. She’d been pulled from her main classroom assignment to teach an elective, which was “Filmmaking” which actually meant “Put on a Disney movie and sit in the back of the room for 40 minutes.”

    She started bullying me- I was 9 or 10- and my parents spent a ton of time up at school trying to force her to leave me alone. They actually warned me that she was “dangerous and might hurt you” so that if she did anything to me I was to “just stand there and not say anything.”

    And yes, this teacher was union and there was nothing they could do about it, because union.

    1. cheeky*

      I’m in a union. It is ALWAYS possible to discipline. It takes will and effort, but it’s never impossible. People who say there’s nothing to be done are either wrong or lazy, frankly.

      1. Mission Statement*

        I think we see this all the time; most supervisors are either wrong or too lazy or too unwilling to spend their capital to take action when there is tenure or a union or just a govt job or a boss who is conflict avoidant.

    2. Anax*

      Solidarity, I had a similar experience – direct bullying by teachers, and then those same teachers watching students physically hurt me and destroy my stuff. In retrospect, I suspect this was partially revenge because they found my mom annoying.

      It definitely makes me concerned that Therese’s vindictiveness also extends to students, perhaps those she somehow associates with OP, and the administration just doesn’t want to see the safety risk there.

    3. Observer*

      The school administration was lying to your parents. Seriously. Even in jurisdictions with strong protections it’s just not true that they cannot do anything. It just means that they need to put in effort.

  50. Annonnymmous*

    This is extremely concerning. Property damage/vandalism – ripping artwork of walls – can escalate to violence.

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, perhaps – but I think flattery -> vandalism -> violence (with threats interpersed) is also a common pattern that stalkers follow.

    I really don’t know what to say.

    I’m going to segway into something else I want to say, and I’m going to spend more words on it not because it’s objectively worse, but because it’s my soapbox.

    I’m also upset on your student’s behalf for having their artwork destroyed and your principal just brushing it off like “Oh, she’s got tenure”. Did your principal happen to explain this process – of teacher ripping the artwork and the decision to just let it happen – to the students and their parents? Or are you expected to pretend the artwork got eaten by the art monster?
    Prosecutors do it all the time – they say “Prosecuting/investigating this crime is not a good way to spend government resources”. That’s one thing. That’s taking responsibility. “Crime never happened”, “Aliens did the crime”, and “There’s no evidence” is dodging responsibility.

    Personal anecdote of an ineffective vice principal:
    I was bullied badly all throughout school, and in middle school, I was bullied harhsly by a teacher. At one point, they told me – openly in class, thus with 25 witnesses – that they wished I would just die, and essentially suggested I make an active effort to do exactly that.
    The vice principal was a younger person and was scared of/intimidated by the older, intimidating, stubborn bully-teacher, so the vice principal brushed it off, said I must have misunderstood (never mind the 25 witnesses who were like ‘what the eep, they’re not allowed to say that’). I’ve never forgiven the vice principal for that. If you can’t do your job, then you ask for help, or you ask someone else to do that part of your job, or you quit your job. Letting a teacher encourage a student to end their life is in no way an appropriate reaction to being out of your depth.

    All that not to share my awful middle school experience, but to demonstrate what a failing manager should not do. Your principal should handle the teacher. Even if it’s hard (then they should maybe get coaching on what to do.) Even if it’s too hard for them (then they should call their boss and let them handle it.) Even if they have tenure (then it’s time to talk to a lawyer and figure this shit out together.) Even if it’s expensive (student safety and teacher safety are both at risk here.)

    I’m not sure about how the laws etcetera work where you work, but you may want to discuss this with an employment lawyer. Often, workplaces have a legal obligation to keep you safe from known hazards – including angry (ex)coworkers, customers etc. I don’t know if this is sufficiently threatening behaviour that your employer has to take action but a lawyer may be able to tell you that.

    1. Incognito*

      I just wanted to commiserate with you here Annonnymmous. I was also bullied by a teacher in middle school (she never encouraged me to kill myself, but had no problem telling me how stupid I was and how much time of hers I wasted).

      But the biggest story of ineffectual Vice Principal I vividly remember is from high school. There was boy who was constantly touching, grabbing, pinching, snapping bras, etc etc to ANYONE female that moved & breathed – teachers included. The VP did absolutely nothing and even went over the principal’s head to block him doing anything about this kid (trying to get him expelled or moved). This kid was tested for everything under the sun that could possibly be wrong with him to explain away his behavior. It was widely known because he was just the elephant in the room we were all supposed to ignore. No amount of discipline had any apparent effect on him.

      He sat in front of me in home room. On a day I was the center of his attention, and the teacher sat there looking despondent and helpless and everyone else turning an eye, I finally came to a breaking point. I broke his arm. I am in no way saying violence is an answer at all – but I was also 14, at the end of my rope and knew there would be no help from anyone else. I promptly walked myself up to the principals office and things went from there.

      But if the VP would’ve just done his job! And not gotten all “office politics” with the principal and let him do his job! SMH.

      1. Annonnymmous*

        I’m so sorry you had to put up with that. I’m happy you were able to assert your autonomy.

        There’s a reason good bullying victims’ websites give advice like “In the likely event that school isn’t taking adequate steps to take you safe, think about whether the bully is breaking any laws and take it up with the police. Common crimes committed by bullies broken are physical assault such as hitting or kicking, threatening to harm you, vandalizing or destroying your property, theft, stalking, and sexual assault such as groping. Police frequently – not always, but frequently – takes these things much more seriously than schools do.”

        The response I’ve had from schools to bullying has always been either silence, or a variation of “We’ve talked to him, what else do you expect us to do?” Well, I expect you to keep me safe – if the only way to accomplish that is by surrounding the bully with an armed guard whenever he is on school property, I expect you to surround the bully with an armed guard whenever he is on school property.

        Unlike in almost any other situation, children in schools are not allowed to walk away and leave the situation. They are frequently not even allowed to raise their voice or physically defend themselves. Schools have a very high level responsibility for the safety (and, arguably, even the comfort) of their students, because they’re curtailing the things the student can do to defend themselves. And yet most schools aren’t even willing to keep their charges safe from having the same student repeatedly break the same criminal law to violate the same human right of the same student.
        Let alone to act on things like name calling.

        Have you had the “You have to learn to get along,” “Now shake hands!” “You need to talk it out”, “Tell them how you feel”, “Don’t let them know how you feel” advice?
        I have one answer to that. Learning to get along is fine when there’s a personality conflict.
        Meeting in the middle with someone who doesn’t respect the fact that you are a human with human rights is essentially having this conversation:
        “I want to break all of your bones.”
        “I don’t want my bones broken.”
        “Okay. You have 208 bones. I’m willing to settle for only breaking 170 of them.”
        “I don’t want any of my bones broken.”
        “You’re being very unreasonable here. Okay, 100.”
        “I don’t want any of my bones broken.”
        “I’m willing to settle for even less than half of what I asked for! Why are you so unreasonable?”
        (The teacher now likely butts in to agree that the person who likes the integrity of his skeleton is unreasonable.)
        “I still don’t want any of my bones broken. They’re mine.”
        “Okay, can I break just one?”
        (This be where the teacher agrees on your behalf that you’ll allow them to break just one, likely under threat of detention or a call home or fear-obligation-guilting or shaming or a “I’m so disappointed”.)

        (I probably won’t answer further responses to this thread, it’s rather draining for me. Thank you for sharing your experience, Incognito. It makes me feel less alone and I’m vicariously rejoicing that broken arm.)

  51. Lizzle*

    Tenure at the K-12 level means almost nothing, (which is something that was never explained to me as a new teacher until I was maybe 5 years in.) All “tenure” means in K-12 is that HR needs to go through due process to fire someone; it is not carte blanche to do pretty much anything short of violence or other felonies the way it often is at the post-secondary level. There is a HUGE amount of misunderstanding about tenure because we’re familiar with the university meaning. Do some research, OP. Most admins at my school don’t know what it means either!

  52. Temi*

    I would go “Grey Rock” on Theresa. Only speak of professional things when she initiates. Do not respond to anything outside this purview. Its not rude, just any kindness will be misconstrued on her part. Do no favors, accept no money. Any additional support she requires should be directed at her superior. Do not even hand anything back. Do not comment or confront. She’s playing some power/manipulation game. The best way to manage her is to recognize her for who she is and keep her at a physical, mental and emotional distance. Be enigmatic and reserved.
    Document everything and use this journaling as a way of managing your perspective. Ignore misinformation/lies. She’s using it as a tactic to get you to respond. Do not respond. Do not engage. Grey Rock.

    1. tinybutfierce*

      Agreeing with all of this wholeheartedly, as someone who previously had to cut a legit psychopathic narcissist with very similar behavior patterns as Therese out of my life. She can only play her weird little game if she gets you to play with her by (understandably!) reacting to her wildly inappropriate behavior; as much as you can, just don’t engage with her beyond what you absolutely have to in order to still be professional.

  53. dustycrown*

    You are being work-stalked, IMHO. Document EVERYTHING. Keep a notebook in a secure location (so she doesn’t get ahold of it) and record day/time/incident. Take photos of cash/instructions left for you, and document that you returned them. If this situation comes to a head, either at work, or in a courtroom (you never know!), you’ll have evidence to present, instead of it just being your word against hers. It will weigh in your favor that this was concerning enough that you kept records.

    1. AnOtterMouse*

      Yes. And- keep it all digitally. record details and send photos *immediately* in an email sent to yourself- you may want to set up a new account to receive them, so that it’s not linked to your phone/not accessible if someone takes your phone without your consent. Email timestamps give an objective measure of date and time, which is useful in establishing a pattern of behavior.

  54. cheeky*

    The principal is not doing her job. Document everything that happens with this teacher. Tenure doesn’t mean she can behave badly.

    1. yet another teacher.*

      this.
      What do you want the principal to do?
      Do you have any allies with the other teachers?
      Forget all the copying stuff which in itself is creepy.
      Go straight to unacceptable behavior that needs to stop- the hanging in your classroom, the odd retaliatory actions, the cash/favor thing.
      Make a list- including no retaliation for your probationary status or at this point- we are in Midyear therefore perhaps waiving the period.
      The behavior of this other individual is unacceptable-
      they have no right to “hang out” in your classroom.
      Best case- they stop speaking to you. win.

  55. Bookworm*

    O_O Not my field OP, and have no experience in this, but did want to chime in with sympathy. I am so, so sorry you’re dealing with that, YIKES.

    Good luck.

  56. ginger ale for all*

    I think you might want to start asking around about her other victims because surely you are not the first that she has done this to. If you can establish a pattern of her doing this to other employees, it might make a compelling case to get her an early retirement. Good luck and please keep us updated, this is so worrying.

    1. ginger ale for all*

      Continuing on the it probably isn’t her first rodeo, try to also find out how they tried to handle it and how that went. If they all went to the principal and the principal went up to bat for the previous victims, find out why it went nowhere, etc.

  57. Becky S*

    Retired teacher here – I didn’t read ALL the comments so maybe someone covered this. Unions tend to not get involved in problems between teachers and if they do, are likely to favor the teacher with tenure. My heart goes out to you.
    Considering calling in the principal (or department head if there is one) to return cash and notes when she leaves them on your desk. If the principal won’t come to your classroom, consider delivering cash & notes to her. And yes, be boring in your appearance and especially your conversation with this woman.
    Good Luck!!

  58. jessie j*

    Very sorry this is happening to you, or anyone else. Being subject to this myself I can say that it doesn’t normally turn out well for you. People don’t fully understand and someone this odd has ways of making life difficult for you at work. Once the obsessed coworker turns against you then these problems just continue. Please find someone you trust to share the issues with and document everything that happens.

  59. boop the first*

    Piece #3 sounds like the strongest bet, honestly. She cant spread rumours to an audience that won’t believe them. So if that’s your biggest concern, once everybody KNOWS you, you can be direct all you want. Don’t forget, that everyone knows her, too, which in this case is your advantage as well.

  60. Amethystmoon*

    I once had a coworker who I suspected of having a crush on me. He was a tad stalkerish to the point where I worried, but it never got to the point of him physically damaging my things. I would report it to someone who you, who has authority to actually do something. Also document, document, document. Keep backups of said documentation in a place where she can’t access them.

  61. Admin 4 life*

    There are so many things that are concerning and I feel like leaving cash and a note could be used as a set up to accuse you of stealing.

    Do those classroom doors lock? Are you able to get the other teachers to accompany you back to your room? Or to stop by and check in periodically? Does this person have access to things like your home address?

    I’m seriously worried about this behavior.

    I would try to be as boring as possible and continue keeping your private life private. And document everything.

  62. DinoGirl*

    As formerly the HR for a school, I’d want this entire summary. The incident of her telling a student to year down work completely crosses a line into discipline territory.

  63. DinoGirl*

    Also don’t worry about making this person angry or upset saying no, or setting boundaries…she’s unreasonable, not you. Document everything. Loop HR or administration in sooner than later so if it escalated they’re aware of the strange history already and you control the narrative better.

    1. CatLadyLawyerEsq*

      If you mean that LW shouldn’t be feeling guilty when she sets healthy boundaries, no matter how negatively Therese reacts, then yes. Guilt-free boundary-setting 2021!

      BUT – for someone like Therese, who clearly is extremely comfortable violating norms and boundaries, LW should absolutely worry about escalation into potentially physical violence. I mean, she already escalated to property damage by tearing down the artwork in the classroom! That’s not a good sign!

      I could have written this letter with only a few changes about one of my former coworkers. I guarantee you, Therese has escalated to physical violence before, and she will again, if she thinks she can get away with it.

  64. Archaeopteryx*

    Also, if possible, do anything you can to avoid her finding out your address. And if you have pets, do NOT mention them to her!

  65. EastToWest*

    Yipes. Reading this makes me think Therese is obsessed with you and stalking you. Tenured doesn’t mean she can get away with such bad behavior, and this is truly bad behavior at your expense. It’s not okay.

  66. FSK*

    OMG why won’t the school do anything?! Tenure or not, Therese roped in a student to carry out her destruction!! Corrupting the youth has to trump tenure!!

  67. Me*

    I’ve never worked in education so I’m hoping someone can enlighten me. I have heard of college/university professors having tenure but never someone K-12 level. Is this common? Is is a private school thing or country dependent?

    1. PNWDan*

      I believe it’s pretty common in the US. One of the big things it does at the K12 level is protect teachers from aggressive parents.

      1. Me*

        I’m in the US. It’s definitely not a thing in my area’s public school system. My mother used to teach at a local private school and it wasn’t a thing there either.

    2. James*

      My wife is a high school teacher with tenure. What happens before you get tenure, at least where my wife worked, is that you’re fired every year at the end of the year, and you get re-hired if there are enough students, the school likes you, and no one better comes along. Tenure prevents this: the school has to have some reason to fire you other than it being standard practice. There are also protections against being fired because too many of your students are failing. It’s still not good to have a high number of Fs, but the administration is at least willing to accept that the students didn’t turn in work so it can’t be the teacher’s fault.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Same thing where I teach. non-tenured teachers have a contract for a school year (or less) and must be evaluated in that year. If your principal gives you a poor evaluation for your shoes being green, or something similar, there isn’t much that can be done. Tenured teachers are in their roles long-term and are on a three year evaluation cycle. Off-cycle evaluations are possible, but are more or less a PIP. Tenured teachers can be fired for violating the code of conduct and failing to meet standards, but it is more of a process. Tenured teachers will also be reassigned if enrolment shrinks whereas non-tenured can easily have their positions cut.
        Principals also will often use their discretion to ‘encourage’ a teacher to transfer by giving them a poor schedule or a grade level they don’t prefer.
        Also, like the poster above, my regional government makes noises every so often about increasing teacher accountability. The union often counters that tenured teachers get dismissed quietly every year. As a poster upthread mentioned, a union being there to make sure everything is justified, legal and aboveboard doesn’t have to mean bad actors are free to spread mayhem. That one’s as much on poor management as on aggressive unions.

        Not to say, op, that the union may not have more protections for a tenured teacher. I would check to see whether your union has any staff who are responsible for telling you what options are available when you’re in contact with a fellow union member. They’re called Staff Officers where I am.

  68. LQ*

    I wanted to say that OP you did a really good job of …fairly boringly (in a good way) laying out what has been happening. Any one of these or even any 2 maybe like “Weird but whatever”, but taken as a set it is pretty disturbing. And the way you’ve laid them out does a good job of explaining why it is concerning taken as a whole. It doesn’t sound like you’re blowing things out of proportion or focusing on the wrong things. Just using the things that may not be concerning on their own as context for the rest of the items.

  69. Velawciraptor*

    While I hate the extent to which schools have become an extension of the police state, it could be advantageous here. You could put a bug in the ear of your Student Resource Officer (or whatever on-campus cops are called where you are) about some stalkerish behavior you’re seeing from a colleague and your concerns about escalating behavior. Just so someone with some form of authority is on the lookout for what could become more dangerous escalation at the school.

  70. PNWDan*

    I know this is an issue on the Principle’s side, not the letter writer’s, but I’d like to push back on the idea that “tenure means we can’t fire them.” The principle is using the institution of tenure as an excuse for not managing. Lots of administrators do this, and it is just as much—if not more—of an abuse of the tenure system than the professors who slack off a bit after being granted tenure.

    I’m a tenured professor at a community college. When you get down to it, what tenure means is that there is a formal process involved in disciplining and/or firing someone. Yes, that makes it harder to fire someone, but the standard we’re comparing to is at-will employment; the bar for being “harder to fire” is pretty low.

    Since the principle is taking the easy way out, the letter writer needs to document EVERYTHING and make regular reports about it to the principle. This isn’t guaranteed to get the principle to take any action, but it may help. Keep in mind that if you’re constantly on edge about this teacher, you won’t be completely present mentally to help your students.

  71. Yes Ma'am*

    Alright, aside from everything else, what about this student who has now been dragged into Therese’s foolishness? If my child came home and told me his teacher asked him to tear down another teacher’s artwork, I’d be showing up at the school the next day looking for further details. And I am not one to land at the school over trivial things. This is straight up bizarre.

  72. Katie Novreske*

    Administration has a duty here to make sure OP feels safe and actually is safe regardless of coworker’s tenure.

  73. Wondering*

    I used to work in K-12 and it is ripe for these kinds of politics, missing stairs, and power differentials between contingent and tenured staff. Just know that probably 50% of the people in the building know about how bonkers and not okay Therese is and are silently glad it isn’t them that she’s latched onto. When you first get hired into a building, you see the fronts people put up. You hear about the “superstar”, the “miracle worker” etc. Then after a year or two, people start telling you the real deal. Just know that if you can stick it out, she will likely move onto the next new person who hasn’t figured her out yet.

  74. TiredMama*

    One, I am legit concerned about you, LW, and hope something changes. Two, I am surprised the admin is not more concerned because she involved a child in her revenge! Are children safe in her classroom? Does she hurt them, mentally or physically, if they defy her? Does she encourage them to hurt each other so it’s not her doing it, but the students to each other? God I really hope not.

  75. Observer*

    Are there any cameras in the school hallways or classrooms? This has become quite common. The reason I ask is that is there are cameras, you want to insist that you get a copy of the clip where the kid tears down the work and to see anything from that day (till the work was torn down) with Therese in it – if at any point you have a recording of her talking privately to the kid and / or she’s there when the work gets torn down, that’s going to be really useful to have. It doesn’t matter that the recording will almost certainly not have sound, because it will still document a significant portion of what happened.

    Also, put a lock on one of your drawers, and if you can’t get a small lock-box in your room. Put the phone in the locked drawer / lock-box whenever you are not in the room. Given her behavior, I would not put it past Therese to use your phone to talk as though she were you. Don’t let her have a chance to use your phone.

    This is in addition to the advice to document your head off.

  76. Hil*

    I used to have a creepy coworker who had the best intentions, but he also had some mental disabilities and developed a big crush on me, to the point he would follow me around and sometimes very blatantly stare at my chest. He truly did not understand it was inappropriate or think I noticed. He was just different. I tried to be nice, but firm. Eventually, I employed a friend who would always “set the pick” for me. Whenever I was alone with this man, she would join the conversation and stand between us. If I was eating lunch, she would make sure there were people on either side of me. We weren’t super close until later, so it was very awkward to ask, but when I did she was understanding and made a world of difference.

    OP, can you find a buddy who can be on the look out to break up interactions, need something urgently when you’re stuck in conversations, take the seat next to you, etc?

    1. Observer*

      I’m glad this worked for you, but it’s an impossible ask. On top of which, this is NOT about someone who is just being “socially inappropriate”. I means SHE DESTROYED STUDENT WORK! Even before that, things had gone way beyond “inappropriate” to highly problematic. This has left even “highly problematic” behind in the dist.

      It does not matter WHY Therese is doing this. Even if the problem is “mental disabilities”, IT DOES NOT MATTER! This needs to stop. And it’s not on the OP to jump through ridiculous hoops to accommodate someone’s outrageously bad behavior.

  77. Satisfactory Worker*

    I can just imagine a future update from LW:

    -Therese has begun collecting any stray hairs I leave around the classroom. When I asked her why she was doing that, she just got a glint in her eye and laughed maniacally.

    -Late at night I will get phone calls. There is no one on the line, just heavy breathing. I think it is Therese.

  78. Tuesday*

    My thought is along the lines of Alison’s #3… make sure to build up really good relationships with the other people at your school. You need people’s impressions of you to be based on what you’re actually like, not on things Therese might say. If Therese tries to spread a rumor, other people will be less likely to believe it if it’s about someone they know and trust. It sounds like Therese is already known for being difficult and odd, so at least that information is already out there.

    1. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I agree! Missing stairs are not uncommon in schools and if the principal won’t deal with it, there’s not much fellow teachers can do. I would bet money on 3 things.
      1- This is not the first time Therese has had issues with a colleague.
      2- While teachers acting unsurprised by her antics feels disappointing, this also means that they likely won’t turn on you if she tries to retaliate.
      3- Teachers who are rotten or creepy humans are rarely exemplary educators. Keep your ears open to what children and parents are saying. Parents often have more power than colleagues in a lot of schools.

      Advice
      1- Try to build stronger connections with your other colleagues. You can find out more about what worked and didn’t work before and have folks in your corner. Maybe you can invite some nice seeming colleagues to have lunch in your room with you.
      2- Ask the principal to change your classroom locks so that Theresa’s master key doesn’t open your room any more. Then, when Theresa asks, you’ve can just say “Really? How odd” (Why were you trying to get in my room while I wasn’t there is optional).

  79. blink14*

    I would politely as you can back away from this person and make sure to interact more with other co-workers. It’s hard in that you work together so you can’t cut this person off completely, but disengaging when and where you can is your best bet.

    And you aren’t alone! Something similar happened to me in college. I lived in a suite with multiple roommates, one of whom was a transfer for one semester to finish her degree. She didn’t know anyone on campus and seemed pretty lonely, so I would sometimes invite her to dinner and we became friends. She had pretty standard personal style for the era, minimal taste in music and entertainment, and didn’t appear to have many interests or hobbies. Over time, she started dressing like me and wearing makeup in a similar style – I have a pretty unique style and it was very obvious that she was copying it, listening to the same indie bands I was into, even pressuring me to join in when I went to see bands, started watching my favorite TV shows, etc.

    We stayed in touch after she graduated, and we met up a few times after, but in the time we were apart, I noticed even more how much she was copying my life, to a creepy degree. The final straw was the last day we ever hung out, we had gone shopping and she was not only picking out the same clothes I was interested in, but THE SAME SIZE. And we weren’t the same size, at all. She had all but begged me to stay the weekend, which I had reluctantly agreed to, but felt so weirded out and uncomfortable I left in the middle of the night. I called her the following day and told her as nicely as I could that she needed to get her own interests and that we could no longer be friends. A similar scenario happened with a new friend a few years later, and I did the same thing – expressed that they needed to find their own interests and cut off contact.

  80. Here we go again*

    “, I saw that all of the student work I had hung around my door had been ripped down. Theresa said that her student must have done it accidentally, but when I pulled that student aside and (very gently) asked what happened, he explained that Therese told him to tear the work down.”

    This bothers me as a parent, she’s bringing kids into a co-workers spat.

    1. Betty (the other betty)*

      This stood out to me too. She is jeopardizing a student’s wellbeing by encouraging the student to tear artwork off the wall as retaliation against another staff member. This should be enough to have disciplinary action taken against Therese. (What’s next? Hey student, go stick this nail into OPs tire?)

  81. Jean*

    Check with your union rep on the possibility of legal action. Consult an employment attorney beforehand and make sure to mention to your union rep that you have done so. Some of the stuff she’s doing may rise to an actionable level, depending on your jurisdiction. She’s definitely harassing you – whether it qualifies as illegal harassment or not would be for a lawyer to advise on.

    If the principal gets wind that this could end up with attorneys involved and/or in court, I bet they would be a lot more willing to intervene. Best of luck and PLEASE UPDATE!

  82. Ms Frizzle*

    Everything else aside, do you have the support you need personally? The first years of teaching are hard enough without this kind of situation! If you don’t have a coach/mentor, it might be worth seeing if your district offers that, or looking for supports through your EAP. I hate thinking of you dealing with this on your own. It won’t solve this problem, but it might be helpful in building your resilience and taking care of yourself.

  83. laowai-gaijin*

    Talk to a union representative. If you’re an educator in the US, you probably belong to the NEA. Speak to one of their representatives and tell them what’s going on. They may be able to advise you as to the next step.

  84. Doodlebug*

    This is a no-win situation. I’ve been in this exact position. Therese targeted you. First she lovebombed “new bestie”, then she mirrored your dress. Next she tested you with inappropriate actions. Polite people are her target. When you pushed back on her degrading of you as her assistant, then she attacked, indirectly. Everything she’s done to you, she’s told everyone YOU did to her. This is a smear campaign. The good news is that you did nothing wrong, you are a great teacher and she probably felt threatened.

    I’m sure this has happened before because tenure but if you stick it out, she will escalate. She will turn everyone against you. The only thing you can do is stick it out knowing you’re sticking it to her or leave. In my situation, I stuck it out and my stalker left. But, to this day, there is distance with those she told her lies too. She was just that great of a liar.

    Therese is doing this for attention and there are many people (I used to be in this group) that take people at face value and never question or ask the other person’s side. This experience has changed me and I never just take one side without asking questions now.

    Instead of filming, I suggest recording interactions with her. That way you have irrefutable proof of what was said because you can be sure she is twisting every conversation you have had into you being the perpetrator and Therese being the victim. Do check your state laws on one or two party consent for voice recording before doing this.

    1. caradom*

      She won’t be able to turn anyone against her because they all (including management) know what she is like. I think her colleagues would be very sympathetic. Once she befriends colleagues she’ll start to hear all the stories about what T did to other people. A colleague tried to bully me at work and I embarrassed him. No one listened to him because they knew what he was like.

  85. MaryAnne Spier*

    As a teacher in my 21st year… they can fire a tenured teacher. They have to have evidence and cause and it might not be easy but they can absolutely do it. This is really concerning.

    Go to your union reps and make them aware of this behavior. Document everything but make sure she doesn’t see you doing it or find your notes. Make sure your social media is all locked-down.

    I don’t mean to be alarmist but this is really scary behavior.

    As a new teacher, you were probably assigned a mentor who is a veteran. I would ask that person if they’ve noticed this as well. That person might tell you if there is someone else in the building (a VP, the HR person) who is more likely to take action on this stuff.

  86. Bopper*

    My daughter was in a situation like that (not exactly the same but dealing with a bullying tenured teacher) and all she could do is get permission to transfer to a (much much better) school.

    EvilBopper says to start wearing ridiculous things to see if you can get her to go along with it.

  87. tinybutfierce*

    I’m incredibly bothered by the fact that Therese abused her authority to rope in a student into her weird power play on top of everything else.

  88. PolarVortex*

    You say you come in to see her on your phone in your classroom, which makes me terribly nervous considering how punitive she can be. You could seriously mess up someone’s career with a phone call, and because it’s the line registared to your room, and I assume this is pre/post school or lunch hour (or some sort of prep time) there’s not going to be people to “prove” it was her and not you. I assume your room has a lock, since most rooms can be locked for school shooting protocols. Start locking it whenever you leave. This is good practice anyhow with an empty classroom, kids could get up to all kinds of trouble in there (I certainly did!).

    Just, protect yourself with your technology as well given her strange tendancies: keep your work computer locked, your passwords regularly updated, and two factor authentication on your accounts.

  89. sequined histories*

    It takes effort, but tenured teachers can be fired, and most teachers can be driven off by the principal with less effort than it would take fire them. Most likely, your principal is either lazy, deeply unsuited to being in charge of anything, or both. The principal is a bigger problem than Therese, and I would expect her inability or unwillingness to do her job to cause problems for the school even if Therese had never been born.

    I understand needing a job, but consider that you might want to find a position at another school in the next few years. Teachers are often most employable once they have 2-5 years of experience, so the timing might work out well for you if you start quietly job searching soon.

    Teaching is stressful. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this creepy nonsense as a rookie!

  90. I live alone now*

    I actually had a roommate like this once that spiraled into a really BAD BAD BAD situation. I kept a log of incidents in a google doc, which I had originally started to get out of our lease…. but also needed to file a police report. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point for you, but if it comes to your safety vs the job, always choose your safety. Good luck!

  91. Nita*

    I’m incredibly troubled that Therese puled a student into this. He could have gotten in trouble if OP had gone to the principal for discipline instead of following her gut and getting to the bottom of what happened. Also what kind of message is it sending to the kids that an adult in a position of power is asking them to harm someone, even if in a small way? This, for me, crosses a line and there would be no punches pulled. I am not familiar with school politics but would probably start with another talk with the principal and point out exactly this – that a student was involved. If the principal does nothing, I’d take it higher. Either the school board or the union. Maybe even the parents – I do not think this student’s parents would be pleased to hear what Therese did.

  92. Lifeandlimb*

    I suggest you read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. She’s experiencing seriously signs of seriously dysfunctional behavior, and I wouldn’t take these lightly.

  93. Squirrel Friend*

    I didn’t read through all of the comments and I apologize if I repeat something.

    How is the school not concerned that she used a student to retaliate against the OP, another teacher? It’s one thing to have issues amongst the staff, but it’s another that the one staff member is manipulating children into her issues. How the hell is that being allowed?

    I’m sorry, but this teacher sort of reminds me of “Miss Squirrel” from the movie “Bad Teacher,” with the exception that our OP is not anything like Cameron Diaz’s character.

  94. HB*

    IANAD, and also know that diagnosing folks over the internet is no bueno, but there are tips about handling this kind of behavior– which is apparently called “mirroring.” Apparently there are behaviors like “engulfment” which is what this woman seems to be trying to do by isolating OP and sticking to her side at lunch and “splitting” where she casts the OP as a bad person for not doing her favors.

    Having this vocabulary may validate what OP is dealing with. There’s also a few Do’s and Don’ts to protect yourself.

    https://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/mirroring

    1. Pennyworth*

      What an interesting link. I’d never heard of mirroring as a personality disorder, I’d just assumed people who did it were being deliberately annoying.

      1. pancakes*

        These aren’t mutually exclusive. Being deliberately annoying is not evidence that someone doesn’t have a personality disorder. To the contrary, a pattern of it could be a manifestation of antisocial personality disorder or histrionic personality disorder. I’m not trying to suggest that anyone should be trying to diagnose Therese from the letter; just trying to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding. Please also note that blog is not written by doctors of any type. The “About” page isn’t as clear as it could be but it does make that clear.

    2. MaryAnne Spier*

      This is pretty fascinating. I’m always sucked in by stories like this. I’d rather read it in a novel than in someone’s true story, though. I hope OP is OK.

    3. Lizzo*

      The info in this blog is equal parts fascinating and terrifying.

      OP, is it possible for one of two of your colleagues to “chaperone” you so that you aren’t caught alone with T? Maybe have different chaperones on different days so that there isn’t one person consistently blocking T (and thus making themselves a target)? I know I’ve had coworkers who are willing to walk me to my car when I’ve expressed feeling unsafe in particular situations. It also means there’s a witness if things get really uncomfortable.

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this dangerous situation, and I’m even more sorry that your VP doesn’t want to do their job of dealing with the issue. Document, document, document.

  95. laser99*

    This is heartbreaking, because it proves, once again, it is effectively impossible to force public school administrators to address misbehavior.

  96. Jillian*

    I’ve worked in a few districts in the U.S. Sometimes when people say a teacher is protected by “tenure” what they really mean is they have “family connections.” I think it’s kind of like being the owner’s daughter/son in a business but people don’t realize the same thing happens in schools. Some families go back to the founding of the town. People don’t name it, for fear of getting on the family’s bad side.

  97. phira*

    Daughter of a public school teacher here in the US. Tenure does not mean that a teacher cannot be disciplined or even fired, but it’s true that a lot of principals act like that’s the case and can be exceptionally passive about bad tenured teachers! 100% talk to HR/union immediately and document everything.

  98. Lizzie*

    Hi Op, in addition to the above advice, please lock down all of your social media so that Therese cannot spy on your personal life, start contacting your friends, commenting on what you are doing etc. Make sure your mail cannot be stolen.
    You (and we!) already know that Therese does not abide by normal social boundaries. Never let your mobile phone out of your sight. Have a look at domestic violence sites for specific information on protecting your personal information.
    And document, document, document. The things happening to you are real, inappropriate, and are stressful for your mind and body. Do what you can to not be alone in dealing with this, and keep taking it seriously.
    Although bullying and overstepping normal professional workplace boundaries are commonplace, they are NOT OKAY.
    It was an excellent idea to write to Alison, I hope it helps you a bit to know so many people are on your side! Best wishes to you for a good outcome!

  99. caradom*

    I mentioned in my earlier comment to take the money to management and say she could anything. I would do this every single time. No matter how crazy she is that aspect will stop every single time the principal has to return the money. To be honest I would pocket it, she left it on your desk and it could be a contribution to the distress she has caused. Once she claims you stole it you can ‘I did no such thing. I told you what she was doing and you said nothing. I did not take the money, this is her escalating (you can even say to management ‘just like you told me she would)’.

  100. Working Rachel*

    Holy shi*! Did you mention the part where she involved a student in tearing down your students’ work to the principal? That is so beyond the pale…destroying the work of children by implicating an (8-year-old??) student in the destruction of said property. It’s hard for me to imagine that there wouldn’t be consequences for that…though your principal might assume the student is lying because of ageism. I am very sure the student is not lying.

  101. Sadie Jay*

    One thing I wanted to mention that I don’t believe that anyone else brought up- if someone asks you to do something, “No” is a complete answer. You don’t have to give a reason. If they question you further, you can respond “I’m not doing that.” Reasons can be ignored or argued with, but a firm “No” takes out any question of the possibility that you might “find the time” or “make it work.” Also, another tactic with bullies is to call out the behavior. “I see what you’re doing. You’re leaving money on my desk to make me feel guilty about saying no. I am not going to run your errands for you.”

    This whole situation is not normal, and I hope that ultimately you receive the support from your school administration that you deserve.

  102. Ellie*

    While you deserve to be safe from her obsessive behavior, invasion of privacy, and snide comments for your own sake, I wonder if you will have some success if you point out the impact on the children at your school and the impression it could make on parents.

    She literally asked a child to help her bully you. That is so very, very not OK, and I doubt this will be a one-time thing.

    Best of luck with this awful situation and take care of yourself. What she is doing is not normal, and not OK.

  103. Gray Fox*

    I wondered if there was a lesbian attraction by Therese. She sounded like she is menacing and may be caught up in a chase to attract the OP. I wondered if this could be remedied by disclosing that this was a “hostile work environment. A work environment should be free of this element.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think it makes the slightest bit of a difference whether there is anything sexual here or not. “Hostile work environment” is not a magic incantation that will make a passive / lazy administrator or principal take action. And trying to prove that there is sexual harassment involved is just going to be a distraction that keeps anyone from looking at the actual misbehavior.

  104. KoiFeeder*

    A bit OT, but having been in the position of the kid who was dragged into inter-teacher conflict, I’m (pleasantly) taken aback by how many people are saying that there’s no excuse for Therese to have done that. That’s something I accepted as normal during lower-middle school.

    1. MaryAnne Spier*

      Oh, god, not normal and completely unprofessional. I’ve been teaching for 21 years and students should never, ever be brought into adult conflicts.

  105. Bea*

    In your shoes the temptation to by a wig in an unflattering cut and wearing it every day until Therese changes her hair to match and then never wearing it again would be extremely high.

    Take care of yourself OP. And document everything. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s better to be prepared.

    1. Juneybug*

      LOL! Maybe Alison should publish her very crazy/worst letters for Wednesdays based on that awesome title.

  106. MJ*

    I’m also surprised that the principal hasn’t noticed or picked up on this woman’s emulating of OP in appearance. Definitely get to know and make friends with other teachers, as they also can help you navigate your way around. I also say this because they might recognize what you’re going through.

  107. Reesha*

    Buy some ugly or brightly coloured wigs. Wear one until she changes her hair colour and then change the wig. Do this a few times. Change your clothes to a different style. Make her spend money, and make it obvious that she is changing her stuff to match you.

    I’m sorry she is making you uncomfortable. She’s got mental issues.

    1. pancakes*

      That would be a weird and self-defeating thing to do with regard to the letter writer building and strengthening relationships with other teachers and her principal, and would not address the most troubling aspects of Therese’s behavior – involving children in vandalizing the letter writer’s classroom, for example. It would also be redundant. The letter writer is already abundantly aware that Therese copies her style. She doesn’t need to dress like a buffoon in an effort to confirm it.

      The more I read, the more I think it was a mistake to ask commenters for suggestions on how to handle this. The letter writer needs professional advice, not Wile E. Coyote-style plotting.

  108. AJ*

    I work at an elementary school. It was absolutely *not ok* for Therese to solicit a student to rip down the art work. I can’t believe the principal just let this slide!!! At “best” the poor kid was unknowingly doing an adult’s dirty work… at worst Therese is teaching the student it’s ok not to respect other people’s property. This may or may not help, but could you establish boundaries with her (at least in your own mind) like how you establish boundaries with students/ how you redirect students? By explaining things kindly but firmly without getting personally/emotionally involved and then moving on with your day? “Tommy doesn’t like it when you use his toy without permission, please stop” “I feel uncomfortable when you leave me money, please don’t leave any next time, thank you”. I don’t know… I could see this really working or really backfiring… Either way I agree – definitely cultivate strong relationships with other staff members.

  109. The Other Victoria*

    Others have suggested this, but look into the grey rock technique. Be as uninteresting as possible so that she loses interest.

  110. 324343*

    Don’t share any personal information with Therese, even stuff you might share with other colleagues. She doesn’t need to know the neighborhood you live in or your relationships status or health problems. She definitely doesn’t need to know any information that might sound disreputable. Blackmailers are out there.

  111. tink*

    If she acts like this towards other adults, I shudder to think of what the “out of favor” children in her classroom have to deal with. People like this shouldn’t be in a classroom.

  112. Chickaletta*

    All of this is super creepy. I have nothing to add to the advice given so far but I’m definitely looking forward to an update. If this were a movie, we’d be only 1/3 of the way in.

  113. Woah*

    Honestly…can you find a different job? I know, I know. But this has an episode of Law and Order written all over it.

  114. Faith*

    Do whatever you need to do to get through this school year, but find a new school to work in after this. Not only is Therese a nightmare and super creepy stalker, your principal doesn’t have your back. And this is a case where they really should.

    Therese is scary, but even if she weren’t the issue, I’d say that your principal’s behavior would merit you looking elsewhere. Teaching is hard enough when the administration does do their job; complete abdication in the face of this is NOT good.

  115. Marie*

    Former k-12 teacher since ‘96. There is a nationwide teacher shortage due to worsen. Most schools have programs/mentors in place to retain new teachers. Whether you are a new teacher, or a teacher new to the district, ask admin about this. Although admins and districts and school boards rarely act as though it is true: teachers are needed. In fact this school/ district/ board needs you far more than it needs piece of work teacher. I taught in a state with a strong union (that was wonderful!) and then in a so called “right to work state” (WTF!). In the latter state there were so many diligent, talented, hard working, dedicated teachers (as there were in state with unionized teachers) ran scared. I saw there was a comment mentioning a book about fear. I would say be stronger with admin/ principal. Say that this is rapidly becoming an unfortunate working environment and if he/she isn’t going to do anything about it, then does he/she know who has that power. As in board. And forget that this teacher has something over you bc of tenure or that a union rep will favor her. Be strong. You sound wonderful and are in a classroom responsible for the safety and well being and education of many students. As you are able to do that you can definitely stand up to her. And to admin.

      1. Marie*

        This thing about her entering/ being in your classroom is absolutely NOT normal/ not okay. Start with that. There is a way to speak that is strong and absolute. Question : Are you…? Did you…? Please stop. Please don’t do that anymore.
        Said with the correct and strong tone of voice that “please” is not a plea but a command.

        1. Marie*

          Also: stand up strong for yourself!!! Ten years from now you won’t be thinking about what she “did to you,” you’ll be regretting you didn’t stand up for yourself. Especially in a small town. Go for it!

  116. Lilyofthefield*

    This is highly disturbing. This woman has clearly shown she has violent tendencies, and will manipulate CHILDREN to enact her violent tendencies. This is far more serious than it is being treated. I would leave that school. Period.

  117. I'm Not Phyllis*

    As I said somewhere upstream, while Therese may have tenure, that doesn’t absolve your principal from their responsibility to ensure that you have a bullying and harassment-free work place. I agree with the others above to document everything, put things in writing, and don’t accept that there’s nothing they can do. If you do have access to union representation that’s a great suggestion.

    Otherwise … what Alison said.

  118. Kapers*

    I have a theory. By the time you find yourself saying things like “I don’t think she would hurt me physically,” it means actually you’ve already subconsciously filed that in the “possible” category.

    I would agree that it is—physically violent people often start with property damage and escalate from there. In fact, property damage when it’s that personal is a kind of violence.

    I would ABSOLUTELY risk looking like a troublemaker and even losing your job. I know that’s easy for me to say because I’m not you, but it’s better than risking your mental health, feeling of safety, property. Anyway, if the situation continues, she may well be vengeful enough to ruin your job anyway.

    I would ask to be reassigned and I would be very explicit as to why. I’m worried about you!

  119. BadApple*

    Hi OP!
    I’m a high school teacher, and I would make sure that you use really ‘strong’ language when you address this with your principal, such as ‘misuse of authority’ (painting), ‘involuntary financial interactions’, and ‘professional boundaries’. You could also ask for advice on how to respond if she frames a student in the future.

    I think (and I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming you ! this is a guess) that as teachers we are used to presenting problems gently, because we have to address dicey conversations with parents concerning student needs and behavior. I know I definitely downplay things in order to get enough rapport to move forward. I wonder if you did this in your convo with the principal (feel free to disagree of course!) and if the principal ‘ran with it.’ Don’t water down your language. If this is helpful great, if not, disregard it.

    I get not wanting to hurt yourself on probation… tough situation! But wishing you all the best.

    1. BadApple*

      Sorry for the double comment… make friends with the front desk people, they are so helpful and wonderful! Maybe you can talk to them or principal to make sure she cannot access your personal information (phone/address) through Powerschool or whatever program you have.

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