my coworker is teasing me with a mascot of an animal I’m scared of

A reader writes:

I work for a school, and our mascot is an animal most people find lovely – think of a lion or a puppy. In past years, we’ve had a very large stuffed toy of our mascot that travels between homerooms a few times a month, usually to celebrate a homeroom that has worked particularly hard or met a certain goal.

This year, for reasons passing understanding, my boss – our principal – has become obsessed with a particular insect as a symbol of teamwork. The previous big, plush mascot has been replaced with a very large (five-feet long), very detailed plush of this insect. This week, my homeroom was “awarded” this creature.

Now, as you may have guessed, I have a problem with this bug. I have a lifelong phobia of it, actually. I’m not bothered by bugs in general, but am legitimately scared of and disgusted by this one. Having lots of these little guys turn up on staff and student-facing materials as symbols of teamwork has been annoying, but I’m handling it. That said, the giant, realistic one? Genuinely out of my nightmares. I can physically feel my heart rate jump a little when I catch its silhouette or have to look at its creepy little face.

So, the day the bug was “awarded” to my homeroom, I decked it out in blankets and hats with our school logo and colors, so it was less creepy to me while still a cute, fun thing in the room. The kids liked seeing it covered in school swag, too, and I included some decoration specific to our homeroom.

However, one of the other teachers in this homeroom really wants to get into the spirit (?) of the bug. She has removed the decorations and blanket, moved the bug repeatedly to places where it’s in my eyeline (including while I’m teaching!), and has drawn the kids’ attention to this, making it a bit of a class joke, which makes it much harder to address in the moment without making a weird scene. I’ve told her, in-person and via message, several times that while I know it’s silly, the bug toy really does freak me out a little, and I’d like to keep it out of the way. She’s replied with chiding, sad emojis, etc., and has moved the bug at least once since.

The bug moves on once or twice a month, so this isn’t a permanent problem, but it does make me wonder where the line is. I can accommodate the bug – it’s not a debilitating phobia – and I feel more than a little silly repeatedly telling my colleague to stop moving a toy bug into my eyeline, but also feel like at a certain point, I’m allowed to draw a boundary. The bug mascot is all in good fun, but … what would you advise saying to this colleague who can’t seem to understand I don’t find the joke funny?

Your coworker is being obnoxious. As soon as you told her that the bug freaked you out and you’d like to keep it out of the way, that should have been the end of it. There’s no reason that whatever fun she’s getting from the bug should trump your ability to be comfortable in your workspace. And she’s making it a class joke with students? WTF.

Her sad emojis are just … sigh. I wonder how she would handle a student with a phobia.

As for your question about where the line is, it sounds like your phobia might not be severe enough to rise to the level of ADA protection (if it doesn’t interfere with a major life activity) — but that would just mean that the law doesn’t mandate that you be accommodated. Common sense and general decency still do. Setting the law aside, the way stuff like this should be navigated is via the principle that an employee’s ability to be physically and mentally comfortable in their workplace and do their job is more important than optional stuff that’s just for fun. So your fear of this bug trumps your coworker’s joy at having it around because you need to be able to do your work without being terrified while she doesn’t need to experience the pleasure of a giant stuffed bug. She might like to, but when when you weigh the two needs, yours clearly wins out.

If you can do both, great. But when they’re in conflict, people’s ability to do their jobs wins out. That’s true whether we’re talking about phobias, or allergies, or inability to focus because of barking.

Similarly, when someone has allergies, their ability to breathe and not have headaches while at work trumps someone else’s desire to wear perfume or bring their dog to meetings. (Unless it’s a service dog, which would be what’s called “dueling accommodations,” where both needs are important and the employer would enter an interactive process with both people to see if they can solve it.)

How straightforward and direct have you been with your coworker? Have you softened the message at all in an attempt to be collegial? If so, the next step is to un-soften it and say something like, “I think I haven’t been clear enough. I have a phobia of this bug and having it in my eyeline is interfering with my ability to focus on my job. I need you to stop moving it, period. Can you agree to that?” You’re asking whether she can agree because if she won’t, then your next step — if you want a next step — is to escalate it to someone who will tell her to cut it out (and who ideally will explain that she’s being a jerk and that it’s not okay to mess with people who have clearly asked you to stop).

{ 370 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    I am not particularly bug-phobic but a giant, detailed mascot of a bug just seems like a weird idea, period. Giant, cartoony, completely-unrealistic bug, sure, but if my coworkers wanted to keep a huge stuffed tree roach around I think I’d have objections even without the phobia.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      From context I’m making a guess this is an ant, which aren’t cute. Even the disneyfied ones from the movies are creepy to me.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I was thinking of bees, which do exemplify teamwork. My son’s middle school mascot was a honeybee.

        1. Phony Genius*

          My elementary school also had a bee mascot. Sometime between then and now, it was changed to a tiger for reasons that were never explained. (Maybe they had a teacher with melissophobia?) They also completely changed the school colors. The school’s name is still exactly the same.

            1. SelinaKyle*

              So does the name Deborah. I’m Debbie and all merchandise when I was a kid was for Deborah or Debra. The explanation on mugs etc – Hebrew meaning The Bee.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          My mom’s school district used bees as a part of their teacher team building program. All the district values were turned bee themed. “Bee Kind, Bee Clear, Bee Present,” that sort of thing. There were cartoon bees on EVERYTHING. I remember thinking at the time that it couldn’t be pleasant for people who were afraid of bees.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          So do ants. Neither is fun for people who have been swarmed. (Says the person who shares this reaction, but to an insect not generally known to trigger people. Nope I’m not saying.)

          1. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

            Is it a butterfly? Because that’s what mine is and I’ve been teased about it my whole life.

            1. Violet Rose*

              Butterfly was my guess – they’re generally beloved insects, but I’ve known a few people who hated butterflies or had a mild phobia of them.

              1. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

                I’ve only ever known one other person to feel the same way about them as I do.

                1. tomato tomato*

                  I have this phobia too. There are dozens of us!

                  Fun(?) fact: I tracked down the root of my phobia to that one Spongebob episode where they have a close up of a fly’s face pretending it’s a butterfly with the awful buzzing noises. It really did a number on me….severe phobia where I couldn’t even look at even semi detailed cartoons for years. Nowadays, at least it’s a little more mild, but oof they still make me pretty uneasy.

        4. Jane Austen II*

          The bug moving twacher is a bully: plain and simple; finding amusement in the pain or discomfort (either physical or mental) of someone she is not even angry with. As such, her ability to be an effective teacher is questionable. Is she even capable of empathize with student, or does she find tormenting them funny too?

          1. Esther A.*

            It’s your classroom, she has no right to enter and move things around. You also a right to escort it to the teacher’s lounge. It’s sharing time!!

        5. allathian*

          My high school mascot was a bee, because the principal was the first person I knew who kept bees in a suburban environment. He lived a few blocks from the school, and people in the vicinity loved the bees, because their gardens benefited from all those pollinators. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, long before the pollinator crisis became a thing.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        My assumption would be some variety of hymenoptera (bees/ants/wasps), unless we’re getting massively esoteric like sawfly larvae, aphids, or ambrosia beetles. Sawfly larvae or woolly aphids can be kind of cute, but I think most people would still object to a five foot long depiction of anything mentioned here.

        The other option is termites! Now, I’d argue that the colony is the organism and each termite is a “cell,” thus the proper depiction is the mound and not the individual, but no one asks me these things.

        1. Joan*

          Yes! I love your Hymenoptera comment. I am a former teacher and current insect photographer. I LOVE insects, but immensely dislike what is happening to OP here. (It’s the antithesis of the teamwork said unidentified bug was chosen to emulate). As pointed out below, this other teacher is beyond a simple jerk: she is drawing the kids into her bullying ring. As most schools enact anti-bullying classes and standards, this really needs to be firmly addressed with the other teacher. “You are outright bullying me, modeling bullying for our students, and drawing them in to your unacceptable behavior.”

          1. Joan*

            In fact, part of anti bullying strategies taught and practiced at schools is to teach students use words and to teach students to listen to others’ words. The insect thing (I am an insect lover and photographer) is really beside the point. The teasing, the bullying, the drawing the kids in—all this is teaching via live actions the antithesis of being kind and good citizens.

          2. Betty*

            Yeah, the fact that the teacher is engaging in bullying really makes me want the OP to bring it to the attention of *someone* in the reporting chain — “I can address my own concerns with her myself, but I’m extremely worried about what she’s modelling to the kids and how she might be handling issues with vulnerable kids if this is how she’s responding to me as a peer, and so I wanted to loop you in.”

            1. Worldwalker*


              If one of the students was afraid of, say, dogs, it would be reprehensible for another student to continually bring in stuffed dogs, stick pictures of dogs on the phobic person’s desk, etc. That wouldn’t be tolerated. So why is it tolerated when a teacher — an adult who should know better, for the love of all that’s holy! — is doing it to another teacher?

              1. JustaTech*

                Yes to this! There’s a line between friendly teasing between peers (I had a coworker who had a thing against celebrity dudes with beards, so his work buddy was forever hiding photos of celebrities with beards around his desk), and continuing to do so after someone has asked you to stop because it’s upsetting.

                Once you know it’s upsetting rather than a harmless pet peeve, you either stop or admit that you’re bullying.

          3. Emotional Support Robin*

            Ooh, I hadn’t really thought of what it meant for the students to be encouraged to bully their teacher. Excellent point.

        2. Worldwalker*

          Mealybug. A giant mealybug. (I’m currently fighting an infestation of them on my houseplants, so I have no kind thoughts about mealybugs at all)

          Hm … how about a hellgrammite? That might do it. (would you use a 5′ hellgrammite to fish for megalodons?)

          1. KoiFeeder*

            While making your school mascot a creature that’s been farmed by ants for at least 20 million years does have some symbolism when it comes to the american workforce, I do feel like the fact that that’s their claim to fame more than anything else generally disqualifies mealybugs from the running (sort of in the same way that dairy cows aren’t really considered viable mascots).

            As for hellgrammites, well. I like weird bugs, and even I think a 5′ hellgrammite might be pushing it too far. I’m sure they’re very lovely and have many virtues, but I think they can display those virtues just as well at their current size.

        1. I Am Thee Grasshopper*

          Ants or bees make perfect sense… I immediately assumed it was a grasshopper for some bizarre reason. (Possibly because a large, detailed grasshopper mascot in my sightline as I tried to work–or do anything–would freak me out completely.) I think I mixed up the grasshopper/ant roles from the fable!

      3. TeamNoBugs*

        Same conclusion I came to as well, and I agree: ants are hideous. I’m surprised there aren’t students who are also bothered by the big bug. While there are kids that love bugs, there are going to be a lot that are afraid of them no matter what helpful little (team)worker ant light one may try to paint them in. Check the classrooms that haven’t been ‘awarded’ this…keeping a child’s mind in context, I’d sabotage every opportunity to keep that thing out. Ew. What happened to pizza parties?!

        1. BubbleTea*

          I recently saw a very close up image of an ant’s face and it is a creature of nightmares. Nope nope nope.

          1. Meep*

            I love that image, because of how hideous it is. Like a malformed overweight dragon. But I like hideous things.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Now I’m picturing an ant burping fire and sitting on top of a tiny anthill of gold.

        2. IrishMN*

          When I was in middle school we have a science teacher who was a bit eccentric. He had stuff hanging from the ceiling in his room, usually leaves and stuff, but he also had a real, dead, tarantula. I have always been super freaked out by spiders. Guess where my desk was? Right underneath this arachnid corpse. I was the kind of kid who wouldn’t speak up when something bothered me, I was very shy and quiet. I don’t think I learned much that quarter. (Looking back on it, I wonder WTF he was thinking.)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I don’t even have a problem with spiders but that would freak me out just on the “corpse of anything hanging over my head; what if it falls on me? That’s just disgusting,” level.

          2. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

            Wow, that’s creepy. No way I would want to sit under a dead animal or creepy crawler let alone a freaking tarantula. And that just seems kind of sad to have a hummingbird hanging on the ceiling like a decorative piece.

            1. Another ADDer*

              I think tarantulas are the coolest… when they’re alive. I’d be freaked out by sitting underneath a dead one too.

          3. KK*

            My middle school science teacher had a pet snake in the classroom, and everyone HAD to touch it at least once during the year. I don’t know what would have happened if someone had outright refused. We all just did it, even the kids that were petrified. I don’t think we realized we had the option to just be like “Nope, I’m out.”

            1. JustaTech*

              Oh, no, that’s so mean.
              In college I worked one summer for the ecology prof, who was a herpetologist (snakes and lizards) researcher as well (I studied lizards for my thesis). I told my prof day 1 that I’m not great with snakes, but as long as I have a heads up and they’re contained it’s ok. (And I got a lot better with snakes that summer, just from passive exposure.)
              What I forgot to mention was that I was *really* not OK with spiders. So one morning he brings in all these baby food jars of bugs to feed to the lizards and one is a giant spider he just casually (accidentally) passed right by my face. I screamed, jumped, and knocked over my chair, startling the heck out of everyone else. (And then immediately apologized.)

              What did my prof do? Immediately remove the spider (put it back in his bag), apologize for startling me, and for the rest of the summer he would warn me about any spiders before he even opened his bag. I usually chose to stay (I was trying to get over my reaction) but he never even implied that there was something wrong with me for being afraid of spiders or snakes.
              (I’ve gotten better about both, but I also honor my own limits and make no excuses or apologies to anyone else about my boundaries.)

        1. Juneybug*

          Ugh! We are in Pacific Northwest and between the bald faced and murder hornets, most of us already pretty freaked out by them. But having one of those around (even fake) would make us twitchy.

    2. Heidi*

      Some schools have a bee or hornet as their mascot. But it doesn’t sound like the insect is even the official mascot here. The principal just likes this particular insect. Maybe the OP needs to start a campaign to bring back the old mascot. Justice for the puppy/lion!

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I wonder if the OP could rescue the old stuffed lion/puppy from whatever storage it’s been banished to and try re-vamping it’s image? Other classrooms may have the spider/roach but Homeroom classroom, we are old school and love our lion-puppy! Make it a whole thing where students can vote on how to dress it up and take fun pictures with it, and in the process the spider-roach gets downgraded to an out of view corner. The kids will probably be happy to have their lion-puppy back and there is a good reason to focus less on spider-roach.

      1. Panhandlerann*

        It sounds like that’s basically what she was doing, but the other teacher undid her work.

    4. Bilateralrope*

      It’s not unheard of. A weta is an unsettling insect due to how big it is. Especially if you find it in your shoe.

      I’m guessing you’ve heard of Weta Workshops and Weta Digital. Though I can’t say how often they feature the insect in their branding or decorations.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I’d never heard of wetas before so I googled it. I am not a particularly squeamish person but I do find bugs kind of yucky and I definitely would not enjoy having a weta in my shoe or my home. Closest thing I’ve seen is a Jerusalem cricket which are also rather large for bugs and pretty creepy looking, but I was visiting a friend in NM at the time and am glad I live in the cooler northeastern US. In fact, whenever I get very sick of winter I remind myself that if I lived someplace warmer there’d be bugs around ALL THE TIME and not just in the warmer months of the year.

        1. mlem*

          Yeah, I grew up where palmetto bugs are common, and as the internet says, that is why I now live where the air hurts my face.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I think it was Dave Barry who said of Palmetto bugs something like “Because if you called them five inch flying roaches, Florida would empty.”

            And all I can say is… yup.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Now come on, they’re only two inch flying roaches! That sit on your porch railings and wave their antennae at you like they own the place, and dare you to squash them and get roach gush all over the place.

              Fortunately, one of my cats is sudden death on the wretched things. I love most bugs and buggy-like things, but I do make exceptions. Giant flying roaches are one of those exceptions.

            2. No roaches!*

              I grew up around Florida and spend a lot of time in Panama City Beach specifically due to a combination of family events and work. One year the job I was working put me up in the Summerhouse Condominiums, which *look* very fancy.

              Oh god. Worst PCB experience ever, in all the decades I’ve traveled there. Roaches EVERYWHERE. I ended up going to the store and buying poison spray, which I hate using, but there was no other way to control the nasty things. On the floors, in the sinks and drains, in the pantry, scuttling on the toilet….They were all over the condo. I couldn’t even use the balcony to watch the ocean because they camped on every outdoor surface, and I nearly got one flying into my hair the first time I tried sitting outside.

              I reported the severity of the issue to the front desk when I was checking out, and the woman was completely looking down her nose at me and dismissive. “Those are not roaches,” she said, “they’re palmetto bugs, and they’re fine.” Well, clearly they’re NOT fine, since I’m reporting an issue, you jerk! And when you’re being swarmed by bugs, it doesn’t freaking matter what kind they are.

              She was not terribly pleased when I told her I wasn’t a tourist, I was from the area, and I know that palmetto bugs are a type of roach. Never stayed there again!

              This was back around 2001. I just Googled Summerhouse to read reviews. People are still complaining about roaches, and whoever manages Summerhouse’s social media is still trying to to spin the roach problem as “perfectly normal native animal behavior” in their replies (they are very obvious in how they refuse to even identify the roaches). I just want to say that I’ve had over 100 stays in PCB, and I’ve never seen a single roach except at this one place. So, no, Condescending Desk Woman, while “palmetto roaches” might be a native thing there, them swarming your accommodations is NOT normal behavior that you just have to expect from your stay in Florida. Not in establishments with proper cleaning and pest control, anyway.

          1. Emotional Support Robin*

            I definitely read that as “A Hannah to me!” and wondered why you’d felt the need to censor yourself.

        2. GoryDetails*

          Oh, gosh, Jerusalem crickets! If I have a least-favorite insect-or-arachnid it’s probably those. Saw a live one once when I lived in Wyoming and it freaked me out; so large, so… juicy? … and as if that weren’t enough, it reminded me of the creepy human-face bugs in the “Outer Limits” episode “The Zanti Misfits”.

          1. Free Meerkats*

            Driving to Vegas one year there was a swarm of Jerusalem crickets crossing Hwy 93 north of Pioche. About 50 yards of squashed goo on the road, and yes, juicy. And the just kept coming.

      2. Nina*

        I also live in an area where it’s not unusual to find weta in the garden. But my mother had a campaign of ‘come and look at this nice bug, NICE BUG, bugs are friends, do not hurt/eat/squish/maim the bug’ since I was less than a year old and now I find them kind of weirdly adorable.

      3. JustAnAdmin*

        Just googled weta. They are the things nightmares are made of. If I saw one I’d be screaming – burn it, burn it with fire!!

        1. Juneybug*

          Note to self – do not read “JustAnAdmin” comments while drinking water. You will giggle-snort water in your nose.

      4. marvin*

        I think weta workshop does have a big model of a weta on one of the walls (or at least they used to when they filmed the LOTR special features, my source of all knowledge). It looked pretty unsettling.

      5. Worldwalker*

        I think wetas are pretty cool. But then again, I’m also on the wrong side of the world to find one in my shoe. (the only things that turn up in my shoes unexpectedly are Legos, because I have a sadistic cat)

      6. TrixM*

        I friggin hate wetas, down to not being able to touch a page of a book if there’s a photo of one on it. Thankfully that’s rare!

        I really dislike cricket/cockroach/locust-like bugs in general, but my hatred of wetas got kicked into high gear when I was around age 10 and found one crawling on my head (we lived near lush bushland). And the buggers hang on to your hair, great when trying to dislodge one with an emergency crossfit routine, without using your hands.

        It’s not quite a phobia, so a plushie one might be ok, but a more accurately-detailed plastic one would give me the absolute icks. I don’t think I could work with something like that in my eyeline.

        And from a somewhat leftfield perspective, some aspects of BDSM can be about making people uncomfortable or taking delight in their fearful reactions. But at least everyone knows that in those scenarios, it is supposed to be *consensual* and that both parties get a kick out if it. If there are better boundaries in the BDSM club vs the workplace, something needs improving! Maybe the colleague should go to the club for some education.

        Seriously, though, I agree with Alison’s advice to make it crystal clear this is not a “fun” running gag

    5. DannyG*

      The Marvel “Ant-Man” movies emphasize the cooperative & collaborative nature of ants. If that’s the inspiration perhaps a life size cutout of Ant-Man would work instead

      1. Bossy Magoo*

        Paul Rudd, also a symbol of teamwork, kindness, and cooperation, makes everything better always.

    6. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

      The University of Richmond’s athletic teams are the Spiders (unconventional and cool!) and they have the standard “guy in a plush suit” mascot (awesome, and he’s named Webster, which is great), and they also have a live tarantula in a glass case that has a primo seat at basketball games (creepy and not cool anymore!)

      1. BuildMeUp*

        I mean, I’m sure the tarantula is a good luck charm… in that half the opposing team is probably too scared to go on the court because of its presence

      2. Worldwalker*

        I have a sign hanging on my wall that I picked up at a local store after Halloween last year … “You say ‘big black spider’ like it’s a bad thing!” I’m actually not particularly fond of spiders (except jumping spiders, because they’re cute and fuzzy and have big eyes) but the sign is cool. It’s hanging by my plush Minecraft spider, of course.

        Why yes, my home office is kind of weird. There’s a life-sized skeleton sitting on top of the Asteroids arcade game, a live scorpion in a cage on my desk, a little stuffed Cthulhu on a shelf, and a dragon kite with a 6′ wingspan hanging from the ceiling overhead. This is the kind of thing my co-workers think is normal. :) Their decor, in Zoom meetings, ranges from a Pride flag and band posters to a framed crinoid fossil.

      3. metadata minion*

        That seems somewhat unfair to the spider as well as to arachnophobic spectators — they don’t like being moved around or being in loud, vibration-y places.

    7. JSPA*

      I’m thinking a bee. They’re essential in so many ways to our lives as we know them, fascinating in their behaviors, culturally important in art, song and fable…yet they sting.

      So they’re understandably scary to some of people, and actively dangerous to people who are allergic.

      I can see that someone who doesn’t have a deep-seated fear could reasonably be encouraged to get over what’s no more than an unexamined dislike of seeing them in detail.

      Praying mantis would also come to mind.

      If you want a phobia to be treated as a phobia–which is to say, not something that can be overcome through exposure, familiarity, thinking about their ecological role or their role in helping the farmer–you probably do have to be fairly direct, so as not to be lumped in with people who feel that all insects would be better dead.

      “I’m phobic, not small-minded. And you’re being a bully, not an educator, by repeatedly exposing me” are the two key points.

    8. Worldwalker*

      I’m trying to guess what sort of bug (or arthropod of any type) it might be. The only thing I’ve ever seen that big was a centipede, with multi-colored segments and little sneakers on all those feet. (it was a carnival prize) I saw a ginormous plush lobster like that in a gift shop in Maine, but I think most people characterize lobsters as tasty arthropods, not creepy arthropods, so that’s unlikely. But as far as anything in the insect or arachnid line … maybe a really big scorpion, if you straightened it out all the way? (I have no idea how long Skippy, my pet scorpion, really is; he’s a look-but-don’t-touch pet, and I’m not about to try to measure him!)

  2. PollyQ*

    If necessary, it might be pointed out to her that she is being an ABYSMAL role model to the students.

    1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      A model of immaturity. Sad emojis? Yeesh.

      OP, don’t feel a need to soften your message. This other teacher is the one who is making things awkward, not you. Feel free to tell her straight out that she is minimizing your experience. Ask her whether she can respect your real needs.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yeah, the emoji thing reads to me like, ‘you are a party pooper and I am going to do it anyway.”
        Tell her directly – via email so you have a record of this whole situation if you need it later. I like ‘Luna’s phrasing further down in the comments.
        Or you could explain it to your principal if it really doesn’t stop?

        1. Ex-Teacher*

          This assumes that the principal would be a decent person who is effective at their job. My experience is that most of the principals and school administrators are neither, which is a big part of why I use the handle I use here.

      2. Worldwalker*

        Feel free to tell her straight out that she is being rude, and to knock it off.

        She’s acting like a snotty third-grader, not an adult!

    2. KoiFeeder*

      This, especially by drawing the kids into it. Unless this is undergraduate or graduate school, she’s all but openly encouraging them to get in on it too. At least some of the kids are going to be able to pick up on the teacher being freaked out by it (I don’t know how many because I didn’t pick up on anything that wasn’t directly told to me), and best-case scenario they’re also the kids who are emotionally intelligent/mature enough to know that freaking people out isn’t funny and not emulate it. Absolute worst-case scenario, you’ve now got an entire class that thinks upsetting and frightening other people is a funny and appropriate joke.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        When I was a kid, I thought it was funny to scare people with snakes and bugs. If I saw a teacher doing the same, it would have taken me a lot longer to learn it wasn’t funny or nice.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          A lot of people thought that was the case with me, but I legitimately missed the part where people find snakes scary. So I was trying to be helpful and show everyone the cool friend they might’ve otherwise missed, and they thought I was being a malicious little shit.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I was malicious, because I targeted girls. When the boys tried to scare me, I’d ask for the critter, so I could be mean to the other girls. Humor is something that often goes through a very bad phase in children before it is moderated by empathy. (Except, some people never get to that phase.)

        2. Nina*

          There are no snakes in my country. None. Zero. Not even in zoos. So while I quite like bugs (but know not to shove them in people’s faces) a snake even of the most tiny, adorable, and harmless type would still freak adult me out quite a lot

          1. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

            I don’t know what country you’re from, but I really want to move there now. I found a teeny, tiny snake in my garage a year or so ago and I’m still not over it.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                We do have them in zoos though and some people have them as pets, so I don’t think it’s Ireland. Googling says possibly New Zealand.

                1. TrixM*

                  Huh, we used to have snakes in zoos in NZ, but apparently not any more! (At least not the ones I’ve been to.)

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I came here to say this. She is literally role-modeling bullying!

      And she should be modeling how to show compassion to others!!

      Can you address it with her from this POV?

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Exactly! She needs to see that she is showing the kids how to be bullies and asked if that’s really the lesson she wants to be teaching.

      2. The OTHER other*

        Not to mention, even without the giant insect thing, WTH is with her sense of boundaries? She’s going into the LW’s classroom and moving things around? Huge violation! How’d she like it if you go in her room and move stuff around?

    4. MeepMeep123*

      Exactly. It’s literally teaching them to bully. I’d escalate this and frame it as bullying behavior. This time around, it’s directed at another adult who has some power to resist. What will she do to a child with the same phobia who doesn’t have the standing or the power to resist this?

  3. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Are there any other teachers who might be willing to say something? If another teacher mentions it’s distracting to keep moving this giant stuffed bug, the Insect Aficionado might get the hint to cut it out.

    1. Jan*

      I’m a teacher and believe me when I tell you that she would only do that to me once. I would talk to my administrator. If that didn’t settle the issue, OPs union rep gets paid to handle these things. She should call them. That other teacher has no right to move things around in her classroom. Stand up for yourself, OP

      1. Gracely*

        Not every teacher has a union rep. Can we stop assuming that every teacher has representation through a union? They’re practically non-existent in the southeastern US states, despite many wanting them–and often the ones that do exist there are pretty much only for legal coverage/basically toothless.

    2. TrixM*

      Eh, I think when you’re at the point the LW is here, involving other colleagues is just spreading hassle around for no guaranteed benefit.

      I think Alison’s advice to state baldy that this needs to stop is perfect. I would personally also say that my next step will be to discuss the issue with management if it continues, just to underline its seriousness.

      Maybe LW could lobby with colleagues for the return of the previous mascot, but a) it might not be worth the hassle with the boss that changed it; and b) well after rude colleague has given up their little “game”.

  4. L-squared*

    So, from what I can gather is you 2 share a classroom, correct? But are you both in the classroom at the same time? If not, can you 2 just move it when you come in? I know its not ideal. But that way she can have her fun with it during her class periods, and you can have it out of sight during yours. Back when I taught, I’d occasionally have other teachers use my class. It was annoying, but afer a while, I got used to moving my things back where I wanted them when I returned.

    1. @ArtsBeatLA*

      “…has moved the bug repeatedly to places where it’s in my eyeline (including while I’m teaching!)”

      The other teacher’s behavior is going beyond obnoxious and needs to be addressed.

    2. Clorinda*

      If LW is the primary teacher in the classroom, maybe she has keys to a closet that Annoying Co-Worker doesn’t have and can lock the bug way for a while.
      My concern about trying to tell ACW how upsetting this is would be that ACW already knows–that’s why she’s doing it. I mean, recruiting the kids? NOPE.

      Next time it happens, stop teaching, confiscate the bug, and shove it under the desk to move it out of sight, just as with any other contraband. If ACW complains to the principal, let her. The response is “ACW was playing with the bug in a way that distracted the students and she disregarded requests to stop, so I had to remove it for instructional reasons.”

      1. TrixM*

        I think this is way too convoluted. When something is seriously bothering someone, the courteous thing is to stop the behaviour when possible. There is no need for the colleague to move the bug; there’s no excuse for them not to desist when asked to.

        Alison’s advice to make it clear this isn’t a game is perfect. By saying outright that it’s a phobia, it puts the onus on the colleague to act appropriately.

        It should not be necessary to explain why, and I also generally recommend not disclosing personal info like that at work, but this is really the last resort tactic before escalating to management. And the first thing management will want to know is if the colleague had been told what the problem is.

        Snatching things and locking them up just seems like descending to their childish level. Yes, that’s sometimes what you have to do as a parent to a misbehaving child, but at least here, there’s another authority to appeal to with real clout.

  5. Modesty Poncho*

    “As for your question about where the line is, it sounds like your phobia might not be severe enough to rise to the level of ADA protection (if it doesn’t interfere with a major life activity) — but that would just mean that the law doesn’t mandate that you be accommodated. Common sense and general decency still do.”

    WHOOT WHOOOOOT Once more for the people in the back! This is so beautifully phrased.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      100% – common sense and general decency should rule the day here. I read this and wondered WTF was wrong with this woman that she was so invested in LW embracing the bug. Does she not have better things to do with her time?

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I don’t think she wants LW to like the bug. If she were, she’d be saying nice things about the insect or joining in with covering it with school swag so it was less creepy-looking.

        She’s just having fun making LW as uncomfortable as possible and encouraging the other students to join in on the bullying.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      This is so true, and it makes me sad, because nowadays you see complaining about how “everybody’s got to be accommodated” and rants about snowflakes and so on, and it occurred to me: maybe one reason so many people are seeking out official accommodation? Is that common sense and decency can no longer be counted on.

      1. last but first*

        What do you mean “no longer”? Bullying isn’t exactly new. The difference is that now asking for consideration and accomodation has at least a chance of having a positive effect. The kind of people who used get away with bullying now have to face consequences to their actions. And they don’t like it. That’s where the rants about snowflakes, cancel culture etc. come from.

  6. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I would also like to note that just because someone’s dislike of something isn’t a legal protected class doesn’t mean that it’s ok to then shove it in their face all the time. OP isn’t even asking for anything major, just ‘please don’t put this in my eyeline’. And it’s not a question of dueling accommodations, either – OP’s coworker does not need the plushy, and asking for one restriction on how the plushy moves is not going to be the thing that destroys all joy in the classroom.

    Don’t be this coworker.

    1. MEH Squared*

      Yes. The coworker is being a jerk for no good reason. She may think she’s being funny, but she’s not. She knows the LW does not like this bug and still places it within the LW’s eyeline? And getting kids to be in on the joke? That’s unacceptable–and teaching the kids a very bad lesson at the same time.

  7. Nia*

    Wouldn’t the only person with the authority to tell the coworker to cut it out be the principal? The person who came up with the stupid bug toy to begin with. What’s the recourse for the LW when the principal sides with the coworker?

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the principal will side with the annoying coworker. The OP has been a good sport about the bug plushie: outfitting it with school swag, etc. If OP told the principal, “Hey, I don’t love this thing but I can deal with it and made it fun for the kids, but coworker is weaponizing it against me. Can you help?” Unless the principal, too, is a complete jerk, why wouldn’t she?

    2. PollyQ*

      Even if the principal is pro-insect, hopefully she’d still recognize that this is bullying behavior on the part of the other teacher and for that reason, it should be stopped, regardless of the toy’s species. But you’re right that the buck probably stops there.

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      In the schools I attended and the ones where my husband teaches, a department head is likely between the principal and teacher. But what to do if the department head/principal goes “oh but it’s fun for team work!” is a good question.

      1. Clorinda*

        “This object is triggering my phobia, and that’s not good for teamwork.”
        And really, do we know that OP’s phobia doesn’t rise to the level of requiring accommodations? Maybe it’s getting there. Maybe it rises a bit every day.

        1. AnonyChick*

          And really, do we know that OP’s phobia doesn’t rise to the level of requiring accommodations? Maybe it’s getting there. Maybe it rises a bit every day.

          This. My phobia (bees/wasps/hornets/etc; anything that both flies and stings) may or may not be considered an ADA issue; it’s kind of on the borderline. But that assumes no one is purposely weaponizing it against me! Could I handle a stuffed bee in my workspace? Possibly. Could I handle a stuffed bee in my workspace if I could decide where to put it and how to cover it? Probably. Could I handle a stuffed bee in my workspace that constantly moved, including while I was in the room? Extremely unlikely; I’d be shrieking in fear at best, and literally frozen in terror (I’ve been known to stop breathing) at worst…and it would get worse the longer it went on, because I’d suddenly be on high-alert all the time. The last thing anyone in the situation should want is for Coworker’s actions to tip OP’s phobia into the “bad enough that the ADA comes into play” zone!

          1. That One Person*

            I hard agree as recently I’ve been experiencing the increased anxiety angle. Reached the point I could no longer tell if I was actually hearing buzzing and things giving themselves concussions on the wall, or if it was purely imagination and memory working against me. This stuff ramps up over time and shouldn’t be ignored. If the other teacher actively adores the bug then cool, good for them, but that shouldn’t come at the detriment of OP for sure and also shouldn’t come at the detriment of the kids. If there’s ways to keep the bug for the odd theme while letting OP be comfortable that’s a super reasonable compromise.

            I’m still confused why the toy had to be hyper realistic as I’d still also worry about what if this causes issues in kids with phobias or even minor fears of the insect down the road. Wonder if OP could get away with hot gluing the hat/blanket onto the toy (would recommend a cape format for the blanket for funsies), and maybe googly eyes if that might help. Keep the bug in school spirit mode. Googly eyes optional only if it doesn’t make worse of course.

  8. Weary cigarette drag*

    TL;DR, your co-worker is an immature bully, and you’ll need to be blunt with her.

    I don’t get asking her “Can you agree to that?” which frames it as something she has a choice about. Something that treats it as a non-negotiable, like “Thanks and I appreciate your understanding on this” makes it clear that you’re not asking her permission, and you can escalate when (sorry to say, not “if”) she keeps it up.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      The reason to get her to agree to that is that it makes her recognize she is being unreasonable if she says no – and gets her buy in. Telling her to stop gets a “you aren’t the boss of me” and a defensive “what I’m doing is just in fun, and its your problem if you are freaked out.” Telling her you need her to stop and can she agree to that changes it. You are stating your needs, what you need from her to have those needs met, and asking if she will comply.

      “No, I won’t comply with your need not to have the huge bug in your line of sight and will continue to move it around just to freak you out” makes it obvious who the jerk is.

      1. Weary cigarette drag*

        She’s not going to recognize that she’s being unreasonable. She thinks it’s funny to scare people and that the OP is a big ol’ party pooper.

        1. PhysicsTeacher*

          Sure, but make her say that she won’t agree to a reasonable ask. Then when you escalate it you are 100% covered in terms of having tried to work it out.

          This is a pretty common classroom management strategy too. Giving students choices allows them to make the face-saving choice (and stop the behavior). You might see that when a teacher takes a student who is being disruptive out into the hallway for a private conversation — they are likely saying something like “Here’s the deal. You have 2 choices: you can go back in the room and quit [insert disruptive behavior] or you can go to the office now. Are you going to be okay going back in or would you like to go to the office instead?”. There are actually 2 face-saving parts to this, the private conversation part and the choice part.

          When troublesome people are feeding off of the group dynamics (as it sounds like this teacher is, for better or worse…) confrontations are escalations that often make them double down on the problematic behavior so they don’t feel like they have lost in front of the class.

          1. Education Mike*

            Exactly this. She is forced to either agree or if she didn’t agree and you escalate she looks like a dingbat and she has absolutely nothing to say when OP clearly says “I’ve asked her to stop and she refused.”

            If you just “thanks for doing this” it’s easier for her to wriggle out and downplay.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Because unless she says “yes,” you elevate to the next level boss or manager immediately. She unlikely to outright say “no” but I can imagine hemming and hawing and “I’m just having fun” etc. Unless she says “yes” bring in the buig guns.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        And if you get the hemming and hawing of “I’m just having fun” then the response is “but your fun is actively distressing me and happening at my expense…..can you agree to stop?” And if hemming and hawing continues or you don’t get a yes, then the big guns need to be brought in and the word “bullying” used. But almost any reasonable adult is going to agree that having fun at someone else’s expense isn’t ok….and I’d hope a teacher would be particularly attuned to that.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          Yeah “can you at least adhere to the minimum expectations we expect of our students?”

          My real thought is “shit, what is this, Mean Girls? I share something vulnerable and this is what happens? What kind of example are you setting for the kids?”

        2. Worldwalker*

          She already knows she’s having fun at someone else’s expense — that’s the whole point. She knows it isn’t okay, and she’s doing it anyway. Because it’s fun for *her* to make someone else react.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      There’s this thing about human beings and psychology, which is that people tend to believe what they have said out loud. (I think it’s related to the human being thing about living up to – or down to – expectations but don’t quote me on that.) So you get the person to agree to stop doing Thing, and they hear themselves say Yes out loud, and they’re more inclined to actually stop doing Thing. (Also, when you make it an interaction rather than a statement, the other person is more likely to actually engage their brain, as opposed to just waiting you out until they can leave.)

      Plus, a lot of bosses will say “Did you ask them to stop?” and this is a clear and unambiguous request to stop.

    4. Roland*

      It’s so OP can get a clear “yes” or “no” out of her. It’s not because she can opt out, it’s so she is forced to participate in the convo and can’t claim she didn’t know or never agreed to stop.

  9. CommanderBanana*

    Your coworker is being a glassbowl, and if it were me I would come down on them like a bag of hammers.

  10. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I swear, some adults just don’t know how to act like adults. I’ve known small children who knew it wasn’t nice to taunt someone after being asked to stop, and they didn’t pout about it either.

    If children can understand and empathize with someone’s fear about something, a grown-up should, too.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I get the sense that Obnoxious Coworker is the kind of person whose parents never said “no” to them as a child.

  11. squirreltooth*

    I also have a deep aversion to a specific insect, though probably not the one OP’s dealing with (they’re not known for teamwork), and I can’t imagine having to look at one in my workspace every day without ending up a nervous wreck. OP, you’re a champ for handling this in such a levelheaded fashion and I’m sorry you have a jerk coworker making it harder.

    1. Cookies For Breakfast*

      Same here. I still deal with my family telling me it was nothing but a silly childhood fear (“you’re an adult, what’s the big deal, it’s just a bug!”). If a mascot of my bug nemesis appeared in my workspace, my first reaction would be to want to throw it away. That failing, I’d probably spend the entire day looking in the opposite direction. All way less professional solutions than what OP is already doing.

      OP, well done on speaking up with your coworker, and as Alison suggests, keep at it. She’s definitely being a jerk.

    2. Worldwalker*

      It’s not about the insect aversion, though. There isn’t a stuffed plush thing on the planet that can freak me out (this time of year, it seems like everyone is trying! A plush zombie with removable arms?!?!) but I, like pretty much everyone but this jerk, think what she’s doing is totally, utterly, and absolutely wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plush red panda (not as cute as the real thing; nothing can be) or the perfume that someone wore sitting next to you at a family funeral when you were a kid, that you can’t smell without thinking of Gramma dying, if something bothers someone, a decent person *avoids* it, they don’t *emphasize* it. Because that’s how we’re supposed to treat other people. You know … nicely ….

  12. Luna*

    ‘Cersei, I have told you before that I have a severe reaction to the sight of that thing. I am telling you now, do not move it around in my classroom, especially not while I’m teaching. Do not remove the scarfs and blankets I have put on it. Perhaps you find this funny. I don’t. Stop what you doing, no matter how well-meaning or joking you intend for it to be.’

    Put your foot down. Mocking someone for a phobia is bullying, plain and simple.

    1. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom*

      This 100%. It’s direct. And to the point. I may use this in my script in the future.

    2. Cohort 1*

      Also, if it happens to be a bee we’re talking about, lots of people have problems with bees. A 5 foot bee would have a lot of children in distress who might not want everyone to know about it for fear of being unrelentingly teased/bullied. Why does Johnny come home with a stomach ache every day? Why is he having trouble concentrating in class when he didn’t before? A 5 foot mascot of any sort doesn’t really have a place in a classroom.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Even a 5-foot animal that everyone found adorable is… well… 5 feet tall, which is significantly larger than most kids. It also seems like it would be very distracting even for the kids who love it.

      2. No spiders, please!*

        Yeah, I have a severe phobia of spiders. Which I learned to keep quiet very early on, not just because of other kids, but because sometimes even awful teachers would use it against me for their own enjoyment if they found out. It absolutely impacted my ability to learn in situations where it came up, like opening the science textbook to the page we were studying that day and seeing an extreme close-up of a tarantula’s face with all those creepy eyes….(That was back in 1988, when I was 9 and in fourth grade, and I *still* shudder at the memory to this day.)

    3. tessa*

      Yeah, I mean, I’d be blunt:

      “You’re doing X, even though I’ve asked you not to and explained why. What’s your purpose for continuing to do X?”

      BLUNT. Put her on the spot.

  13. Petty Betty*

    I’m petty and like to make this about how this person looks from an outside perspective (not their own perspective).

    “I asked you not to move this. I had it in a place to reduce distractions. It’s weird that you keep doing this knowing that I’ve asked you to stop and I’m disappointed in this choice and judgement. I had expected better, considering the kind words and praises I’ve heard, but now I’ll be re-evaluating now that I have a bigger picture understanding of you.” Maybe reiterate that the classroom is for learning and not for the mascot and its display?

    1. RJ*

      I really like this phrasing! Though I don’t have a bug phobia, I do have respect for my co-workers. OP, I sympathize. Working with jerks is difficult when you have to find scripts to make them back-off their toxic, nasty, juvenile behavior.

    2. dwl*

      I especially like the “I had it in a place to reduce distractions.” line! It frames things in more of a work-issue which hopefully would help the behavior to stop.

      Also, very weird for OP’s co-worker to also just remove all the different school swag off the plush, especially with the homeroom specific stuff! Like, why????

  14. Hannah L*

    Your coworker is being so ridiculous. You came up with a really good compromise that allows the bug to still be there and also shows school spirit, and she’s just being incredibly obnoxious. I don’t really have any advice just wanted to say your coworker is the problem and you should not feel bad about this at all.

  15. Name (Required)*

    Am I the only one that is dying to see a picture of this stuffed insect? I am fascinated by how it can simultaneously be a “plush” and also be so realistic looking that it triggers a phobia of the real life version of itself. I mean I absolutely HATE spiders – real ones make my skin crawl, but I’ve seen a lot of plush (and less plush) giant spider toys, and they have no effect on me (thank goodness or this time of year would be unbearable). My curiosity has never been so piqued!

    1. Wednesday*

      I just posted, but there is a realistic giant plush ant that is the worst stuffy I’ve ever seen.

    2. Rain's Small Hands*

      My youngest has a realistic looking stuffed possum that they travel with. It has been known to startle flight attendants because it looks real peeking out of their travel backpack.

      1. Name (Required)*

        lol what!?! when did they start making realistic stuffed toys?? I don’t have kids so maybe I have just completely missed this…

      2. The OG Sleepless*

        My daughter has a stuffed possum that is just realistic looking enough that our cat is afraid of it.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      So, I have options for you after looking up “giant plush [insect name]” on google! It does remove termite and wasp from consideration, assuming it wasn’t a custom job- there are no commercially available giant plushies for either species.

      Warning: these are realistic giant plush insects.


      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Omg, that ant is nightmare fuel! The bee I find less disturbing for some reason (maybe it’s the color), but that ant would absolutely freak ne the fuck out!

        If that is the bug the LW is writing about, I have all the sympathy in the world for her (and I already had quite a bit).

        That is not a cuddly plush toy. It’s a literal monster!

      2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Omg, that ant is terrifying! The bee I find less disturbing for some reason (maybe it’s the color), but that ant would absolutely freak ne the fuck out!

        If that is the bug the LW is writing about, I have all the sympathy in the world for her (and I already had quite a bit).

        That is not a cuddly plush toy. It’s a literal monster!

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, the bee looks fake. Real bees have transparent wings. But that ant was freaky, and I’m not freaked out by ants, at least not individual ones. Ant armies on the march, even if they’re a species that doesn’t hurt people, are a different matter.

      3. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

        I like bugs. I like plushies and were I still a teacher I’d probably have one in my classroom for entertainment purposes.

        But that ant… No. Good Lord ‘n’ butter, no.

      4. teapot analytics*

        I like ants and that toy is a big NO from me.

        For some reason the little whiskers on its face make my skin crawl in particular. Real ants don’t do that, they’re cute to me!

      5. Hrodvitnir*

        I LOVE that ant, but then I have a realistic puppet of a red-kneed tarantula.

        I admit to being a jerk to my step-sister as a teenager, but I find it shocking an adult could have so little empathy as to torture someone with a phobia like this.

    4. pope suburban*

      I mean I’m curious just about the scale of the thing. I know that giant stuffed critters exist, but I don’t often see them outside of, say, a carnival. I’d like to know where someone could find such a thing, in an insect model.

    5. squirreltooth*

      I’m interested too, but I’m also not sure it matters. I have a friend with a spider phobia so intense that cartoon spiders upset her, and we just saw the letter about that coworker who had to excuse herself at the idea of sharing space with one made of papier mache. Some phobias are more intense than others—it doesn’t have to be realistic.

  16. Wednesday*

    This is so obnoxious, and I applaud OP for trying to find ways to manage the situation instead of just having a total (justified) freak-out, which is what I would probably do if my coworker didn’t cool it.

    I don’t know what possessed me to google images of “giant stuffed ” but holy crap. A praying mantis is my personal horror bug, but a giant stuffed ant is absolutely horrifying.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I tend to be creeped out mainly by wasps and spiders on me, but those ants are the subject of nightmares.

    2. Name (Required)*

      OMG – I just googled it, too. Why are these being made?? They’re terrible! Who tf is buying these? And who are they buying them for? How is there a market for these things???

      1. Elenna*

        I just googled it – it didn’t scare me and I thought it was kind of interesting (although I wouldn’t pay money for one), but also I definitely see why it could scare/creep out someone else.

        (For comparison I tried googling “giant stuffed bee” since I’m not scared of ants but I am scared of bees, but all I saw were cute cartoon bees, nothing realistic enough to trigger my phobia. Why there are realistic stuffed ants but not realistic stuffed bees I couldn’t begin to answer.)

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          I wonder if part of the reason is that realistic ants are more doable.

          Look at how hard it is to find a stuffed cat that looks real vs other animals. I have a toy chow chow that is extremely real looking. But better behaved. Roger never leaves his stool.

          1. Worldwalker*

            My boss is allergic to cats. He was feeling left out in Zoom meetings because everyone else had a cat, or in one case a dog. So I sent him a plush one. When someone’s cat gets up on their keyboard or something, he’ll pet his little plush cat and point out how well-behaved it is, which always gets a laugh all around.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        I find them cute! Or at least interesting! It’s not as if they were dolls in dirndls or hummel figurines (which freak me out) .

        BUT that doesn’t mean I’d be a jerk to anyone who has other feelings. (And I don’t own any, so the entire thing is hypothetical.)

        1. Worldwalker*

          I went to an estate sale once where there were literally hundreds of dolls — the whole upstairs was full of dolls, dolls, and more dolls. I didn’t think I was easily freaked, but all those lifeless, unblinking eyes….

          I’ll take a giant plush ant, if you please.

      3. Worldwalker*

        If it’s the one that’s big enough for a little kid to ride, and there’s a lot of pictures of a woman hugging one … they’re cute! Who is buying them? Well, I’m now thinking about it. One would be cool for a pillow/backrest on my bed for lounging around and reading. There’s a small one that’s pretty cheap, but I want the big one, and that’s not cheap at all. :-/

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Praying mantises are pretty cool, but I do agree that I am happy for them to not be large enough to eat people.

    4. Cookies For Breakfast*

      Yes to the praying mantis horror (also, for me, any large grasshopper-type bug in general). I grew up in the countryside, got savagely mocked for it all my life, and it’s somewhat of a relief to know there are others out there that share my feelings!

    5. Executive Whimsy*

      I googled too and if everyone’s talking about the giant red ant, I actually think it’s adorable, so I can see why the principal may not have anticipated a problem. But I would only have to be told once that someone else didn’t like it.

  17. Spicy Tuna*

    The commentariat wants to know what kind of bug! Given that it’s a symbol of hard work, I am thinking ant or bee.

    If it were a roach (no idea why it would be) I would FREAK OUT! I can take any insect except that one!

    1. Jessica*

      I appreciate that kids need to learn science stuff and if they can grow up to be not freaked out/grossed out by insects, so much the better. But if there were any kind of model or image of [the thing you mentioned] in my workspace, I’m not sure what I would do (depending on circumstances) but I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing: coming to work. No, no, hell no, absolutely not.

    2. Worldwalker*

      Being the warped person I am, if it was a giant roach, I would spend all weekend with wire and crepe paper making a giant shoe, and pose it appropriately. Because, yeah, warped. But it would get the point across.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I know what you meant, but for some reason my mind saw that as “Your coworker is a duck.”

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Any excuse for a Duck Club reference!

        That said, it seems clear that coworker is being a deliberate bully to OP, because once OP said she didn’t like/was scared of the bug, coworker does her damndest to make sure bug is in OP’s face every chance she gets. Unfortunately now it’s too late to take back that information :(

  18. CharlieBrown*

    From my experience with school administrators, they get some pretty weird ideas that sometimes defy logic and common sense. I remember being asked to shake every kid’s hand as they came into class, even if they didn’t want to. 30 kids. 6 classes. It took up valuable time.

    Fortunately, they also tend to have a short attention span, and This Year’s New Thing will probably be Last Year’s Old Thing next year. So there is at least that light at the end of the tunnel.

    But this coworker–yikes! What an ass.

    1. Cohort 1*

      But now handshakes have been replaced by elbow bumps! Can you see it? OR, Step 1) a kid shakes your hand and Step 2) applies a squirt of hand sanitizer. Step 3) teacher does a 20 sec. soap and water scrub before continuing with the day.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        All in a 34 minute unit in which you are also supposed to prep kids to be able to do Algebra at grade level for the upcoming standardized test….and deal with 36 kids, 15 who have IEPs, and two whose parents call you every day because their kid is Ivy bound whether they have the talent and drive or not, and one who you are very concerned about.

      2. CharlieBrown*

        Yeah, even the kids thought it was ridiculous. I found out through the kidvine that some kids were licking their palms before shaking their teachers’ hands.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I feel like “hey, teacher, touch all these kids even if they don’t want you to” is the opposite of what admin should want…

      1. CharlieBrown*

        It was under the auspices of a program called “capturing kids’ hearts” or something like this. This was pre-Covid, but even so, as a teacher it seems we spend most of our time telling kids to keep their hands to themselves, and then we’re demanding that they do the exact opposite. It’s…weird and confusing, so say the least.

        Also, there is the sunk cost fallacy at play. The more they pay for this kind of professional development, the more they think it’s really valuable and double down on it, regardless of how poor the results are. I’ve seen cases where the worse the results get, the harder they push to apply the particular program.

        I don’t regret leaving public education, for a lot of reasons like this. I miss the kids, and I miss being in the classroom, but I don’t miss being in the school building at all. (That is a subtle distinction, to be sure, but there is a HUGE difference between the two.)

        The worst thing of this was that kids were told they HAD to shake all their teachers’ hands. So much for teaching them about bodily integrity.

  19. Corrigan*

    I really feel for you OP! As someone with a similar fear of a particular bug (even images, or fake ones make my skin crawl and my hair stand up) I’d be pissed if a co-worker was doing this to me. Especially pointing it out to the students and making a joke of it. WTF?

    You’re not refusing to accept the insect. You’re doing what you can to deal with it and the other teacher should really let you manage it like you’ve been doing. I’m sorry they’re being such a jerk.

    1. Wow, really?*

      Too good for it. Kill it with fire. If it’s in ashes, it can’t be “resurrected.”

      If I was OP, I’d go to the principal first, and if they didn’t do anything, to HR if there is one. And if that didn’t work, creepy bug would “go missing.”

      I used to have a front desk job, and there was an old fashioned bell on the desk, and not just customers, but the boss’s wife/my coworker would keep ringing it annoyingly multiple times a day. I got sick of hearing it, and telling her to stop it, so one day I put it in my glove compartment. I didn’t give it back to them until couple of years later, when they sold the company and were getting ready to leave the state.

      That thing was just the tip of the iceberg of the problems there.

    2. Cookies For Breakfast*

      This made me laugh, thank you. The “sleeps with the fishes” Godfather reference was the first thing to come to my mind, and I know deep down that, in OP’s shoes, plotting the bug’s demise would have been my first thought.

  20. dianna (also a teacher)*

    I know you talked to your colleague… but have you talked to your kids? I work with 2nd-12th grade, and if I was in this situation I’d own up to it. Then the kids get to not only help you, and my students at least love being helpful, but the fact that they know may make it more awkward for your colleague to move it. Here’s how I’d address it (different types of language for different ages):

    K-3: Hey everyone, just so you all know I don’t like [type of bug]. Actually, I’m really scared of them! That’s why I love dressing it up in our school colors – it makes me happy and makes me know not to be scared of [bug], since I know it won’t hurt me. But sometimes those colors come off! Will you help me? When you come into the room, can we make a costume team who will re-dress [bug] and put it back in it’s spot?

    4-8: Hi friends – just so you know I really don’t like [bugs], and one of the things that makes it easier for me to be around [that bug] is to have it dressed up — it reminds me it’s not a real one and instead I smile at our school spirit. Would a few of you be willing to help me out and come into the room a minute or two early to make sure it gets put back to XX and the outfit is still on it?

    9-12: Hey y’all, I wanted to let you know I have an actual phobia of [bugs]. Normally [this bug] freaks me out and distracts me while teaching, so I’m giving myself some visual cues to remind me it’s a mascot. It’s a really good technique for me. However I hate when I come in and it’s undressed – it makes me freak out on the inside and I have to start class distracted, which doesn’t make me a good teacher for you. I might also be jumpy, which isn’t your fault. But the good news is when it’s got it’s spirit on it doesn’t bother me at all. Would y’all be willing to help me out and just check on it when you walk in the room? I want to be able to be fully present for you, and that means having a spirit [bug] in the classroom.

    1. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom*

      This is excellent for teaching. I want to use this script for the future.

    2. CharlieBrown*

      Assuming that you’re not a jerk in the classroom (because there are those teachers) and are actually an approachable, warm person in the classroom, it’s true—kids really do want to help you out. This is a good approach.

    3. Lana Kane*

      This is what I was thinking too. My 5th grader and his friends would absolutely have OP’s back.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          I have a third grader and he would be all over this. That bug would get dressed in school colors for sure. I have a snake phobia and every time a new Ranger Rick magazine comes in the mail, he goes through it and tells me which pages we have to skip when we read it together :) Involving the kids could be a good lesson in compassion, too.

    4. MeepMeep123*

      I love this one. My daughter is in 2nd grade and would totally respond to a script like this (even though she loves bugs). I’d back it up 100% as a parent, too – I see it as bullying prevention and empathy development.

  21. HotSauce*

    I would also add something like, “I believe I have made my feelings on this topic clear and I’m not sure why we need to keep revisiting this. If I HAVEN’T been clear before here it is again: I don’t like this, I don’t find it amusing at all and I’d rather not have to bring it up with you again, thanks.” I’d also recap in an email to her for record keeping sake. After that if it comes up again I’d be speaking with my union rep/HR/principal and discussing harassment solutions.

  22. Nonprofit Lifer*

    What about the issue that the letter writer isn’t likely to be the only person in the world with an aversion to this insect? Entomophobia (phobia of insects/arachnids) is not uncommon.

    There is very likely to be a student who is as freaked out as the letter writer or more so and they have fewer resources to advocate for themselves. The letter writer is by no means required to do so, but it would be a kindness to somehow point out to this principal that this toy could be really harmful to many in their school community.

    1. Zephy*

      This +1000. Guarantee you there is at least one student, probably more than one student, for whom the giant stuffed ant* is a source of abject horror, school swag notwithstanding. OP doesn’t specify their age range/grade level, but “homeroom” suggests middle or high school; there’s no way those kids feel empowered to speak up about the horrible ant plushie.

      (*I assume that’s what it is, I also found the Google image results linked above of person-sized realistic ant plushies, latest on the list of things that really don’t need to exist.)

    2. Gracely*

      This is the comment I was coming to make. There is likely at least one student on the campus who is praying that the insect doesn’t end up in one of *their* classrooms.

      Also, if this insect is supposed to represent teamwork, I really hope no one tells OP that they need to handle their issue on their own, because that’s pretty antithetical to the entire exercise.

      That being said, I would be sorely tempted to make this insect disappear…forever. Or! Put it in the principal’s office with a note that the class wanted the principal to have it for the rest of the month in honor of them/their work. Gets rid of it *and* compliments the principal.

  23. Joanna*

    I was and am afraid of bugs. Bad enough that I wouldn’t touch pictures of them on a page in a book when I was a kid. This would have been really upsetting to me if I was a student in this class, and because I was subject to this kind of treatment at home, it never would have occurred to me to ask the teacher to get rid of the bug.

    I think this is one letter that may literally be full of bees.

    1. Executive Whimsy*

      “ I think this is one letter that may literally be full of bees.“

      You win today’s internet.

    2. Cookies For Breakfast*

      I think this complements dianna and Nonprofit Lifer’s comments above very well. There may well be students that can’t stand the sight of the toy, and are wary of speaking up for whatever reason (back in my school days, I’d have been bullied relentlessly), so just bear it in silence. Perhaps the teacher asking for support, as dianna suggested, will show them they’re not the only ones, or even encourage them to flag that they’re uncomfortable too.

    3. Lunar Caustic*

      I had to ask my college roommate to cover all the pictures of bugs in my intro biology textbook with Post-its. Which she did, because she is a good person and not a bully. I can’t imagine what a giant stuffed toy bug in my classroom would have done to me as a kid, much less seeing an adult teasing another adult over a fear I shared.

      1. AnonyChick*

        My cousin was phobic of sea jellies (jellyfish) as a kid; I don’t know if he still is. He once refused to do an assignment involving reading an article about them because doing so meant having to repeatedly encounter the two-page color photo spread. Everyone kept trying to get him to “get over” or “get past” it. Me? I copied down the two sentences on the photo double-page, glued it to itself, and told him “there, no more pictures!” He wasn’t happy doing the assignment—I wouldn’t have been either, had it been about something I was phobic of—but he managed. I can easily see him asking 10 years later if I’d just cover all the jelly pics in his college textbook with post-its that just said, like, “Thing” or something like that.

      2. Watry*

        My best friend is supposed to come over soon and cover a picture of Shelob* in a book about Lord of the Rings music I have. Because, as you say, she is not a jerk and understands the concept of phobia.

        *If you are unfamiliar and at all arachophobic, do not google this.

  24. Beancounter Eric*

    I’m going to ask a very serious question some will consider dumb….why does a school need a mascot in the first place? School spirit??

    I’ve never understood the idea of school spirit and long, long ago, found it rather a waste of time to be forced to attend pep rallies and other school spirit events.

    What is the benefit of taking students out of valuable classroom time and subjecting them to loud band music, cheerleaders shouting at the top of their lungs, and constant exortations to dispise the opposing team? And in what way does associating a school with an owl, lion, badger or wildebeest enhance learning?

    Just don’t get it….never have, and doubt I ever will.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Well they need a mascot because they could never get a real lion, badger etc just to sit there and cheer for the team, they wouldn’t understand what to do.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        My school were the wolverines. A real wolverine would definitely not be welcome at the school volleyball tournament, those suckers are mean. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand…

        1. Worldwalker*

          Yeah, but he would get to the volleyball tournament three days after it was over!

          Georgia’s Uga is quite well-trained, though.

    2. CharlieBrown*

      Schools in the United States tend to be funded by local taxes primarily. If you didn’t have schools sports, a lot of people would see absolutely no reason to have public schools.

      (I remember losing out on a teaching position to someone else. When they wrote him up in the school newsletter, they went on and on about all of his prior sports accomplishments in high school and college, and how much he was looking forward to coaching, and what a real asset he would be to the athletic department. Three paragraphs of it. The last line of the article simply read “Mr. X will also be teaching English.” Yeah, it’s like that.)

      And if you’re going to have sportsball, you have to have mascots, rallies, and all the flooferall that goes along with it.

      It sucks but it seems to be the funding model we are stuck with.

      1. OyHiOh*

        This is yet another example of why the system that is public education in the US absolutely has to change.

        In my state, “how a public school’s sports do” is a metric our state board of ed actually tracks. Academic competitions such as DECA, Speech and Debate, Robotics, and similar are not tracked. However, when companies consider local growth/expansion vs relocating to another city, one of the standard economic development metrics regarding workforce and talent is “how are the local DECA/Robotics/other clubs related to company’s Industry doing?” because how those K-12 students are doing in their non sport yet competitive clubs directly impacts the availability of upcoming talent. My state is directly missing the boat, tracking the wrong thing, that has absolutely no relevance to what students will do after K-12.

        I’m a DECA judge and my kids are in 4-H/FFA. There are plenty of things in a school that make it a school, if only we could recenter what a public school is/means around something other than sports.

      2. Calliope*

        Oh come on, most lower schools don’t even have sports. Our local elementary school has a lion mascot because people think it’s cute not because they’d eliminate the entire school if the kids weren’t forced to compete in football (which they’re not because again not a thing at most elementary schools).

        1. OyHiOh*

          Even the elementary schools my children have attended have sports teams. They haven’t always been available to the youngest students, but certainly by 3rd grade or so, there are club teams that compete against other schools. Compete is probably too strong of a word, but they do wear team t shirts, have referees/umpires, and make some sort of attempt to keep score.

          The elementary school one of my children attends is a fascinating example of priorities dictating architecture. The community space/cafeteria/auditorium is a huge open space with floor to second story windows, skylights, and student seating rimming the second floor hallways, which are open to the performance space. The gym is this tiny space tucked away almost as an afterthought. Big enough for the students to assemble and for the basketball team to play, but not much else. Compared to the performance space, it’s a hole in the wall. And yet, even though the school’s priority is clearly not centered around “sports,” the pressure/encouragement for students to participate in sports is tremendous (although much of the pressure seems to come from the district office rather than from the school itself). For winter sports, parents received about 6 reminders of the dates involved. For school dance and drama clubs, a single paper flyer (no emails to speak of) and if you blink too slow, you missed the deadline to get involved.

          1. Calliope*

            Ok then we’re back to “schools aren’t a monolith.” Kids here do outside of school sports until HS unless some enterprising volunteer starts a running club or something.

          1. Rah rah, go lions, whatever...*

            I was gonna say! I grew up in Alabama, and I was attending mandatory football pep rallies from my first week in kindergarten all the way through high school. I moved schools and counties multiple times growing up, too. I tried to join band in high school because I wanted to learn music. The band teacher told me that since I couldn’t march for the football team (physical disability), “I have no use for you.” So much for him being an educator, much less a positive role model for kids.

            My partner’s family moved to a different part of Alabama from the upper West Coast in his high school years. He was super built–tall and solid muscle back then. The principal and teachers on site courted him hard about joining the football team the day his parents took him in to register for class, all smiles and friendliness and insisting he let them accommodate his every need. Not a word about academics. The minute he told them he had no interest in sports, they turned on him just as hard. Those teachers would single him out for negative attention if he got them for class, which meant the students would follow their lead and also target him. He even told me how the principal literally refused to speak a single word to him all four years of high school, and this wasn’t a large school.

            People carry this bullcrap with them their whole lives and further toxify it–I know entire families that have been torn apart because someone dated or married a person who fell on what the rest of the family deemed the “wrong side” of the Alabama vs Auburn football divide. Absolute childishness.

            You can’t convince me that Alabama wouldn’t be improved by removing American football from schools.

            1. Anon also from Alabama*

              Oh man. My brother got courted like that in high school, and even though he wanted to, he couldn’t do any high-to-medium contact sports because he had a traumatic brain injury as a kid (car accident) and one hit to the head the wrong way would literally kill him. I think it’s the only reason they actually backed off when he told him why he wasn’t going to join the football/basketball/etc. team. But the football coach still approached him every. single. year.

              And this was at a high school that actually *did* focus more on academics than sportsball. Certainly more than your average Alabama high school. I can only imagine how bad it gets in small towns.

        2. CharlieBrown*

          Okay, then. Most local schools where you are don’t have sports. Every elementary school I’ve ever seen in my state has sports starting at some level, generally from grade 3 or 4. It’s not unusual to see little kids wearing “Junior Broncos” t-shirts.

          And who said anything about forcing kids to play football? Not I. You need to read more carefully. I noticed you haven’t said anything about your middle schools and high schools, though.

          But yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people vote down any sort of millage request because they don’t have kids in the school system. Basically, they don’t/can’t/refuse to see how having an educated populace actually benefits them. They are remarkably short-sighted. (But apparently, not alone.)

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        I do find it very fascinating how the question “why does a school need a mascot” suddenly turned to sports. As if sports teams having mascots was any more reasonable!

        It’s all very mystifying, but I take it as a rather overwhelming quirk of culture. I don’t have to understand it – just know that people think in these categories and have been brought up to care about them. (Just as I surely have similar cultural quirks.)

        1. RagingADHD*

          Because most of the question was talking about pep rallies, cheer, band, the opposing team, etc.

          It didn’t suddenly turn to sports. The questioner framed it about sports from the beginning.

    3. Kara*

      Why do sports teams have names and mascots? I mean it could just be the Atlanta Baseball team and the Atlanta football team and so forth?

      A mascot is a common character that all who are part of the group can relate to. It gives you a collective name for the group that builds camaraderie. For example, when I was in high school we were the Lions. You could wear a shirt with a lion on it, go to a team game and cheer “go Lions!” as opposed to “Go Targeryian Football Team!” You can make up anthropomorphic cheers as well … “Roar, Lions, roar!!” etc., and chant it as a group.

      And I totally get that some people don’t like the whole pep-rally, band music, etc. etc. dynamic. That’s fine. But There are people who experience school as more than just “valuable class time” – which is borderline sounding like “why have sports, art, music, physical activities” when we can all be sitting in class learning something properly.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        (Sports teams don’t have mascots everywhere either. Where I am from they have flags.)

      2. OyHiOh*

        School was where I got to test the range of my singing voice (ridiculous, nearly Julie Andrews size range). School was where I got to play on pottery wheels, do layouts on a light board, edit other people’s writing, and find my voice in theater. In the small rural community I grew up in, it would not have been possible to lean most of those things outside of a school. I did not play sports. Didn’t like sports, was happiest in the library or at one of my arts based extra curriculars.

        I want students to have exposure to the arts, to vocational skills, and to physical activities they can use as adults. There are a lot of extremely valuable things that happen in a school that are not sports and all of us arts/business/ sciences competitors died a little every time the sports kids got all the reward and we didn’t.

        At my school, we could earn letters for academic and non sport extra curriculars. I earned my academic letter as a Sophomore, well before most of my sporty classmates earned their varsity letters. This isn’t about ditching everything that isn’t valuable class time. It’s about recentering what’s important and valuable to a community’s schools.

        1. CharlieBrown*

          We had budget cuts when I was in ninth grade. Almost all of those arts programs got axed.

          Guess which ones didn’t get axed. Boys’ baseball, boys’ football, and boys’ basketball.

          I also grew up in a small rural community. I wish I’d had the same experience you did in that kind of environment. The only reason we had a school play was because we charged admission and had to go door to door to sell candy bars to fund the program. I actually had to pay three dollars for my copy of the script in which I had exactly five lines. (I’m not sure if Samuel French actually charged three dollars, but that’s what I had to fork over.)

          Three dollars was a week’s worth of school lunches in 1984. Guess who had water for lunch for a week so he could play a bit part in a high school play.

          Yeah, good times, good times.

          This is a system that needs to change. And sadly, probably won’t.

        2. Citra*

          “I want kids to have non-academic enrichment opportunities at school, but only the enrichment activities I liked when I was a kid because only those should have any value to anyone.”

          I competed in speech/drama/arts/music in high school, lettered in Band, and was a hockey cheerleader in my senior year. They were all valuable and fun. I don’t remember any of my fellow speech/drama/arts/music competitors being upset, envious, or “dying a little” when our sports teams were recognized for their own victories or when people found their activities more exciting to watch than L-D debates, but to each their own, I guess.

      3. Esmeralda*

        Not in Chicago my friend, where there are TWO pro baseball teams. And two pro basketball teams — The Sky and the men’s team.

        Yeah yeah New York, too.

    4. Gumby*

      For one, perceived similarity does affect teamwork and can enhance learning. Building that perceived similarity around “I go to school X” can be easier if you have a mascot.

      Secondly, pep rallies don’t necessarily take place during classroom time. Ours were at lunch or after school and were optional.

      1. OyHiOh*

        My high school (private) and my children’s schools (public, entirely different state, and needless to say entirely different decade) all have pep rallies during school/classroom hours, with mandatory attendance. No library/study hall passes allowed.

        I was not/am not a sporty person. Remarkably, none of my children are either and more to the point, the loud noise encouraged in pep rallies is disruptive and unpleasant to at least one of my children. So far, we haven’t been able to wrangle excused from pep rallies into their IEP/504 plan.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          Have their doctor write a letter that the noise from pep rallies is harmful and they need to be excused.

          We had the same deal with the forbidden hat, which one of my kids wore because it helped calm some extreme anxiety. The letter from their doctor worked wonders – although our Youth Minister was disappointed she didn’t get to write a religious exception letter.

        2. Beancounter Eric*

          40 years ago, public high school…..mandatory attendance at pep rallies, and if I remember correctly, held during classroom hours.

          No library/study hall passes – “It’s important to support our school and our team”…….figure on an hour or so wasted for rah-rah BS.

    5. Troublemaker*

      Following a standard line of postmodernist critique (Foucault, in this case) the mascot is a way of creating a tribal affiliation. Using the mascot’s identity as a template, students are encouraged to try out an us-versus-them mindset: our school vs. their school, our mascot vs. their mascot. The standard critical-theoretic generalization comes from imagining what this might do to people as they grow up: our city vs. their city, our state vs. their state, our history vs. their history.

      1. Anita, Darling*

        You can’t just take something that’s natural and the default for almost everyone, label it with a vaguely pejorative term like “tribal”, and treat it like some kind of wisdom (much less inform policy). Another word for tribe might be “community”, by the way. And honestly, all experiments I know of at building a great international brotherhood of all mankind, especially as it requires to destroy small and particular affiliations, were such spectacular failures that I’ll take some tribalism in their stead.

        It’s like a post a while ago, which wondered, isn’t it weird how society is fixated on food, and socializing around food? No, that’s not weird at all. That’s normal, the historical baseline. Making food utilitarian and solitary, devoid or community or pleasure, is the novel, unnatural and weird.

        There’s a great little short story, “A Cosmopolite in a Cafe”, by O. Henry. Written before Foucault’s time, but perhaps a bit longer on wisdom.

        I know this is a late comment but I just saw it and this just annoys me so much.

    6. Skyblue*

      They don’t NEED it. It’s just designed to make school more enjoyable for students. But I get it, it doesn’t work for everyone.

    7. RagingADHD*

      Well, I didn’t get it as a kid and personally didn’t enjoy pep rallies either, but as a parent (particularly with teacher & administrator friends) I get it now.

      School spirit is about giving kids many different reasons to enjoy and look forward to participating in school and doing extracurriculars. Students involved in strong extracurricular programs have fewer behavior problems, are motivated to keep their grades up, and have much lower risk of drug addiction, becoming a teen parent, or dropping out of school.

      Extracurriculars give students multiple opportunities to feel successful and receive affirmation for pursuing their interests and talents. So all the things you don’t like about pep rallies–cheerleading and color guard, dance team, marching band, etc. provide extracurricular opportunities (and funding) to kids who don’t play league sports and / or who have talents in the performing arts.

      Music education is good for kids, and the funding in a lot of districts comes through the sports (band) program. For many students whose parents can’t afford private lessons, it may be their only opportunity to learn an instrument. Same for dance, acrobatics, and some stuff that wouldn’t get traction anywhere else (baton twirling is a school-sponsored juggling program, after all).

      Kids who are interested in all kinds of things beyond academics (or who may not be A students) get something to enjoy and succeed in, and that’s important.

      As for the mascot itself? It’s branding. Why does Geico have a gecko? Why does Allstate Insurance have Mayhem?

    8. New Jack Karyn*

      Because it can foster a sense of community and belonging in a segment of the student body who often don’t otherwise feel an attachment to school, or to formal education in general. To remain eligible to be on the school team, a player must pass their classes and attend regularly (districts and states frequently have rules about unexcused absences and not being able to play the next game). For some kids, it’s the strongest (or only) reason to do school at all.

      1. allathian*

        Your last sentence pretty much validates their existence for me.

        That said, there should be some leeway for kids to opt out of noisy pep rallies if they really can’t handle it.

        1. RagingADHD*

          One of the big differences between school today and school when we were growing up, is the prevalence of IEPs and accommodations. Kids who can’t deal with noise and crowds aren’t required to attend pep rallies anymore in most school districts – just like they have elevators for kids in wheelchairs, classroom aides, assistive devices, permission to wear headphones, and all sorts of accommodations that weren’t mainstream in school a generation ago.

    9. Calamity Janine*

      i admit i did not understand school spirit that much either…

      until i went to a college where there was some good school spirit. well, somewhat literally. given he is a skeleton. oh sure, there’s ostensibly an eagle sports mascot, but nobody cares about the eagle. however we all love Dooley the skeleton. why?

      1. dope skeleton in top hat
      2. is carried to events in a coffin sometimes
      3. writes poetry for events that are often commentary on student life (the one for the formal dance i went to? straight up calling out some rather nasty people in greek life and telling them to quit that bs, naming them only by behavior but not name so any people wishing to complain would have to also cop to the awful behavior. it was done in a very elegant manner that was delightful to witness)
      4. most important: Dooley has the ability to dismiss classes. so if it’s a lovely day and the whole school kinda needs an impromptu day off? there is a chance that a skeleton in a top hat will shuffle into your organic chemistry classroom, write CLASS DISMISSED on the blackboard, and free you from that purgatory.

      as you can see, Dooley is the type of school spirit i both understand and appreciate,

  25. Bridget*

    Well that’s exactly the kind of attitude we want from someone teaching children – that when someone tells you a behavior makes them uncomfortable, that you should keep doing it if you think it’s funny.

  26. Another Ashley*

    Don’t be nice and talk to her in person.

    With a very neutral face and matter of fact expression tell her to stop moving the mascot (don’t say please). Tell her that you don’t want the mascot placed in a prominent place in your classroom and it needs to stay where you put it.

    Don’t apologize or minimize your message.

  27. Sarah S*

    This seems like a basic professional behavior issue: if a coworker expresses dislike, discomfort, or fear of something—anything—rubbing it in their face as a “joke” is incredibly inappropriate. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bug, or something less commonly feared/disliked, it’s disrespectful and unprofessional to turn it into a joke where the punchline is “haha, I’m making you uncomfortable.”

    1. Worldwalker*

      Oh, that’s cute. I have an original Hairy (the one with the brown legs) sitting on my flat bedpost, except when my cat steals it and hides it somewhere. I’ve attached a little orange hat to it (the hat is almost as big as the Beanie) to at least make it easier to spot when it’s stuffed under the furniture.

      1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

        Oh God, Hairy! I had one of those, too… long gone, sadly, but endless fun having him butt into everything and anything.

  28. Susana*

    Lots of interesting comments about different kids of bug phobias. But this is really more basic – the co-worker is being a jerk. On purpose. When someone tells you something bothers them, and your response is to put it in their face… that’s pretty bad. Alison’s right – be super clear. I would actually say, “I’m confused. I told you this stuffed bug bothers me and.. you not only haven’t made any effort to keep it away from me, but have assertively moved it to be in my field of vision,. What would make you do that?”
    And then wait for an answer – as long as it takes.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I second this. I don’t think you should have to pony up medical and psychological details to get a coworker to not be a jerk. OP’s not asking to remove the mascot, or ban the mascot. OP is asking that their distress not be the coworker’s source of entertainment.

    2. Flash Packet*

      There’s also the fact that many, many jokes have an expiration date, especially jokes that tease people, even if the teasing is truly good-natured.

      Sure, Funny Thing was truly hilarious the first time around. And, um, OK, it was mildly amusing the 2nd time. But now it’s just annoying and a time suck, and it looks like you’re just desperate for attention.

      It’s like when someone else’s kid (or maybe even your own) is singing Baby Shark for the thousandth time in an hour and you’re just flat-out over it.

    3. MeepMeep123*

      Yeah, exactly. We really don’t need to go into medical detail or formal diagnosis to get someone to not be a jerk.

    4. Worldwalker*

      Exactly. It shouldn’t matter *what* the reason is — if something bothers someone, you just freaking don’t do it. This is on a par with a bratty 8-year-old boy chasing his sister with worms. So totally not adult behavior. Decent people just don’t *do* that.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      I actually disagree. I don’t want to hear why she’s doing it or what her excuses are. That just prolongs the conversation. I just want her to stop.

  29. Erwin*

    I have a HUGE roach phobia. Even seeing the emoji makes me sweat. If there was a giant roach stuffed animal at my work I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I blame the giant roaches of the south. Yes… they fly.

    1. Worldwalker*

      That was the hardest thing for me to get used to when I moved down here. Roaches should not be the size of small birds and flying around my porch light. That’s just wrong.

      That said, a plush one wouldn’t bother me, and I’ve got a plastic one that moves for benefit of my cat, when he can’t find the real kind. But that’s me; YMMV — or, more important, OPMMV.

    2. CharlieBrown*

      When you said they fly, I imagined roaches with pilots’ goggles and WWII era leather helmets, manning P-51 Mustangs.

      Which is amusing for me, but for other people…not so much.

      I used to live in Florida. I don’t miss much of the wildlife, but I do miss the anoles who used to live in our houseplants and were pretty effective at taking care of most insects.

  30. Formerly Ella Vader*

    Pointing out to the students that the item frightens you and “making it a bit of a class joke” is just so diametrically opposed to the 21st-century ideals of kindness and of modelling how bystanders can stand up against bullying that I assumed elementary school teachers would be committed to. I am horrified on your behalf. It is hard for me to believe that such repeated actions after your gentle requests to stop are not malicious.

    I am also horrified by the thought that her behaviour might encourage some of the kids to escalate against you. Or, since I don’t want to spell out what forms that might take, what if some of the kids extrapolate that it will also be amusing to tease a kid who pees their pants, a kid who cries, a fat kid, a kid who can’t read …

    1. Worldwalker*

      It’s also opposed to 20th-century ideals of kindness. And 19th-century. And 18th-century. And pretty much any other century when there was a conception of kindness and decency toward others, which is pretty much any time, ever.

      #1 in George Washington’s Rules of Civility: “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”

      It is only recently that this type of behavior has been tolerated. And it should not be.

      1. metadata minion*

        “It is only recently that this type of behavior has been tolerated. And it should not be.”

        I am very curious where you grew up that bullying wasn’t a thing.

  31. Who on Earth decided a bug is a mascot?*

    Oops, the bug went “missing.” No idea when he’ll turn up, if ever.

  32. Pointy Stix*

    I’m vengeful enough to find out what the bully is terrified of & put one of those in her classroom. Maybe she’d get the point then.

  33. Ex-prof*

    LW, your co-worker is an out-and-out bully. I shudder for the students in her classroom. Unlike them, you’ve got options.

    I’d go straight to the principal with this. Pause to ream her out if it would give you satisfaction to do so, but if it wouldn’t, go straight to the principal.

    Your bullying co-worker is enjoying herself way too much, and will continue to do so. I can imagine her buying plastic bugs to drop into your coffee, putting a spring-loaded bug in your desk drawer… all in the name of good fun of course! She may even pass out props to your playful students! No harm in a practical joke, right? You need the principal involved before this happens.

    1. Ex-prof*

      And I just want to add another reason to take this to the principal: Your coworker is teaching your students how to bully.

  34. Janet Lilly*

    Tell her she is being a bully. Surely your school has anti bullying programs. That should be a basic enough statement for her to “get it”. And what’s with teaching the kids to be bullies too? So sorry you have to teach with this jerk.

    1. Use the word Bully*

      This. Specifically use the word bully to the co-worker. Add there have been many campaigns against bullying behavior in schools and you insist this get carried over to colleagues. Stare directly at her when you say this. If she offers up some jokey answer, say, “Are you actually MOCKING me?” Stare. Wait for the uncomfortablenesses.

      1. Joan*

        Yes!! And that she is recruiting and teaching the students to engage in this: absolutely unacceptable.

  35. Jan*

    I’m a teacher and believe me when I tell you that she would only do that to me once. I would talk to my administrator. If that didn’t settle the issue, OPs union rep gets paid to handle these things. She should call them. That other teacher has no right to move things around in her classroom. Stand up for yourself, OP

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      +1 – so few jobs are basically guaranteed to have a union rep, please use them!

  36. Skyblue*

    Kudos to the LW for finding a way to deal with this that, under normal circumstances, would have worked well for everyone. “I decked it out in blankets and hats with our school logo and colors, so it was less creepy to me while still a cute, fun thing in the room. The kids liked seeing it covered in school swag, too, and I included some decoration specific to our homeroom.”

    That was such a great way to handle this — I’m sorry the horrible coworker had to step in to ruin it.

  37. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

    I have nothing to add other than that I am generally not afraid of insects/bugs (like the OP) but I am terrified of moths and butterflies. So I totally get where you’re coming from, OP.

  38. Critical Rolls*

    I’d be tempted to ask her how she would handle a student doing the same thing. It would be interesting to see if she could manage to connect the dots to “this… not… good behavior,” or if there might be a deeper problem with her as a teacher.

  39. snake-o-phobe*

    I’m terrified of snakes. I don’t care if it’s a little footlong garter snake that’s more scared of me than I am of it and is a valuable part of our ecosystem. I will scream and do anything to get away from it. I’d never hurt one because that would delay my escape, and the snake can’t help being what it is.

    I used to just not like snakes until 1988, when I was in 6th grade. It was bad enough that I was the kid no one liked. One day another teacher brought in a king snake, in his hands, no cage, to show everyone. The whole class gathered around in wonderment except for me, who had retreated to a desk way at the back of the room because I didn’t WANT to look at the snake and touch it and whatever. The dang snake was getting all the love it could possibly have wanted from my classmates.

    These were those desks where the chair and desk were attached by a bar on one side.

    The other teacher decided I was being quite ridiculous about not wanting to pet the nice harmless little king snake he’d so magnanimously brought in, and in spite of my protests came right over to the open side of the desk (bar on the other side so I couldn’t get away) and shoved it into my face so that its tongue nearly touched my nose.

    I screamed so hard I had a sore throat for days. I knocked the whole desk over trying to get away. I actually blacked out for a few seconds, and when I came to the whole class was laughing at me and Jerky McSnakeypants was chiding me for being afraid of a little snake that couldn’t hurt me if I wanted to. He took himself and his snake off in a huff. My teacher was sympathetic but amused. Since junior high students are just walking sacks of pond scum I was tormented by rubber snakes, pictures of snakes, retelling of the story, and them going “thhhhhhhptppthhhh” at me. My teacher stopped that in class, but outside class my life was hell.

    I hate that teacher. I hate my teacher for not taking my side. I hate the kids who made fun of me and bullied me. I hate your coworker for putting you through this, and trying to get the students to join in her little bully bandwagon.

    1. LemonCardamom*

      Eerily similar experience here.

      I have a full blown panic-attack inducing phobia. For reasons unknown, there have been many instances people discover this and do exactly what this teacher did to you, and what the OPs coworker is doing to them. They decide it’s funny or a joke to play around with. It’s utterly lacking in empathy and consideration.

      I had the EXACT SAME THING happen to me with a snake in middle school. The teacher knew ahead of time I was afraid of them, and when the day came for the show and tell of a bunch of the things, they promised they’d let me know and that I could go next door. Instead, they decided to not tell me, and bring one near my face as a surprise to show me it really wasn’t that scary or something. I sobbed and cried in front of the whole class, which is absolutely thrilling for a 13 year old. Several fellow students there on in decided to sneak me pictures of snakes for the rest of the whole year. It was horrible.

      In college, a guest lecturer yanked a fake one out of a suitcase but it was realistic-looking and I fainted. In my first week of college. Again, thrilling. I got side-long glances in the mess hall for months. Being a spectacle for things you can’t help SUCKS.

      And the in one workplace when I was early career had a prankster who used to hang fake ones on doorknobs. When they heard I was scared of them, the number INCREASED and my office door was a more frequent target. I had to go to HR to get it to stop and then I was the fun-ruiner.

      Now I just don’t tell anyone if I can help it. It’s not worth the risk of inciting the bullies — and it seems there are plenty out there.

      Folks — I know everyone who comments here already knows this but just in case: people’s fears are not jokes! Not their fear of bugs or snakes or clowns or being snuck up on or loud sounds. I beg you: leave people’s fears alone!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Your middle school teacher was a poster child for bullying + how to erode students’ trust in their teachers. The teacher *promised* you they would let you know and that you could go next door… but then they decided to play “psych!” on you and torment you instead. Awful awful awful!

      2. Ex-prof*

        Oh man. How awful. I’m fond of snakes myself. But not of bullies. And I absolutely hate when teachers are bullies because they’re in a position to do lasting damage.

        I suspect about 10% of the world’s population are bullies at heart, and that’s not a safe number for herpetaphobes or anybody else.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I happen to really enjoy snakes and yet, I find both of these stories absolutely horrifying.

      The best reptile education programs I participated in, as a child, were held in a big room, where there were options to leave the reptile handling group entirely.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Totally this.

        I have lectured to groups of teenagers about snakes, and I was very careful *not* to do anything that might startle someone who might be iffy about snakes. (I assumed that anyone who was *really* phobic wouldn’t come to a talk that advertised live snakes)

        The way to help overcome someone’s fear of snakes (or anything else) is *not* to put them on the spot, not to force it on them, not to insist on any kind of interaction — let them set the pace, if they want to. If they want to hold a live snake, great. If they want to stay in the back of the room, also great. They’re *in* the room, that’s a good start.

    3. CharlieBrown*

      People should take those fears seriously. Especially if they work with young people. This reminds me of an experience I had early in my career, which fortunately, had a slightly better outcome.

      When I was student teaching, years ago, we had an advanced biology class that often made use of the many nature trails behind our school.

      We would walk this trail, my lead teacher at the front, and me bringing up the tail. We live in an area where there are no venomous snakes, and many of the kids had grown up in the country and were used to encountering snakes on a regular basis. So no one thought it was odd when someone picked up a garter snake, the lead teacher identified it, said some interesting things about it, and then told the kids to pass it along, so everyone could get a look at it, and the snake would end up back in the wild.

      (For what it’s worth, when I was a kid/young teen, I would often find young snakes and pick them up and put them in my shirt pocket, where they would curl up and fall asleep. As poikilotherms, they were happy to make use of the free body heat.)

      Anyway, this worked out perfectly fine, until someone just turned around and handed the snake to Rudolfo.

      Rudolfo, our Brazilian exchange student.

      Rudolfo, our Brazilian exchange student…from Brazil…where every snake is either a constrictor of some sort or extremely venomous.

      Rudolfo screamed. (I’d like to think the snake screamed as well.) The snake went twenty feet through the air in one direction, Rudolfo ran screaming in the opposite direction, and all of our kids just stood there looking stunned.

      Yep, a lot of people learned that day that not everybody has the same reaction to stuff. And that it’s something to keep in mind.

      We caught up to Rudolfo and were able to explain to him what was going on, and he was eventually okay. To their credit, these students were really understanding, and did their best to help him calm down, and understand where he was coming from, and to apologize. They felt absolutely terrible about this experience, and it showed. I was very proud of them. But Rudolfo gave us a look like we were all crazy, which from his viewpoint is completely understandable.

      This was thirty years ago, and I hope he is alive and well in Brazil, and telling the other side of this story.

      1. snake-o-phobe*

        In college we were on a nature walk for a botany class when a tiny snake slithered alongside the path. I had Rudolfo’s reaction and ran for the hills.

        The difference here was that when the teacher caught up to me he asked me nicely if I was all right or if I’d rather go back to the bus and wait. My classmates were sympathetic and some admitted they were afraid of other creepy-crawlies, and one guy bravely offered to scare off any more snakes so I could finish the hike.

        I’m sure some of them had a funny story to tell later on about the crazy chick who ran screaming from a tiny snake, but I didn’t have to listen to it and that’s all I cared about.

        I wish people would realize that phobias aren’t being dramatic or silly. We know intellectually that (thing) isn’t going to hurt us. We know it’s silly. But the reaction is primal and involuntary and when that fight-or-flight kicks in your rational mind has nothing to do with it.

    4. londonedit*

      I don’t understand why people do this. They should count themselves lucky if they don’t understand how awful a phobia can be. It’s not remotely ‘funny’ to joke around with phobias, it’s just cruel.

  40. ABCYaBye*

    Wait, the other person is moving it in your room? I’d say that’s an overstep whether it is a mascot or something else. That’s your classroom and generally, teachers set their classrooms up to maximize their ability to teach students. If they’re moving stuff around, that disrupts the setup you have. So what would happen if you moved their chalkboard?

  41. Sharon*

    My son’s school handbook has some very clear guidelines around what constitutes bullying and the consequences. In addition to the excellent advice given by dianna (also a teacher) above, I’d approach this with the colleague and my principal leveraging the language from that, if it’s available at your school. It’s bullying, and if I knew that a teacher at my son’s school was being permitted to model bullying behavior around the children during school hours, I’d be raising heck.

    1. OyHiOh*

      This is the problem I have with anti bullying measures: They seem to apply only to the students. Meanwhile, students notice the behaviors that some teachers perpetuate, and conclude that despite the anti bullying program, some kinds of bullying are okay.

      Unfortunately, I’ve seen this play out at multiple schools, in a couple different school districts, and the admin response is basically we can’t police adult behavior so your students’ conclusions are incorrect and students must abide by the anti bullying policy. Philosophically, I have no bone to pick with anti bullying programs, particularly the ones that emphasize kindness and empathy building skills. It’s the do as we say, not as we do attitude that’s infuriating.

  42. MCMonkeyBean*

    Wow, this sounds so frustrating because IMO you had found the perfect compromise by making it less realistic covering it in school spirit. And the fact that this isn’t even a school mascot, but just something your boss decided to start using!

  43. Flash Packet*

    In today’s episode of “Whatever Became of the Schoolyard Bully?” we meet a teacher who gives current schoolyard bullies and bullies-to-be lessons in how to hone their bullying skills.

  44. nnn*

    I have a thought that is not fully polished – consider this brainstorming rather than a final script:

    This is a very unkind thing for your co-worker to do. If I were a less cynical person, I would even say it’s shockingly unkind.

    So I’m wondering if it might be useful in talking to your co-worker and/or to administration to outright state that this is an extraordinarily unkind thing for her to keep doing, especially in the workplace (especially when it would be way easier to just…not do it!)

    Why I’m thinking this might be helpful:

    – Many people – especially in helping professions like teaching – like to think of themselves as kind, and might not want to be seen to be choosing to be unkind.
    – Your school might have some kind of mandate surrounding kindness – if it does, you could borrow that language to frame the problem.
    – A lot of people who enjoy decorating with bugs will get into whether they have the right to put their big scary bugs up. (At least, this has been my experience as a person with an insect phobia.) Talking about kindness circumvents this discourse – you’re not disputing their right to have the bug, you’re simply saying that the kind choice would be to put it where you can’t see it.
    – When you talk about phobias from an accommodations perspective, the conversation often devolves into “Well, people are afraid of all sorts of things and we can’t possibly be expected to accommodate them all!” (At least, this has been my experience as a person with an insect phobia.) Talking about kindness rather than formal accommodations circumvents this discourse as well.

    Why it may not work:

    – Some people see kindness as wimpy

  45. Empress Matilda*

    OP, I admire you for trying to find a way to make peace with the bug. But it seems to me a more obvious solution would be to get rid of it entirely.

    Is there any reason it needs to be in your classroom in particular? Could you unilaterally “award” it to some other class for whatever reason? Or ask another teacher to take it off your hands? Send it home with a kid? (and hope they don’t *cough* lose it, my goodness that would be too bad!) Or even ask a caretaker to throw it out?

    You’re well into “better to ask forgiveness than permission” territory at this point. Your coworker is being unreasonable, and there’s no benefit to you in continuing to take the high road. You hereby have my permission to go ahead and make the thing disappear, without any further discussion!

  46. Ada*

    If you’re not any traction with the phobia route, could you play up the fact that she’s creating distracting classroom environment, both for you and your students? Not to mention how she’s modeling disrespectful behavior for the kids.

  47. LittleMarshmallow*

    Oh no! I’m afraid of ants… I refer to them as “the enemies”.

    I bet it’s an ant because of the team work aspect (could be a bee I suppose). I hope you are able to get rid of it.

  48. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    The other teacher is so incredibly passive-aggressive. I’m not really sure what you would say to that teacher. It’s kind of weird that person took the mascot cloth off of the insect and then just moves around the mascot at will. I do figure if it creeps you out a little bit it probably would creep out some younger children so you might be able to just take Mascot out of the homeroom or chuck it in a closet somewhere. That’s probably what I would do.

  49. Deborah*

    Does this other teacher have an overwhelming love of this bug? NO! This other teacher is an asshole. That is all.

  50. Worldwalker*

    Whatever happened to the concept of just being a decent human being?

    You know … politeness? NICENESS, even? Not acting like a total jerk?

  51. Red (also a teacher)*

    30-year 9-12 teacher in public schools, here. I wouldn’t mess with any classroom discussions, administrative conferences, or anything else that is going to create drama or cause words. Plus, you have an A-hole on your hands, so a little bit of creative thinking is in order to avoid being a future target.

    There is a simple solution that I have seen employed successfully on a number of occasions. Make it disappear.

    We had a horse statue that the VP decided should be passed to the teacher with the biggest/funniest/most whatever screwup of the month – The Jackass Award. After being presented to a number of teachers at monthly staff meetings, somebody made it disappear. The VP looked everywhere, but there was no obvious suspect because it had been displayed on the desktop of at least 7 different staff members and every teacher had a key to every other teacher’s room. Because fingers are sticky in schools, the theft of an object was slightly scandalous and then quickly forgotten, like every other thing that goes missing.

    I suggest doing this at the last minute before a long holiday break so the memory of where it was last located is not fresh on anyone’s mind. Then, maybe the cute plushy Mr. Pushy took away can come back in an emergency save on the first day back.

    Good luck – hoping you are able to concentrate on all the little people again soon.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I made a similar suggestion up above. People in public education tend to have a short attention span, so something disappearing will be noticed, acknowledged, and then everyone will move on.

      Circular file this thing and get on with your life.

    2. Pennyworth*

      If it is too big to make disappear anonymously, perhaps some milk could just happen to be spilled on it – enough to soak into the stuffing. It will start to smell bad and the only solution will be to throw it out.

    1. TooOld4AllThis*

      Second thought – object lesson.

      “Hey Children, Miss JerkFace is teaching us an important lesson about teasing/joking. It is only a joke or a gentle teasing when both people find the teasing funny. Miss JerkFace thinks it is funny to put the bug she knows I don’t like to distract me while I am teaching. Can you guys share times when you were teased and told the other person to cut it out, and they didn’t?”

  52. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    Could people maybe not try to guess what the specific insect is? It would be nice if the comments section was useful to the letter writer instead of having people play whack-a-mole with the phobia. It’s not like people are posting images, but the entire first section of comments is guess-the-insect brainstorming.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I think it’s natural for people to be curious, and I’m okay with that. But given that it’s a phobia, it would be nice if Alison moved all those comments under a pinned comment like she usually does so that OP can skip over that part. There are some genuinely good ideas here, so it would be shame if OP missed them because of this.

  53. slashgirl*

    This is why you always make friends with your custodian(s)/janitor(s). They are awesome at making things disappear….

  54. HailRobonia*

    Unfortunately phobias are like OCD and Tourette’s syndrome – pop culture is still generally OK with mocking and making light of these conditions.

  55. zolk*

    My sister did something similar to me (tagging me in photos she took of massive examples of a creature I have a known phobia of) to the point that I blocked her on social, stopped answering her calls, etc, going low contact. It’s too bad you can’t do the same with your coworker, OP!

    A joke is only funny it all parties involved think so.

  56. Kate*

    I just want to flag this brilliant framing, as it could be used for so many situations:

    “I think I haven’t been clear enough. I have a phobia of this bug and having it in my eyeline is interfering with my ability to focus on my job. I need you to stop moving it, period. Can you agree to that?”

    Starting with “I think I haven’t been clear enough,” gives space for the other person to also save face, and thus softens them up to both hear the boundary and respond to it non-defensively.

    Bookending that with asking “can you agree to that?” forces the other person (in a kind way) to come face to face with what they’re doing—it clarifies the situation completely for the listener and they are moved to give a yes or no response.


  57. Teacher Here*

    I’ve been a teacher for 20 years. If the anti-bullying statements/ boundary setting doesn’t work, my suggestions would be “Hey! You seem to have a little extra time on your hands. Instead of fussing with the mascot, could you write my lesson plans/ make copies/ do my quarterly phone contact of all parents/ grade papers/ write up data results and what you’ll do with them/ take the new mandated training module that’s a couple hours long/ create the new assessments needed for all subjects/ enter grades/ help with the new school initiative/ figure out remediation to help with the COVID setbacks our students have had…or, at the very least, give me a bathroom break?”
    If she has time to constantly move the animal during the day, she’s probably not fulfilling all her job responsibilities. And some principals definitely notice when teachers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, especially if the school is having accreditation issues.

  58. Calamity Janine*

    bad advice you shouldn’t do:

    ‘oh my gosh it looks like the bug was crawling all around out of his special safe spot, just like Coworker always gets him to do, and he climbed right on top of my stove? while it was lit! and on extra high heat! oh nooo what a good safety reminder, don’t play with fire and end up like poor Bugsy, fully immolated! …and then he jumped out the window straight to the dumpster and then the garbage truck came and got into an accident immediately where it all burst into flames and drove straight into the ocean and – well anyway, i brought a small tombstone for Bugsy, it’s very sad.’

    but don’t worry! you’ve brought your own special mascot just for Coworker, since you know she likes it better if they can move around a little! …the special mascot just for her and her classroom? it is one of those Yellies spider toys that wiggle around when there is noise, the louder the more active, so it encourages kids to be very loud.

    good luck dealing with a classroom that wants to see the funny critter toy keep dancing

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