Four teachers sat in their meeting room with stacks of preparatory work on the tables around them. Each had created a week's worth of lessons, including tools for their students to use for in-class sessions. Making the tools out of paper and laminates had taken them days.
A fifth teacher arrived late. She burst in and swung a heavy bag onto her chair. She shrugged off her coat, turned, and hung it on a wall hook. Then she surveyed the work that the others had done. With a smile, she grabbed the youngest teacher by the elbow.
"I didn't get mine finished this weekend," she said. "And my students are already behind, you know. Can I borrow your lessons again?"
"I guess so." With her free arm, she waved toward her stacks.
"Fine. When you run off copies, make an extra ninety for me." The late teacher let go of her. "You're a real lifesaver. I gotta go to my classroom now. But I'll be right back."
"But your students won't have their tools." She pointed to the ones that she had spent hours laminating.
Her colleague frowned. "You didn't make any extras? No? Well, I'll do without. I've really got to get to the classroom. Really."
She spun and left before her co-worker could think of a way to split the home-made tools.
As the young woman leaned over her stack of student tools to consider how they could be shared, she became aware that the room had grown quiet. She looked behind her to see that the other three teachers were scowling. Obviously she'd done something wrong. But she didn't know what.
"This is why everyone's angry with you both," the senior one said.
"Why are you mad at me?" She put a hand to her chest.
"Because your teaching partner is supposed to do her own work."
"I know." She searched their faces. She still didn't understand why they were upset. "But she doesn't. And then her students suffer. I can't stand that."
"They'll suffer, regardless." The faces of the older teachers softened at the mention of the students. "It's hard to see beyond the immediate moment to the greater pattern but you really need to do that now. You can't keep going on like this. You can't cover for a bad teacher."
"But her children ..."
"Come on, suppose you were working with a doctor. You'd find it tempting to cover up the habits of a bad doctor so that his patients wouldn't suffer. Wouldn't you?"
"But if you don't make the doctor understand what he's doing wrong, those patients will die when you turn your back. So don't cover up for the doctor. Don't keep a bad doctor in business for twenty years, still hurting patients every time you're not around."
"I ... I guess I see what you mean. But every time I don't cover for her, she tells me that her students are behind schedule. And they really are."
"She threatens you that way because it works. If you wonder why everyone else hates the example you set, it's that. You encourage your teaching partner to be selfish. Instead of negotiating with her, instead of demanding more effort from her, you let her continue as she is, hurting her students."
"I'm trying to help her."
"You're not. You aren't being kind to her or her classes. You're being meek. And your meekness is hurting the school." The senior teacher sighed. "I know that you're not a forceful person. But you'll have to be resolute. You have to insist that your work partners treat you fairly. That's the way you'll teach them to treat others fairly, too."