Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: As a preschool teacher, I work along with an assistant. From time to time, when my assistant is absent, I call on one of our steady substitutes who are employed on a day-to-day basis.

I was dissatisfied with a specific substitute, who made personal phone calls during school hours, meddled, expressed her opinion about everything I did and more. I heard from a teacher from an adjoining classroom that she was not pleased with this assistant, either.

The next time the principal suggested that I call on this assistant, I replied that I prefer someone else. In hindsight, I am concerned that I may have caused this woman harm and ruined her livelihood. Perhaps I should have refrained from commenting and agreed to continue working with her, especially since the problems that disturbed me affected mainly me as a teacher and not the preschoolers.

I must add that I didn’t attempt to take up the matter with her directly, because she is a lot older than I, and I felt uncomfortable doing so.

A: From your question, it seems that you did not disclose to the principal why you prefer a different assistant; you therefore acted appropriately. The principal could have taken the information at face value, as would be expected. It is uncomfortable for a young teacher to work with and give orders to an assistant who is older than she. Besides, a younger assistant may work faster. Those are probable reasons why you preferred a different assistant.

If you acted in this way, then the above does not constitute lashon hara.

If, however, you explained the real reasons as specified in the question, then you transgressed by speaking true lashon hara. There was no heter of a constructive purpose because you did not first attempt to speak with the assistant. In this case, you must apologize to the woman, and repent by being remorseful, confessing and accepting to do better in the future. Additionally, you should speak to the principal and explain that you didn’t discuss the matter openly with the assistant because you felt uncomfortable, and also express your general admiration in order to correct, as much as possible, the damage that you caused.