Welcome to The Educator's Room advice column for teachers! Today we're helping a teacher who's less than excited about teaching a former student. We're also helping a teacher who is trying to support trans and gender non-conforming students at her Christian school. See what our writers have to say, then share your own advice in the comments! You can read a couple of our previous editions of Ask The Educator's Room here and here.
Dear The Educator's Room,
I have teachers who refuse to come to school. Or when they come, they leave mid-day with an excuse. We cannot run a school this way. I am very lenient in ensuring I am attuned to their mental health needs. But I am this close to writing them up. Help.
Out of Ideas
Dear Out of Ideas,
Indeed, it's frustrating to have many teacher absences regularly. As the principal, you try to run the school as efficiently as possible and without significant interruptions of services. You want your students to be successful and to have the best teachers in front of them. So, it is a lose-lose situation when teachers are absent or leave mid-day regularly. Here are three suggestions that may help.
First, is there a pattern to the absences? Are there certain days when the teachers leave early or miss the entire day? For example, are they taking off every Monday and Friday or leaving early every Thursday? Knowing the patterns can help prepare to have substitute teachers on call or the possibility of schedule changes. Print the list of dates and times of absences or early departures. Keep the list handy to use for the second suggestion.
Secondly, find out the root cause of the absences. Set up a meeting with the teacher(s) to discuss why they miss so many days or times. Inform the teacher that you are concerned for their well-being and the absences. Tell them you wonder if there's anything they'd like to share. Ask, is there any way you can support them? Vocalize your concern for the students and inform them that the parents are concerned that the children miss valuable instruction when staff members are out. To be purposeful, calculate how many instructional minutes are lost during multiple teacher absences.
Lastly, review the district's policy about excessive days off and ask for guidance. You want to ensure you follow all laws and policies so you don't open yourself up to any legal suits.
- Cassandra Washington
Dear Out of Ideas,
You're witnessing the symptoms of a greater disease in your school. When one person is unreliable, it's inconvenient and frustrating. When many teachers are unpredictable, it completely disrupts school. Find the root of the problem first so you can address it.
For instance, have teachers lost planning time this year? Do they have to supervise students during their lunch "breaks"? Do they regularly need to spend nights and weekends grading and planning?
Many schools are addressing mental wellness with additional activities after work, like yoga, cooking club, etc. But this doesn't address burnout. It does nothing to support the teachers who have given everything and have nothing left to give.
Supporting the mental health needs of teachers shouldn't have anything to do with "leniency." Meet with teachers. Try to understand what is happening that makes teaching untenable.
Writing up teachers won't fix the problem. Teachers want to feel heard and know that leadership sees the stressors in the job and addresses them. Even simply acknowledging the stressors goes a long way.
- Theresa Pogach
Dear The Educator's Room,
I'm really struggling with my partner, who isn't a teacher and doesn't understand how hard and exhausting the job is. In fact, my partner seems to be in competition with me over who has a harder job (they are in manual labor), am I'm just tired of not being validated. I just want to come home and feel supported. I don't want to have to engage in this competition over who has a harder job anymore. Is this something that anyone else has had success in with a partner who doesn't teach? Or do I finally need to accept why so many teachers end up marrying other teachers? (adapted from Reddit)
Tired of Fighting
Dear Tired of Fighting,
The perception of teaching is that it's an easy job. All educators know the truth, but the perception seems ingrained into others' minds. The last three years have probably been some of the toughest for teachers with the pandemic, remote/hybrid classes, and returning to in-person instruction with a new normal. The stress of it all is tough on personal lives and relationships.
In relationships, both people want validation. It would help if you had it, and so does your partner. You want to hear that your job is essential. However, your significant other feels their occupation is equally important. Both are invaluable to our society. Someone has to teach children, and someone has to build things. It's the way the world works. You chose the profession, not your partner. Neither of you chose the other for the type of work you do. Furthermore, change doesn't start with your partner. It begins with you.
You mentioned that you are burnt out from the job. Stress is a serious problem for one's mental and physical health. Your health and wellness are a priority, but your well-being is a personal responsibility. Therefore, start thinking about what you can change. You stated that you need your partner's support, but what does it look like? Be specific about the things you need the most support for. Ask yourself what life will look like if you receive the specific things you wish for from your partner. What will your relationship look and feel like if you don't get what you want? Also, ask your partner what support they need from you.
Again, change begins with you. Remember, you cannot change people, so you must make some personal and professional decisions. If the demands of the job are overwhelming, lessen the load. One change is to work your scheduled hours, pack your bags and sign out. The school and students will survive when you leave the job at the scheduled time. Reclaim your time and your health.
Dear Tired of Fighting,
Partnerships should be about supporting one another and being a haven from the stressors in life. It sounds like neither of you is feeling validated right now. I suspect your partner wants more time with you and more of a connection.
Often we talk about relationship issues in the heat of an argument. Instead, sit down with your partner when you're both calm and explain how this competition feels for you. Most people don't intentionally want to compete with their partners, but we all fall into this habit during stressful times.
Explain the concrete ways your partner can support you, like taking on specific chores around the house. Acknowledge that they have challenging work as well. Ask them what they think you can do to support them. Take time for both of you to express what you need from the other person.
As a teacher, I've struggled with not slipping into a cocoon when I get home. Sometimes I go to sleep at 7:30 pm. Other times I want to be alone. But I make sure I decompress with my partner at least a few times a week. Instead of scrolling Reddit alone, we pick a movie or tv show to watch together. I often fall asleep during the show, but we're together, and that matters.
About the Advisors
Cassandra Washington is a semi-retired principal. She has 30 years of experience as a public school educator. Currently, she works as an Instructional Coach for a not-for-profit organization and a consultant for an educational publisher. Also, Cassandra publishes a blog, www.teachandtaketime4u.com, and speaks at national conferences about teacher wellness
Theresa Pogach has been an educator for over fifteen years with experience in elementary and middle school classrooms. Beyond being an educator, she is a passionate student of history and an avid writer. Theresa has a BA in English from Loyola Marymount University and teaching credentials from Cal State University Los Angeles.
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