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,
Overall fights and drama have been off the chain this year in the high school I teach in. It seems like kids cannot resolve simple disagreements without a “tussle” breaking out. Is anyone else seeing this? We’re seeing this in kids who normally don’t fight but after they come back from the pandemic, they’re so violent!
We won’t fully understand the effects of the pandemic for decades, but yes, teachers continue to see a major uptick in violence. It’s not something we can deal with one student at a time, one punishment at a time. Violence comes from anger; for many kids, anger is depression or anxiety turned outward. This is a situation where you are right to demand support from the administration and right to demand safety at work.
The question should be asked, “There is violence in our school. How are we going to change that?” I’ve heard too many stories of teachers stopping a brawl in their room only to have the student return from the office a few minutes later with a sarcastic “I’m sorry.”
Punishment won't solve this problem. School-wide interventions and support for student mental health are the keys to turning it around. It’s a tough time in education, especially around student behavior. If your school is unwilling to keep you safe or you’re regularly threatened, you must do what is best for you and your mental/physical health.
- Theresa Pogach
My husband and I often say that our eleven-year-old is a walking Snickers commercial. He is normally kind, encouraging, and cooperative. But when he gets hungry or something is outside of his control, he becomes mean and difficult. When his physical and emotional needs aren’t being met, he is still learning how to respond reasonably to adversity.
Understanding this reality as a parent has helped me to better see the same patterns with my high school students. I think that most of us are seeing the same trends across all grade levels. Still, we have difficulty seeing our adult-sized students as the children they actually are. They are all suffering from varying degrees of trauma, and that is how we need to approach these conflicts.
We all need a reset, and that includes our students. We need to learn how to be together with people again and relate to each other in difficult situations. We need to manage both our expectations and our responses to difficulty. This can and should be a schoolwide effort as we pursue new, healthier normal that benefits our school communities.
If this is a priority concern for you, I recommend reading some resources related to social-emotional issues and building community (the works of Brene Brown and Adam Grant are excellent places to start). Then find colleagues who have the same concerns and bring some recommendations to the administrative team. Start small with classroom community building with a select number of teachers and build from there. It won’t change things overnight, but the long-term payoff will be positive for everyone involved.Ask The Educator's Room: Violent Students and A Harassing Parent Click To Tweet
Dear The Educator's Room,
How can I deal with a parent who's constantly harasses me because her child is failing my science class? Her child has an IEP which allows for extra time and additional supports but that doesn't mean I have to pass him. Keep in mind he does no work, half way participates in class and never comes to lunch or after school tutorial. This is Chemistry I and his mom is harassing me so much I may take medical leave for stress. Help.
While the instinct is to avoid this parent at all costs, I suggest setting a meeting with you, the parent(s), and a trusted administrator. This is one of those times when backup from your administration is so important. Two things should happen at this meeting. The harassing behavior needs to be addressed and boundaries set. “It’s unacceptable to email this teacher insults”...that type of conversation. Parents have the right to express concerns and should express concerns. They do not have the right to harass teachers or attack them personally. If they continue insulting you or being aggressive, admin will be there to witness the behavior. You deserve their support and shouldn’t be expected to handle harassment alone.
Next, it’s time to make a plan. No matter how frustrating this situation is or how abusive the parent has been, you should want this child to succeed. Make sure they know and the administration knows you do not want this child to fail. Explain the accommodations you’ve made based on the IEP and why the child’s failing despite the extra time. If you haven’t been able to include all of the accommodations, that’s something to look at closely and make changes. It’s possible the IEP needs to be revised.
Make a plan the parent agrees to, like having the student complete several missed assignments to improve the grade, etc. Then, let the stress go. Let the school protect you from an abusive parent. You’re doing your job. Make them do theirs.
It sounds like your situation requires outside support, both from your administration and a member of your school’s special education team. They should be included in all communication between you and this child’s parent from now on.
As you build a support system, consider a variety of factors: How far is the student from passing? Why is the student working with an IEP? What challenges could be standing in the way of their success in your classroom? Have they demonstrated mastery in other areas of coursework? What explanation does their mother have for not encouraging them to attend scheduled tutorial periods?
We all have students who do not do the work we ask of them, and it is incredibly frustrating when we feel like we are working several times harder than them. It is hard not to take it personally, especially when the parent of said child insists on special treatment that will harm them more than help them. If you cannot determine your student’s mastery of the content from the minimal work that has been turned in, passing them before they are ready to move on will only hurt them in the next science class. Include your department head and a member of the administration team in the conversation and explain that you are looking out for her child’s long-term success.
Finally, if you have the days saved up, do take a day or two to clear your head. Teachers don’t do this enough, and your other students need a teacher who is refreshed.
About the Advisors
Sarah Styf is a 19-year high school English teacher. She lives in the Indianapolis area with her husband and two children. She is passionate about education reform and civic engagement. She can be found on Instagram @sarah.styf and Twitter @sarahstyf.
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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