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Is it just me, or does the support offered from school administrators seem to be anything but actual support? 

We get the “hang in there” cat memes in our emails. We get the principal’s winking bitmoji giving us a thumbs up. We even get the occasional sweet treat and accompanying sugar high. I appreciate a funny meme and a good sugar rush as much as the next person. But, unfortunately a laugh and a muffin is not going to help me get through the school day, much less the year. What I actually need is physical, mental, and emotional support – you know, what administrators are actually supposed to be providing. 

My Search for Support

I didn’t realize the lack of support at the beginning of the school year. It makes sense, because the beginning of the year is the honeymoon phase. The students are sweet, parents are supportive, and administrators are preaching self-care. It wasn’t until mid-semester that I truly realized I was on my own. I was suddenly transformed from a face-to-face kindergarten teacher to a virtual kindergarten teacher, and the support I received was virtually non-existent. 

For weeks I sent countless emails, reminders, and pleas for help to all of my administrators as I struggled to adapt face-to-face curriculum to virtual learning. I heard crickets in response. What did it finally take for me to get attention from the administration? An email asking for a single ream of paper. I was printing booklets to send home to my students to teach concepts of print. My virtual students no longer had access to a school library and many did not have books at home. 

Pro tip: ask for something that costs money, and administrators will immediately show up at your door. 

Don’t Tell Me You Support Me, Show Me

During the visit I was denied the ream of paper, asked to send home my actual classroom library books knowing I would never get them back, and finally offered “support.” I heard the word “support” at least 8 times during that 10 minute conversation. I have heard the word many times since that day as well, but you know what I haven’t actually received? Support. 

I don’t know if administrators think that the word itself has some magical powers that instantly relieve stress and solve problems, but it doesn’t. Teachers do not feel supported just by hearing the word. The words need accompanying action. 

Here are some actual steps administrators can take to physically, mentally, and emotionally support educators. And hopefully it won’t take weeks of unanswered emails or a plea for a $5 ream of paper to be heard. 

Teachers feel supported when they feel heard. 

Communication is key. Read and respond to emails in a timely manner even if your response is, “I will look into this further and get back to you at a later date.”

Teachers feel supported when administrators are on their team. 

So often administrators receive parent or district complaints and immediately side against the teacher without hearing the teacher’s explanation or side of the story. Before you grab your torch and pitchfork, communicate with the teacher. More often than not, the situation is a simple miscommunication that can be easily cleared up. 

Teachers feel supported when they are treated like professionals. 

Teachers are highly educated professionals. We do not need extra work piled on top of them to prove to the district that they are not watching movies or scrolling through their phones all day. Let teachers plan in a way that is actually effective and efficient so that they can spend more time teaching and less time complying to ridiculous and indecipherable formats and demands. 

Teachers feel supported when their time is respected. 

Respect morning, mid-day, and afternoon planning time and duty-free lunch. Do not fill these times with unnecessary meetings (and most meetings are UNNECESSARY). Administrators should not expect teachers to take work home with them on nights and weekends just because administrators mismanage teachers’ time. 

Teachers feel supported when administrators get in the trenches with them. 

Many administrators have been out of the classroom for 10 or more years. They have forgotten what it feels like to be on the other side. Furthermore, expectations and curricula have changed so much since they were in the classroom that they are now likely out of touch. Administrators should spend time in the classroom, not only observing but participating. This would allow them to experience first-hand the curriculum, demands, and interactions with parents and students. 

These steps are practical ways administrators can add action to the support quota and boost teacher morale. What teachers need most is to stop hearing the word “support” and to start seeing and feeling it instead. 

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Dana Brown is an accomplished journalist and educator. She holds a MA in English and creative writing...

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