Education

Ask WeAreTeachers: Help! My School Owes Me $2,000

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I need some help! Last year, I did a bunch of trainings, covered classes, and ran an after-school club. We’re supposed to get paid for these types of things, and apparently, they used to do it with no problem (this is only my second year). By my count, the school owes me almost $2,000, but all of a sudden, they’re saying they don’t have the money.  I am in contact with the union, but nothing is happening, and I don’t know what to do now. Any advice on how to handle this really frustrating situation? —Out 2K

Dear O.2.K.,

Many of us can relate to being taken advantage of. Teachers spend a lot of personal time working to improve professionally to better meet the needs of the kids under their wings. Just because the teaching profession attracts individuals who are compassionate, caring, and generous doesn’t mean it’s OK to mistreat them. It’s demoralizing to extend yourself, work hard, and not feel valued. This is a recipe for building bitterness and resentment.

Dig deep for persistence and follow-through regarding your compensation. Ask for a status check with your union representative. I know it can be uncomfortable to advocate for yourself, but you need to do it. Ask to meet with your administrator privately to share how you feel and brainstorm a plan. You might say, “When is a good time to meet one-on-one? I’d like to revisit my compensation for the training I completed.” Give your principal the opportunity to see how important this issue is to you. In addition to talking to your principal, consider talking to your instructional leadership team and other teachers to gain solidarity and support. It’s a lot harder to say “no” when there is a united front.

Let’s end with a gentle reminder about the power of making and keeping boundaries. As you move forward, practice communicating your needs to those you work with. When you feel the urge to jump into a project, ask about the budget, time frames, end project expectations, and then make your decision. Say “yes” to opportunities that make you feel valued and have the courage to say “no” to ones that don’t.

“Healthy boundaries protect without isolating, contain without imprisoning, and preserve identity while permitting external connections.” —Anne Katherine, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin

Dear WeAreTeachers:
Yesterday, I sent a positive e-mail to the parents of my third graders about how wonderful their students are doing with their group projects. One dad returned my e-mail telling me his kid has COVID-19 and blaming me because I had the kids do group work. I immediately explained that the kids worked in groups of three, and I followed district safety protocols with social distancing. The kids stayed at their desks, which were at least three feet apart. None of what I said mattered. He replied, saying I was irresponsible. I can’t believe I’m being blamed for this! Is this really my fault? —Don’t Blame Me

Dear D.B.M.,

We are living during some wild times right now with this enduring global pandemic and persistent uncertainties. It sounds like you are doing the best you can with the district COVID-19 protocols to keep yourself and your students safe.

I’m sure most of the parents appreciate the positive based feedback about their students. Keep up your ongoing communication with the families. Your strength-based feedback has the power to deepen relationships and boost student and family morale. It’s frustrating and demoralizing when parents attack teachers. Reactive comments can really take the wind out of your sails. Do you tend to dwell on the negative feedback people give? We, as humans, are wired to pay more attention to the negatives and criticism than the positive compliments. Negativity bias is a real thing! The thing is: we will never make every single parent happy. But we still maintain professionalism and control the only thing we can really ever control… ourselves.

Psychology Today’s contributing author, Robert Puff, Ph.D., offers some reminders that at first may seem obvious but also take awareness and intention to apply consistently: “It’s imperative that we stop focusing on what other people do. We can create boundaries around these people to protect ourselves, but again, that is for our own benefit, not theirs. It is very difficult to change other people, but we have the power to make adjustments to ourselves… Ask yourself, ‘What can I do in this instance to make things better for myself?’ Notice how this is very different than asking, ‘What can I do to make this person stop doing what they’re doing because it is stressing me out?’ The solution to problems lies within ourselves, not others.”

When replying to disgruntled parents, do some reflective listening. For example, you might reply to the student’s dad with something like, “It’s obvious you care deeply about your daughter. I assure you, I do, too. Please pass along an update about her health. Let her know we miss her, and we look forward to having her back in class as soon as she can. If you have concerns about our district and site safety protocols, please reach out to the principal.”

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I have been a preschool teacher for eight years.  I was offered a kindergarten position at a school with lots of behavior challenges. I’m an enthusiastic and patient person, and I adore the little ones. But I feel like I’m sinking fast. I have several students with major behavioral challenges. There are chairs being thrown, unprovoked hitting, and kids wandering out of the classroom multiple times a day.  Should I be worried that my teammate with 13 years of experience and principal want us to combine classrooms? It feels awful knowing they don’t really trust me. I’m also freaked out that the parents will lose confidence in me. Maybe combining the classroom is a sign that I just can’t handle this challenge right now.  Any advice? —Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Dear S.I.S.O.S.I.G.

I say, stay and stick it out! You are in the thick of learning to handle really challenging behavioral issues. Consider this context an opportunity to learn about yourself personally and professionally. Throwing chairs, leaving the classroom, and hitting are all extremely complex and challenging issues to address, even for veteran teachers. If you do “get” to be in a team-teaching approach, the collaboration can help to improve relationships, trust, practices, mindsets, and more.

Sharing a classroom space and having a partner you can observe and who will observe you is a major gift, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Scholar, John Hattie, has spent over 30 years with more than 300 million learners involved. He identified collective teacher efficacy as the number one influencing factor on student learning. It involves the collective belief of the staff in their ability to positively affect students.

Collective teacher efficacy is strongly and positively correlated with student achievement. “Accomplishing the maximum impact on student learning depends on teams of teachers working together, with excellent leaders or coaches, agreeing on worthwhile outcomes, setting high expectations, knowing the students’ starting and desired success in learning, seeking evidence continually about their impact on all students, modifying their teaching in light of this evaluation, and joining in the success of truly making a difference with student learning outcomes.”

Instead of shrinking, avoiding, and creating a narrative that you can’t handle the challenge right now, think of the relief and ease involved with the collaboration involved in co-teaching. The combining of classrooms is a way to learn and build trust.

Here’s an excerpt from the poem “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen . These words remind me to “start again” and forget striving for perfection while allowing insight from the mistakes and setbacks I experience. What resonates for you?

The birds they sang at the break of day

“Start again”, I heard them say:

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

or what is yet to be.

 

You can add up the parts, you won’t have the sum,

you can strike up the march, there is no drum,

Every heart, every heart to love will come

but like a refugee.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring,

forget your perfect offering,

there is a crack, a crack in everything

that’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected].

Dear We Are Teachers:
I’ve been teaching third grade for 12 years. You’d think I’d know what I was doing by now. But nothing could have prepared me for coming back from break and having literally half my class out with COVID. I really don’t want to go back to virtual learning. But these kids are going to be so far behind. And I don’t want to hold back the ones who’ve been in class the whole time. How am I supposed to plan with so much uncertainty?

Want more advice column? Visit our Ask WeAreTeachers hub.

 Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson


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