Assist! A Pupil Damage My Emotions. Am I Incorrect for Saying So?
Dear We Are Teachers,
I teach middle school. Last week, one of my students accidentally knocked my potted plant off its spot on the windowsill and broke the pot. After class, I told my student in private that I don’t really care about the pot or the plant, but that her response hurt my feelings (she laughed and refused to apologize for hurting a plant). The next day, my principal called me in to say I shouldn’t tell students they hurt my feelings because it’s “unprofessional” and made my student feel bad. Now I’m being asked to apologize to the student! Am I out of line, or is my principal?
—Pathos For Pothos
I worry about the frequency and ease with which principals attach the label “unprofessional” to teachers showing emotion. Is it truly unprofessional to show emotion—or are we giving teachers so little support that they are brought to the extremes by the realities of teaching in 2023?
That said, I don’t think all emotional expressions are the best choice. What we expect in terms of emotional regulation for students is also true for teachers. Every feeling is valid. Not every response is.
I think it’s appropriate to tell friends and family when they hurt your feelings. We tell friends and family when they hurt our feelings in order to create and preserve loving, healthy, intimate relationships.
But the relationship dynamic with students has a different purpose and end goal. Love and healthy relationships are certainly a part of teaching, but our job is to equip students for success away from us. Here’s what I might have said:
“Look. I’m not concerned about the plant or the pot. But I am concerned about the way you responded after you broke something of mine. I know you have more kindness and empathy than your response really showed. Would you agree with that?”
With this response, I’m inviting her to reflect. I’m modeling that I still believe in her goodness after a mistake. And—because intimacy is not the goal with this student—I’m allowing her to consider the impact of her actions without making her feel responsible for my feelings. If she had still doubled down after that, I would have emailed the parent, framing the incident as concern for the way her apathy, and uh, destruction, might impact future opportunities for her.
I wouldn’t call what you did unprofessional, necessarily. And if I were your admin, I’d be far more concerned about a student’s flippant response to damaging property than a teacher who “made a student feel bad.” But if I were you, I’d just swallow my pride for this one.
Dear We Are Teachers,
I’m at a new school and district this year where paper is apparently an endangered species. I was shocked to learn that each teacher gets one ream of paper for copies … per month. With the expectation that we print syllabi and all kinds of back-to-school forms, I was out of paper a week in. We’re not a 1:1 technology school, so we kind of depend on paper to get our jobs done. I have no idea how I’m supposed to teach without buying several reams of paper for myself each month. Would you suck it up and buy it or totally rework all your lesson plans to not include paper?
—Ready to Fold
Ah, yes, paper drama. At one of my schools, an administrator put a single ream of paper in our mailboxes at the beginning of each month. If you didn’t pick up yours fast enough, other teachers would assume you didn’t need it and take it for themselves. Super cool. Great for school culture.
After my first year there, I put a note in my beginning-of-the-year syllabus/parent letter saying, “We are very limited on paper here. While I’m certainly not requiring families provide it, if you ever find it on sale somewhere, let me know!” About a week later, I got in trouble because one of my student’s parents complained to the school board that we didn’t have extremely basic supplies fundamental to learning. A month later, we suddenly had paper again!
Worth it? I’d say so.
Don’t buy it yourself. Don’t rework all your lesson plans (although as you move through this year, do think about what you can digitize). Find a parent willing to complain to the people who can move the needle. Because we all know they’re not moving that needle when the concern comes from teachers.
Dear We Are Teachers,
After a lot of outrage over lax safety policies at our school last year, our principal announced in May that we would be getting “a security system.” We didn’t know what that meant—more cameras? An SRO? We learned at in-service that it means 1.) A metal detector gate and scanning wands for each student entrance, and 2.) Each teacher now has a 45-minute duty assignment to assist with scanning … every morning. It feels like we’re being punished for asking for safer schools. Can we just … not?
Yeah. I do not like this.
If your principal truly couldn’t afford a security system with personnel to run it, they shouldn’t have invested in one at all. There is insufficient data on whether or not metal detectors—or any physical security measures—actually make schools safer.
What does make schools safer is far more expensive. Hiring more counselors, especially ones dedicated solely to mental health. Expanding access to mental health resources outside of school. Multi-tiered systems of support to be able to spot and intervene with students who have the greatest need.
On June 25, 2022, a month after the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). The BSCA guarantees funding for schools and districts to use for these kinds of services and supports rather than for physical security measures.
In an email, ask your principal how they are using their school’s BSCA money. Their response will indicate how to move forward. If they used it appropriately on research-proven safety measures, there’s no need for metal detectors. If they used it on metal detectors, federal funding was used incorrectly—and student safety is at risk.
You may have to rock the boat or get some parents riled up with you. But don’t give up. Wasting teachers’ time on an ineffective practice is one thing. Safety and mental health access make this a non-negotiable.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear We Are Teachers,
My district is asking teachers to refrain from posting “anything political” on their personal social media accounts. They clarified by saying this includes any content related to political news, politicians, social justice, or issues related to race, sexuality, gender, or ethnicity. They also said to not post any pictures featuring bars, drag shows, pride-related events, political rallies, or other “controversial locations.” A public school district can’t fire us for violating a free speech restriction, can they?
—CENSORED IN SEATTLE