Assist! Our theater trainer yells at youngsters

Dear WeAreTeachers,
The theater teacher at our high school is a 25-year-old institution. Mrs. Fulman puts on an incredible musical every year and our theater program is one of the best theater programs in the country. But so many students have told me stories of their toxic and abusive behavior. She yells at students who screw up in front of the cast and puts leading actresses on a diet called the Fulman Fifteen every year to lose weight for performances… and those are some of the tamer stories. When I ask my students why they don’t report them, they all say the same thing: either they reported them and the administration “investigated” them and got nothing, or they didn’t because they are sure that they will take revenge and they want to stay in the theater. How do I support my students? – I am not the drama. (Am I the drama?)

Dear INTD,

whoops If it were just the stories about screaming, I might put it down to how loud drama teachers have to be for a hall full of kids to hear them. But the combined stories of toxic behavior are worrying.

I’d bet this teacher is under a lot of stress, but it sounds like your school has no problem with how she handles that stress. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for schools to be more lenient towards teachers who bring in significant funds/awards.

While this teacher’s behavior is worrying, I think it is more appropriate for parents to address this issue than another teacher. As for your role, I think you have some responsibility here:

  • Make sure your students know that you are a safe person to report things like this and that you will continue to support them no matter what.
  • Help facilitate action while allowing students to retain ownership of the movement to advocate for themselves. If they complain about the drama teacher, say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling stuck. Have you considered asking other students to share their experiences and present them as an organized front?”
  • Email your principal about the diet thing so it’s in writing. That affects me the most, both for the students and for you as the mandatory reporter.

Part of our job as teachers is to protect students from abusive behavior, but I think empowering students to protect themselves is equally important. A strong example from you as a facilitator can stay with these students well beyond high school.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
It’s time for a “Letter of Recommendation” at my school, and this week I received a request from a student who I feel I cannot recommend in good faith. I had to chase this student all year to turn in a paper, only to be met by him arguing why his grade should have been better. I don’t think I can recommend him, especially for the honors program he’s applying for. Should I send him an honest (negative) recommendation or just tell him I won’t write one? —Glad to write you a hesitant letter


Rather than telling, I think this situation should be about getting the student to understand why you can’t write. This is a valuable learning opportunity for him, and simply sending off a bad recommendation won’t teach him the same lesson (or anything else).

First, talk to the student privately and ask for input. “When I write letters of recommendation, I make sure to provide specific examples that highlight a student’s work ethic, positivity, responsibility, or other qualities that would make them a strong candidate for admission to this program. What examples would you give from our time together?” Keep an open mind here – he might have insights or perspectives that you weren’t expecting.

If they’re having a hard time thinking about something, you can say, “You know, we’re not always going to do our best in every class. And that’s okay. But I want you to have the best chance of being part of this program, so I would recommend asking someone who can write you an outstanding letter that reflects your strengths.”

He’ll see between the lines here – that in his next academic or professional setting, the time to think about a letter of recommendation while you’re working for that person isn’t just before you leave.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
My principal invited me to his office one day to talk about a new position as Dean of Studies. He said my name was on the job, encouraged me to apply, and even said he had to keep the position open a certain number of days due to formalities before he could give it to me. Well, my interview came and went, and then three weeks of radio silence before my principal told me they went with another candidate, “but it was so close.” I feel disappointed, of course, but also misled too believe that the position is mine. Should I honestly say how I feel? —Left at the altar (professionally speaking)

Dear LATA,

Oh, this is a difficult situation.

You have every right to feel disappointed and frustrated—these are legitimate feelings. I still don’t think it’s wise to share them with your principal. Here’s why.

A few years ago I spent a summer shadowing an administrator in our district. I was allowed to interview for all sorts of positions in the district, from student advisors to assistant superintendents. It was enlightening to see the wealth of skills, experience and outstanding individuals applying for the same position. Suddenly I thought back to times when I hadn’t gotten a job and was told, “We had such a hard time deciding between several qualified candidates – it was so close!” I never believed it then, but when When I saw it myself as an observer, it was clear that sometimes a warm letter of recommendation, an extra year of experience or a technology certification really does make the difference.

I bet here’s what happened: your principal really wanted to hire you, and it was really close. But perhaps your principal never considered finding a better qualified candidate and spoke too openly too soon. Your principal probably learned a hard lesson here – never give false hope – and unfortunately you were on the receiving end.

I think it’s perfectly fine to say something like, “Thank you for thinking of me. I was really hoping to be selected but I understand the competition was tough. Please let me know if you hear of similar vacancies at our school or elsewhere – I would love the opportunity to serve as dean.” That shares your disappointment, acknowledges what was likely a painful decision for your principal, and prepares Hopefully set you up for a brilliant record when the next school needs a dean.

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Dear WeAreTeachers,
I teach and coach at the same high school I attended as a student, so I know many of my students’ parents. Earlier this week I told one of my soccer players that he would not be playing as he missed both practice sessions that week. That evening I opened our door to find his father immediately bursting into an angry tirade about his non-playing son, complaining that “we’ve known each other for years”. I was so shocked that I hardly knew what to say, except to move from my position. I’m not surprised he knew where I live given how small our community is, but I’m furious that he felt entitled to show up at my house just because he didn’t push through. Do I clarify this directly with the parents? -Get off my lawn

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