Shame, Judgement, and the Comparison Trap

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, google her (after you are done reading this of course). She is a shame researcher who has a famous TED talk, has written several books, and recently released a Netflix special. One of the things that she discusses is shame that parents experience. Parent shaming is a real thing and it has to stop. We see parent shaming online, we see it in our schools, we see it at the grocery store, we see it on planes, and we see it in restaurants. There are many parenting styles and you don’t have to agree with all of them, but can we stop judging each other for every little thing?

While we love to give advice and tips on specific areas of raising balanced children in the 21st century, we never want to come off like we are shaming people. Our main advice is always balance. Balance means you do what you can when you can. We find that along with shame are judgment and comparison.  Neither of these are good for your health or your family’s health.

Let’s start off by talking about judgement. It is easy to judge other people. Especially if you don’t know what their day has been like. If a child is throwing a tantrum in a store, most people will immediately judge the parent for it. However, we do not know what the situation is. Perhaps the child missed their nap, maybe they are sick, or just maybe they are a child with special needs. Kids also have a mind of their own and can sometimes be unpredictable. We do not know, so we must not judge.

Shaming a parent is when you put your judgment into action and decide you want to give a parent a look, a piece of your mind, make passive aggressive comments, or even talking behind their back. Your intention is to make them feel like they are doing a bad job, being a bad parent, or have something to be ashamed of.

Before judging a parent (or anyone really) ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know them or their situation?
  • Am I trying to help them or shame them?
  • Does it affect me?
  • Do I have good intentions?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The other side of judgement and shame is comparing yourself to other people. In the age of social media, we are all bombarded on a daily basis by perfection. People most often will post and share the perfect moments in their lives. The idyllic family hike, the children baking, or siblings playing happily. What is not seen are the fights, the mess, the arguments and struggles that are a part of real life. And yet, the perfection is what we compare our lives to. We feel less than because our house is a mess, we aren’t hiking, and the cake is store bought.

If you are feeling less than, then perhaps take time away from social media. Take your family to the park to play, order a pizza and have a family night in, or have game night with your children. Remind yourself that “This too shall pass,” that the messy, crazy, and hard parts of parenting are only temporary, that no family is perfect, and that all of it is okay.

We as a society have to take the mantel for ending parent shaming and judgement. It is up to us to model for our children to respect and accept others.

Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is Teacher Appreciation week! Appreciation of the hard work that teachers do every day is near and dear to our hearts. Teachers are doing very important work in society, and often can feel undervalued and overwhelmed. While it would be ideal to appreciate teachers all year long, it is nice to have a reminder and an entire week dedicated to appreciating teachers.

Ultimately the best way that society can appreciate teachers is with:

1) Support for students

2) Respectable compensation

2) Smaller class sizes

3) Resources and supplies for classes

4) Societal respect

These are our hopes and dreams for the teaching profession! We understand that these might be a bit difficult to accomplish this week, but a teacher can dream! We hope that one day teachers all over the country have these things.

But seriously, we thought we would offer some realistic ways to appreciate the teacher in your life this week.

1) A handwritten card from students

2) Small treats to keep in the desk

3) Coffee or tea

4) Flowers for their desks

5) Verbal affirmation or a positive email

6) A positive email to their supervisor

7) A bottle of wine

These are all little things that go a long way in making a teacher feel appreciated and supported. While we keep fighting for the top four, it is good to feel like we have people supporting and appreciating the work we do!
We also found this great resource with everything you need to appreciate your teachers or even plan events to appreciate teachers at your school!

Report Cards

We are headed into the last 2 months of school, and along with field day, open house, graduation, and all the other fun activities of the last few weeks of school, writing report cards is something that teachers need to complete as they wrap up the school year. Whether you give out letter grades, numbers, or narrative report cards are one way to communicate with parents about how their child has grown throughout the school year.

In our opinion, report cards should not be the end all be all. We need to create intrinsic motivation in our students and focus on progress and the learning process. The focus should not necessarily be on an end grade. To us, report cards should be looked at as a more formal way of communicating to parents all the things we have already been communicating throughout the school year.

Report cards should reflect progress, strengths, and challenges. They should help give both teachers and parents an idea of how they can better support and encourage students. It should also reflect the things that really interest the student.

When writing report cards here are some things to consider:

No Surprises

When a parent receives a report card, they should not be surprised by anything on it. Surprising parents with a student’s struggles on a report card when you are not present, and cannot elaborate and talk through plans to support the student is never a good idea. If a student is having a challenge academically, behaviorally, or socially parents should be notified early on to develop a partnership and to come up with a plan on how to help the child succeed. Report cards should not be the first time a parent is hearing about a concern. This has been one of the best pieces of advice that our mentor and administrator told us as novice teachers, and it is something that we continue to follow and pass on to new teachers.

Start with the Positive

Find positive things to say about the student. Every subject or category should have an honest and positive statement for the student. These could include comments on engagement, participation, perseverance, growth mindset, collaboration, or final projects amongst other things. Highlighting the positives is just as important as highlighting the challenges because it paints a picture of the whole child, and that is what parents want and need to see.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Remember, that while this might be an elementary report card, it is an official document. Therefore always think through what you are writing and trying to say about the student. Try to avoid words like “but” or “although.” You can usually replace those words with “and” or start a new sentence and get the same message across without negating all the positives you started with. Some positive language includes “we look forward to guiding,” “it would be beneficial,” “this student will grow further by,” or “supporting.”

Support

If you are asking parents for support at home, give specific strategies that will help the student. This is especially important as a student transitions from one grade to another and they might need some extra help in certain subjects. Summer vacation is a good time for parents to support a child at home, so giving them exact subjects and strategies to work on are perfect to convey on a report card. However, keep in mind that a report card might not be enough room to detail all of this, so a parent conference might be helpful to set up with the parents or guardians to further explain student support.

Challenge

Parents of students who are “high flyers” often want to know how their child is being challenged and supported in the classroom. If a student is meeting or surpassing all the expectations in your class, it would be helpful for parents if you communicated how they are being challenged and engaged in class. This again gives a whole child picture for parents and it gives them ideas about how the can continue to support and engage their child at home.

The most important thing to remember is that we are placing our own personal judgements on other people’s most valued treasures. Every kid is different and has strengths and challenges. As history has continued to show us, a grade or a number doesn’t always reflect a child’s success. Report cards should not be used as a weapon to shame or punish kids. Rather, they should be used as another form of communication that is a guide and tool to help kids grow and develop.

Children Need Balanced Teachers

Expectations

Teaching has always been a multi disciplinary job. Because teachers are working with young people, teachers throughout history have not only taught lessons on content, but they have been psychologists, nurses, advertisers, friends, and so much more. The teaching profession has always been a stressful career. However, today more than ever, the expectations placed on teachers are astronomical.

In addition to what teachers have traditionally done, in recent years teachers have had a multitude of new responsibilities added to their already metaphorically overflowing cups.

With the advent of technology, parents all over the world are granted constant communication about their child. This generation of children have grown up since birth with apps that communicate with parents. When children go off to school, many parents expect and want constant communication from their child’s teacher. So, teachers have to take a plethora of photos, run class social media accounts for their class, update a classroom website, write weekly blogs about what they are doing in the classroom, manage individual student blogs, monitor student email accounts, use several applications to send data home to parents, along with teaching, grading papers, reporting for recess or lunch duty, assessing and collecting data, writing report cards, emailing parents, differentiating lessons, planning field trips, making copies, and so much more. We absolutely love the new and wonderful ways to share and communicate with parents their child’s growth, however it seems that many new things have been added to the teacher’s plate, and nothing has been taken away.

With so much to do, in so little time, teachers oftentimes feel like they cannot take a breath. It is an overwhelming and depleting feeling. We feel that we are failing the most important people, our students. Teaching is not just about tests, data, photos, and grades. The most important aspect of teaching is the connections and relationships that we build with our students. As elementary school teachers we know that students will not remember the grammar or spelling lessons we teach, but they will remember the way we make them feel. If teachers are overworked and stressed, then their students feel that too.

Prioritizing

When teachers feel the need to do it all, they get burnt out. According to the National Education Association, more than 40% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years! If you want to remain a teacher for the long haul, take care of yourself and keep a work life balance. It is okay to say no, especially when your cup is already overflowing.

For teachers to have a balanced life and a balanced classroom, they must prioritize. Because there is such a high expectation placed on teachers, you have to learn that you will not be able to do everything. Pick the most important things for “right now” and leave the rest for later. You have to get comfortable always having a to-do list. As a teacher you will never have that moment of being “done.” Education practices are always changing and by nature, we are lifelong learners. Our schools and classrooms change every year. So even at the end of the school year, teachers are planning for their next group of students. Honestly, there will be things that you won’t EVER get to. And you know what? That’s okay. Most likely it won’t change a thing in your class and no one will know except for you. So be kind to yourself and make sure you maintain a balance for yourself.

Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most important tools in the classroom. If we are not flexible, then the kids will not be flexible. Real life in the classroom is not how it is portrayed in the media. A real classroom is messy, loud, and not perfect. We plan lessons and projects, but things do not always go as planned. When the smart board doesn’t work, the internet is down, the copies you made were the key, and not the actual student worksheet (It happens!) students look to us and see how we react. Teachers need to remember that there is a solution to every problem, no matter how great. The solution might not present itself in the moment, but that is when we say “Oh well,” and do something else in the class. When teachers are stressed, students are stressed too. Being flexible and more importantly modeling flexibility to our students is important.

We remember the feeling of wanting to please everyone when we were new teachers. When you are in charge of educating young minds there are a lot of people with high expectations of you. In our first years of teaching we wanted our classrooms to be Pinterest perfect all the time and we wanted to be liked by everyone. With experience, we learned that neither of these were attainable all the time. Our classrooms will not be perfect all the time, you will not agree with everything that administration says or does, parents might not like you. Guess what? It is okay! As long as you are showing up for your kids every school day and giving each of those students not only the academic content they need, but you are seeing them for who they are and loving them for it, then you are doing an amazing job. Teaching is one of the hardest professions there is, and we are all doing the best we can for our children.

Why do Children Need Balanced Teachers?

When teachers aren’t balanced, their students aren’t getting what they deserve. Lessons are thrown together, the grading piles up and everything gets rushed because the teacher is just trying to survive each day. When you feel like you don’t have enough time, it is time to practice the things above: prioritizing and flexibility. Children need balanced teachers because they need people that are showing up everyday that want to be there. Overworked, unbalanced teachers end up resenting their job. They are tired, irritable, and impatient. Teachers that are balanced want to show up and be present for their students.

It’s important that teachers get the time they need to plan meaningful lessons for the students. It’s important that this time not be taken up by extra meetings, conferences, and a quick PD to teach this brand new program that administration decides needs to be implemented mid-year. Time to plan meaningful lessons should be a sacred time for teachers. When this time is mis-managed by administration, we are letting down our students. They are the ones that suffer.

Balanced teachers have the time and energy to run a functioning, healthy class. They have the energy to support that struggling student. They have the time to connect with that student who often falls under the radar. They have the spirit to tell jokes, have brain breaks, connect as a class community and make their class a joyous place to learn and grow.