Don’t Bully Teachers

We as teachers talk to our students about kindness and respect all the time. We plan lessons, read books, and role play with our students about friendships and what to do if they encounter bullies. We have conversations with students who are struggling with being picked on or bullied, and we have conversations with students who are being bullies. We are surrounded by talks of socio-emotional growth, conflict resolutions, and standing up for oneself, and yet many teachers are bullied on a daily basis without the ability to do anything about it.

We have known many teachers and have experienced being bullied by the parents of students. As we wrote last week, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (Stop Bullying). When we say teachers are being bullied, we are not talking about a one-time incident where a parent becomes upset and sends an unkind email or phone call. Although neither of these are the nicest things to send to a teacher, what we are writing about are parents who find fault with everything that the teacher is doing, send email after email of criticism, make call after call complaining, or say unkind thing after unkind thing. That is bullying a teacher, and that is, simply put, not ok.

The emails where our assignments or projects are criticized, our techniques, classroom management, or lessons are scrutinized, parent conferences where our expert advice is not only question and challenged, but demeaned, and the gossip and negative talk about teachers all have a detrimental effect on mental health. And unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it. Unlike another profession where a doctor can refuse to see a patient, an architect can refuse the project, or a chef can comp a meal and move on, teachers have a whole school year where they have to remain professional while being bullied. 

We hear a lot about what bullying does to children and adolescents, but we don’t hear much about what it does to teachers. It causes anxiety, loss of sleep, high levels of stress, affects mental health, it really hurts and brings teachers down. And yet educators persevere, talk and cry it out with teacher friends, and then do the same thing with their family at home. They show up for their students every day in the classroom and continue to plan lessons, activities, and projects. They put on a happy face, teach and love their kids because that is what teachers do. 

If you are a teacher who is being bullied this year please know that it is not your fault. You are trying your best and working your hardest. We know it is difficult, but try your best to leave school matters at school. Take a walk, workout, or do an activity that brings you happiness after school. Don’t check your email at home, you don’t want to feel sad or upset at home when you are in your safe space with your family. You do not deserve to be bullied because you are doing challenging and important work in our society. Your students love you and they appreciate all that you do.

If you are a parent and you have an issue, question, or are upset about something, please address teachers with respect. Take a breath before you write a scathing email. Ask for a meeting after a few days when you are calm. Approach the situation by thinking about what you tell your children to do when presented with a conflict. Remember, your children are watching you and your actions. If you are telling your children to be kind and respectful towards others, then you should likewise be kind and respectful towards their teacher. Children learn from your example, don’t be a bully.

Teachers are professionals in education. They deserve respect. They are also people with real feelings. Bullying teachers is not acceptable. 

Bullying: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Bullying is a very serious issue and we feel it is something that no child should ever face. However it is important to understand what bullying really is and what it is not. 

In recent years there has been a trend to label any conflicts that arise between children as bullying. Whenever one child does or says something to another we will often receive an email, a call, or a classroom visit where the word “ bullying” is freely used.

According to Stop Bullying “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” So, bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior toward another. An example of this would be a 5th grader who calls a third grader unkind things for a long period of time. Another example would be a 2nd grader, without special needs, who hits their classmate over and over again. When the behavior does not stop it is considered bullying. 

Bullying is not a child who calls a child a name once or twice. Bullying is not a child, who in frustration, pushes or puts their hands on another. We are not saying that either of these things are correct or acceptable. They are not ok, and the school should take steps to stop them from occurring again. However, they are not bullying. These are common conflicts that occur and should be handled with care and taken as learning opportunities. Children should be able to make learning mistakes without being labeled a “bully.” 

We know that it is hard for children to experience unkind behaviors from others. And it is really hard for parents to see children hurt or upset. Just know that all children will experience someone who doesn’t want to play with them, someone who says something mean to them, or a friend that betrayed their trust. These are hard growing pains of childhood and adolescence. They are also a necessary part of learning that enables children to navigate these types of challenges that they will have to face throughout their lives. 

As hard as it is, we can tell you that it doesn’t help children when parents and educators solve all of their problems for them. It does a disservice to real bullying situations when we over label things as bullying. We have to make it clear to our children what bullying is and what bullying is not. And when a situation is not bullying, we need to equip our children with the tools to navigate these challenging social dynamics instead of trying to step in and save the day. 

If your child comes to you with a social challenge, here are some things you can ask them:

How many times has this happened?

Have you told this child to stop the behavior?

Have you talked to your teacher about it?

Take some time to monitor the situation and if it does seem to be a repeated behavior that isn’t stopping, then contact the teacher. But if it is a safe situation, it is better for the child to talk to the other child to try to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, you can encourage them to talk to their teacher on their own. You can even email the teacher to give them the heads-up that your child will be coming in to talk to them, so that the teacher can make themselves more available. Children really love to solve their own problems when given the opportunity. It can be very empowering and help give them confidence. Many times, it’s just a matter of giving them tools on how to handle a new situation. 

Teacher Guilt

Teacher guilt is real. It is something that we and many of our colleagues have felt at one point or another in our careers. Many teachers find it challenging to balance a personal life and still be able to fulfill all the tasks required for teaching. In many cases it is the mental well being of our teachers that ends up suffering. Which isn’t healthy for the teachers or the students. 

People who become educators are always seen and praised for their selflessness. It is as if teachers have to give up so much to be a teacher, and society praises them for it. Perhaps it is because historically, the majority of teachers have been women, and in western society women and mothers often have to sacrifice for their families, that teachers now have this stigma of sacrifice. 

How many times have teachers had to take a day because we were sick, or had a family obligation, or something came up but they felt bad for leaving the students? We can tell you that it happens often. Many teachers feel guilty for taking care of themselves, taking a break during the work day, taking a day, or even switching schools or careers. This teacher guilt is real, and we want to shift this mindset. We want to help change the narrative around teaching. 

The fact is that education is a profession. We go to school for many years to be teachers, and we should not be sacrificed for the sake of the children. It starts with teachers setting boundaries and saying they will not sacrifice themselves for their job. Teachers should be compensated fairly, given the resources they need for their classrooms, and given time during the day to complete the tasks required. If teachers continue to put in extra hours for free, spend their own money on their classrooms, and forego their personal lives, society will continue to control the narrative. It’s time we make a major change.

To our fellow teachers, just know that the children will be ok if you take a day or a few days off to take care of yourself. Your students benefit from your well being. And if you are unable to balance your life in your job, your school will be ok if you decide to leave the school or the profession. Like architects, engineers, and doctors, they will find someone to replace you. If your school isn’t able to give you what you need to be successful, it’s time to look for something that will benefit you and the life you want. Teachers are not volunteers. Teachers should not be putting their health and well-being at risk for the sake of a job.

Teachers need to stop feeling guilty. And society needs to stop praising teachers for their sacrifice, and instead praise them for their excellence in professionalism, and compensate them fairly.

What to Do in the Summer: Academics

With summer vacation quickly approaching, this is the time of year when we tend to get many questions from parents about what academics should be done over the summer. We are big proponents of letting summer time be a time for play, fun, relaxation, and exploration. This can be a great opportunity for kids to explore new things, discover a passion, focus on another interest or develop a talent.

If a child is struggling and needs more support in a particular subject, we would suggest doing some academics. However the only time we would suggest getting any kind of tutoring is only when it is actually needed. There should be no rush or pressure to be ahead in school. Depending on the child, it might actually take the joy out of learning and that would be a shame.

If a child ends up being ahead naturally and is really interested in a particular subject, that’s great. You can definitely support them in this area without pushing them or MAKING them do extra work they do not want or have to do. In this case, the child should be driving it and you are either letting them do their thing or finding ways to support their curiosity.

There are things that kids can do to practice skills that are fun and rewarding for them. The key is to keep it light so that it doesn’t seem like work.

Reading

Summer is a great time for kids to discover new interests, and reading is a great place to discover new passions. Kids should learn early on that reading isn’t only for school. Reading for pleasure can be a wonderful, and good for the soul, free time activity. Going to the library and checking out books with your child is a great way to promote reading during the summer. Checking one out for yourself to read will demonstrate to your child that reading is fun, not a chore.

Journaling

It is great for kids to learn how to journal at a young age. They can write about their summer adventures, add in pictures, illustrations, or make it into a scrapbook. Not only will they learn to and begin to reflect on their day, but it allows them to practice their writing skills. While you should tell them to just write and not worry about spelling and punctuation, the more practice they get with writing the more they will grow as a writer.

Writing letters

Writing letters to family members that live in another place could be a fun activity, especially if they were expecting a letter back in the mail. If you go on vacation, you can have them write postcards to their friends or teachers. Again this is a fun way to promote, support, and build writing skills.

Things you can do in moderation

Practice Multiplication Facts

Multiplication facts are often introduced in 2nd and 3rd grade. It is helpful for children to practice multiplication facts during the summer so that they do not forget them and to keep the momentum going as they transition into the next grade. There are a variety of ways to help children practice and memorize multiplication facts. Practicing with flashcards a couple of times a week is one way, but there are also apps that make it more game like. Keep in mind that it is easier and more fun to practice these for 15 minutes a day than for 1 hour once a week.

Review

A little practice of more complex mathematical concepts, such as long division, multiplication, or fractions, whose algorithm is new to students or consists of multiple steps might be beneficial for students for whom these proved to be challenging during the school year. We only ever recommend it as a way to strengthen their math skills and return to school in September with better understanding and more self confidence in math.

Overall, summer should be about rest and relaxation. While a little bit of practice here and there is a good idea, if your child is having a blast at summer camp, a relatives house, at the beach, or anywhere your family decides to spend summer, do not stress about academic summer work.

Our big motto is that everyone should strive for balance. Summer brings great balance to children. The school year is long and full of lots of learning, responsibilities, sport games and practices, and projects. Let children have the summer to be children, eat ice cream, dig holes, swim, play and climb. Those are the main homework assignments we assign our students at the end of the year, and that is what they need to be doing during summer.

Parent Involvement

Unlike any other time in history, parents have access to so much information on parenting and children. They want to make sure that they are doing a good job as parents and that their children are thriving. To do so, many parents are incredibly involved in every aspect of their child’s life. Some researchers call this style of parenting “intensive parenting,” and it is a common form of parenting among upper-middle-class households. According to an article in The Atlantic, intensive parenting includes “Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.”

There does seem to be some positives in this style of parenting, and we understand why many aspire to achieve this level of involvement in parenting. However, as we have written in previous posts before, our jobs as parents and teachers is to raise and educate children who will grow up to be strong, resilient, balanced, well adjusted adults. As you can probably imagine, living a life where your parents constantly step in to solve all troubles, problems, or issues as a child causes some trouble as children grow into adulthood.

This level of parental involvement has begun to reach the business sector as young adults begin their careers. In the New York Times Article When Helicopter Parents Hover, Even at Work, “Within that group of employers, more than 30 percent reported parents submitting a résumé for their children; 15 percent reported fielding complaints from a parent when the company didn’t hire their child; and nearly 10 percent said parents had insinuate themselves into salary and benefit negotiations.” These parents are submitting resumes for, sitting in on interviews, and calling employers on behalf of their adult child to negotiate salaries and promotions. It sounds absurd, but it is happening today.Adults have to be responsible for a variety of things and life is full of surprises, conflicts, and obstacles that they have to navigate and work with. Unless children learn how to deal with and work through the bumps in the road then they will not know how to do this as adults. Thus they will have to rely on parents to continue to solve issues for them.

During childhood, intensive parenting includes constant communication with teachers, yearning to know every little thing that happens in class, supervising all recreational activities, scheduling and attending all extra curricular activities, and wanting to control every social situation that their child encounters. Again, we wholeheartedly understand why this appeals to parents. Parents are charged with caring for and raising someone who is quite literally the sun and the moon to them. We get it. They want to make sure that their child is doing fine, is happy, and thriving across all situations. But if an adult is always present in the life of a child doing everything for them, solving all their conflicts, and speaking on their behalf, then how will the child learn conflict resolution, coping mechanisms, responsibility, and independence that they will need as adults? Children will grow up, and it is up to us to teach them the tools to use when they reach adulthood. If we, as parents and teachers don’t do this, then we have failed them.

Here are a few things we can do as parents and teachers to help our children develop the tools they will need as adults.

1) Let children attempt to solve their social conflicts

Social dynamics are hard for everyone. Children will struggle with friendships and collaboration. That is normal. Before you step in and take charge of a situation, allow your child to try to talk it out with their peers. Children are very good about speaking about their feelings with others, listening to each other, and mediating conflicts. They might need a mediator, so you can let the teacher, coach, or counselor know in case they are needed. Letting children talk, and figure out social dynamics with their friends on their own might be uncomfortable for them, but it’ll help them gain the experience to be able to navigate social dynamics as they grow into adulthood. Not all relationships are perfect, and they need to learn how to navigate them.

2) Give children free unplanned time

21st century children are constantly being stimulated by technology, intensive reading programs, flash cards, and many extracurricular classes. This is so much so, that many children often struggle with being bored. They do not know what to do when they have nothing to do. Sometimes it is good to not have a schedule, plan, or device readily available. Giving children some time to do whatever they want will help develop their creativity and bring balance in their life. We highly recommend it!

3) Teach children to talk to the teacher themselves

Children as young as 5 can, and should, speak up for themselves. If there is an issue in the classroom, let your child talk to the teacher. If they have a question about an assignment, don’t understand a concept, would like to discuss their grade, or would like to share a thought or opinion, encourage them to speak to their teacher.  If they are on the younger side, we recommend an email before hand or as a follow up to make sure that they did indeed speak to the teacher and what the conversation yielded. However, having children stand up for themselves allows them to learn how to speak to authority figures. So that when they grow up, they are able able to speak, negotiate, and stand up for themselves in the workforce.

Of course we are firm believers in balance. Although children need to learn the tools to collaborate, resolve conflicts, speak up for themselves, and be independent by trying, and possibly failing, with using different techniques, they will still need parent and teacher support to guide them. We also understand that children need support from the caregivers in their lives. Parents can always communicate to teachers and let them know that they want to partner with them to help support their child in learning independence and responsibility. Teachers are always willing to partner in this endeavor, as it is their goal too.

Resources:

Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting

Being left out hurts: Moms, stop ‘social engineering’

‘Intensive’ Parenting Is Now the Norm in America

http://ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/ceri2-07.pdf

Why are Teachers Quitting?

It seems that more and more we are reading articles and seeing in media reports that teachers are leaving the teaching profession more than ever before. According to the Wall Street Journal, teachers are quitting at record numbers. In the span of a year, one million teachers made the decision to leave the classroom. We are personally seeing and feeling this along with our colleagues.

The question often asked is why is this happening? We will tell you why we think this is happening. The teaching profession in the 21st century burns you out quickly. It does not matter whether you work in a public, charter, or independent school, teaching is hard and the demands and expectations placed on teachers coupled with low pay and lack of respect makes different professions more appealing.

The astounding thing about this recent trend in teachers leaving the profession in high numbers and early on in their careers, is that it seems to be a rather new phenomenon. Think back to your school days, we would guess that you probably had teachers whom had been teaching 15, 20, maybe even 25 years. Even as far back as when we began our careers, our mentors had been educators at the same school for 15-20 years. These experienced educators, whom we learned so much from, were tired and ready for retirement, but they did not appear to have the exhausted burnt out feeling that many teachers feel today. They and their counterparts were not leaving teaching at the rates of today.

So, the real question is: what is so different today than teaching in the recent past?

We asked a few of our teacher friends, and this is what they said:

Administration

  • Out of touch administrators
  • Administrators who value parents over teachers
  • Constant internal communication and no action
  • Not asking teachers for their opinions before implementing new policies or curriculum
  • No priorities, just long to-do lists
  • Unrealistic responsibilities placed on teachers
  • No support in the classroom with behavior issues
  • Lack of school psychologist or therapists
  • Large class sizes
  • Limited Prep Time
  • No breaks during the day
  • Possibility of being laid off
  • Leadership tends to be reactive rather than proactive
  • Pressure to teach to the test
  • Lack of autonomy


Parents

  • Over involved parents (AKA Lawn Mower Parents)
  • Constant access to teachers through email
  • Mean emails from parents
  • No boundaries
  • Callout culture

Kids

  • The effects of technology on this generation of children
  • Disrespect from students

Other things to consider

  • Low Wages
  • Lack of respect from society
  • Emotional stress that never leaves us

Teachers have always had to balance students, their parents, and administration. However, it use to feel that the accountability was placed on the child if a challenge came up at school. Teachers, parents, and administrators would work together to come up with a plan to support students with their challenges. These days it feels like there has been a shift in this dynamic and much of the accountability is placed on teachers. This shift has left teachers in a position to constantly try to please parents, even if it means going against what we know is right for our students. While many parents are supportive and truly want to partner with teachers, the over involved parents can make it very challenging and unpleasant. Relationships with parents can make or break a school year for a teacher.

If schools want to retain great teachers, we need strong administrators who believe in balance and boundaries. We need strong leaders that have experience being teachers themselves. We need them to set clear expectations for teachers and have boundaries with parents. We need to have office hours so there isn’t constant access through email on nights and weekends. We need administrators who trust us and support us when a challenge comes up. We need to have priorities rather than a never ending to-do list. We need to have realistic expectations and fair compensation.

Teaching has always been a hard job. However, in the 21st century the demands placed on teachers without the respect or economic compensation that equates the immense and most important work done by teachers is too much. Unless there is a paradigm shift in society in regards to teachers, we are going to continue to lose wonderful educators in our classrooms.

Mentor Teachers

We all began our journeys in education as assistant teachers. It was a great way to get our feet wet, experience a real classroom, and understand what teaching was really like. Our experience in this position was absolutely wonderful. Not just because it gave us the passion for teaching, but because we were learning from master teachers for a few years before we became lead teachers. When the time came for us to take charge of our own class, we were more prepared for the challenges of teaching because of our mentors. We were lucky enough to be surrounded by teachers who had decades of experience and still had the passion and spark for teaching. They showed us that they also respected us as educators and believed that we too had something to offer.

Always remember that it is okay to ask for help, to not have all the answers, and to seek advice from others. You don’t get an award or a bonus at the end of each year that states you “did it all alone.” Just as we encourage our students to learn and grow from each other, it is just as beneficial to learn and grow from your mentors and colleagues. It is essential as a teacher to seek knowledge and growth. To do it often and without hesitation will benefit you as a teacher and person and will also benefit all the students you teach.

Quite often it is easy to disregard older or more experienced teachers, as outdated and old fashioned. While we are sure that there are some teachers that are, for the most part, experienced teachers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that a novice teacher can benefit from. These are the people that have already walked the path that you are in. Chances are they have dealt with that student behavior, given that assessment, or had that challenging parent. They have experienced many administrators and can advice you on how to deal with a challenging one. They know what to expect and they can give you advice on how to deal with challenges that arise. Our mentors never disregarded us as inexperienced and naive and that made it all the more comfortable to go to them when we needed advice or wanted to bounce an idea off of them.

Teachers with a lot of experience also have great project ideas that they have done in their classes over the years. We still use some of the projects that our mentors created and left to us to use in our own classrooms. Some have been updated for 21st century skills, and they are still engaging and relevant. Both parents and students love them. Experienced teachers also have classroom management systems that they have been developing and perfecting for years. Use these! One of the best things is having systems in your classroom that really work. Why spend time creating everything from scratch, when you know great people that have great systems? Of course you will think of great things too along your teaching journey that you can pass along to others.

At this point in our career, we are now considered experienced teachers. Something that we still cannot believe! However, we absolutely love helping and mentoring new teachers. We try to make ourselves available to new teachers, support them, advise them, and sometimes even console them.

Teaching is a wonderful and challenging career, and having someone who has walked in your shoes is so incredibly helpful. We will never forget all the teachers who mentored us, even today in our classes, we feel their energy and continue to share their ideas with our students. Find great mentors and never let go!