Help! The First Grade Class Next Door Doesn’t Social Distance at All. What Should I Do?

Proceed with caution.

5 students with masks standing 6 feet apart

This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on social distance rule-breaking, suspiciously long bathroom breaks, and more.

The teacher next door doesn’t make the kids social distance, and they’re all over each other.

I’m one of two first grade teachers at my school, and we just went back to in-person instruction. The other teacher is so excited. Don’t get me wrong—I’m excited to see my kids. But I’m really nervous. I’m not even vaccinated yet. I’m taking our school’s new social distancing protocols seriously, but my teammate? Not so much. She has the kids doing group activities, and I’ve seen her students huddled together over iPads. When their masks are down, she doesn’t correct them. I guess she just doesn’t think it’s a big deal. If I say something, I know she’ll get defensive and tell me I’m overreacting. But it’s not safe! And it’s hard for my students to be stuck in their seats and see that other kids are doing things they’re not allowed to. What can I do?—Following the Rules in First

Dear F.T.R.I.F.,

Oh wow. What your teammate is doing is not OK, but in these situations, I think it’s best to give folks the opportunity to fix something first (just like you’d want a parent to call you with a concern before going to the principal). And, schools being schools, it will get back to her that you were the one that reported her, and you’re risking that relationship.

Time for a team talk. Calmly and confidently present your concerns to your colleague. You may want to reference the CDC guidelines for operating schools during COVID-19. A personal appeal might also work. You understandably want to keep yourself and your students healthy. And she should understand how different standards applied across a grade level are problematic (whether they are academic or behavioral).


All that being said, this is about the safety and well-being of your school community. If she dismisses your concerns out of hand, you are well within your rights to escalate this to administration. Just be ready for the fallout.

Is a 20-minute bathroom break normal?  I don’t think so, but I’m embarrassed to bring it up.

I have a high school sophomore taking excessively long bathroom breaks. It’s been at the same time every day, so I’m a little suspicious. I’ve heard of kids using bathroom breaks for vaping or meeting up with boyfriends/girlfriends, but my gut says they’re in there on their cell phone. Still, if there’s a health issue, then I don’t want to call them out. I mean, my mom has Crohn’s, so I guess that’s possible? But if they’re just dinking around or doing something that’s against the rules, then I want to know. Obviously, I can’t follow them. And asking campus security or administration to check it out feels a bit intrusive. What’s a tactful way to handle this? —Strictly Business in the Bathroom

Dear S.B.I.T.B.,

That’s a tough one because as much as I think you should trust your spidey senses, I think it’s more important to respect students and their bodies. I would caution you against putting any limitations on when and how often any student can go or attaching consequences to breaks. Maybe they’re just having their daily constitutional (in which case, I’m jealous of their regularity). What concerns me most is that something else might be going on.

You may be able to find out some information (like if there’s a medical reason) by checking the student’s records or speaking with the nurse. A call to the parents to ask if there’s anything you should know may be helpful. And consider that some kids use bathroom breaks to avoid bullies, to have a quiet space, and/or to cope with anxiety or depression. If you have a good relationship with the student, try a private chat (less “busted!” and more “I’m worried about you”).

Still convinced they’re in there making TikTok videos? If you’ve ruled everything else out and they’re still spending a lot of time away from class (and learning!), then you might try taking teacher Paul P.’s advice, “When I was teaching freshmen and was having a problem with a steady stream of students leaving, often for very long periods of time, I started making them trade their phone for a bathroom pass. Problem solved instantly.”

I’m getting non-renewed. How do I finish out the year gracefully when I feel like crying most days?

I’m a first year fourth grade teacher, and my principal just told me I am not coming back next year.  I have a tough class, and I have a had hard time keeping them under control. She put me on an improvement plan, and  I’ve been working really hard to improve my classroom management. But clearly not enough. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but I’m still super upset and disappointed. I’m going to start looking for a new position, but don’t know how this will look on my record. I know I’m going to need my current principal’s recommendation, but I’m angry with her right now. I need some advice on how to get through the rest of this year. —Non-Renewed in North Carolina

Dear N.R.I.N.C.,

I’m so sorry to hear this. If our Helpline group is any indication, non-renewal happens. A lot. My best advice is to hold your head up high. It takes most of us many years to become proficient at classroom management. It’s a shame your school isn’t giving you time to develop, especially as a first year teacher. I promise this isn’t the end of the world. If your heart is in teaching, please don’t give up.

As you finish out these next few months, be careful not to burn any bridges. As you said, you’ll need the reference. Put aside your anger and ask your principal for a letter of recommendation now. You’ll want that in hand as you start to look at other options, and you do need to do that. You may be able to resign, and you’ll want to look at the pros and cons of that. If being able to say you left on your own appeals to you, you can have the effective date be the end of the school year.

Some people will tell you to phone it in, but I don’t recommend that. It’s never a mistake to do your best. Teacher Joanie B. says, “Frankly, you do it for you. You do it because integrity, honesty, professionalism, and class is who you choose to be. Life is going to throw you challenges you can’t control, but you have some choice over how you respond to those challenges, personally or professionally. You don’t look at this moment; you look at the next and the way you want to walk into your future.”

I shared thoughts on a school survey that were supposed to be anonymous, and now my principal wants to talk.

A week ago, my principal sent out a survey on school culture. Everyone on staff filled it out, and our responses were supposedly anonymous. When I was asked about leadership, I commented that ‘ he avoids making decisions until the last minute and then makes them out of urgency and that it feels like he only listens so he can tell me why I’m wrong, not with an open mind. Well, apparently that feedback wasn’t anonymous because we’re meeting to discuss it. I’m guessing it’s that last bit that he wants to talk about. Should I pretend it wasn’t me?—Not So Anonymous

Dear N.S.A.,

Yeesh. That is wildly unprofessional of your principal. While I wouldn’t play dumb (“Comments? What comments?”), I do think you have a few solid options here that don’t put you in a position of having to lie:

Option 1. Own the comments. Teacher Meghann R. advises, “Stand by what you said in the feedback. It’s sad that you’re being called out when it was supposedly anonymous, but I’d still stand by what I said. Don’t backpedal. He asked for feedback, you gave it. Keep your head high and feet firm.” Maybe this is an opportunity for your principal to grow professionally and to improve your working environment.

Option 2. Bring up the bait and switch. Teacher Angela B. says, “I would meet just to discuss the anonymity of the process! Take control of that meeting and demand answers as to why they are talking to you if it’s so anonymous.”

Whatever you choose, document everything. And when in doubt, ask your union rep to attend the meeting.

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