Help! My Colleague Stole My Prize Box

What ever happened to the Golden Rule?

Illustration of bulletin board with Wanted and Missing posters

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I love making students feel excited and special. So, I decided to invest some money to make a birthday prize box. The other day, another teacher came into my class frantic, saying she forgot a child’s birthday and asked if she could have a card and borrow my prize box for her student. I obliged, but later on, the box was returned to me empty. She decided to let ALL the kids choose something because, apparently, it was unfair for the other students to watch the birthday boy enjoy his treat. She said she’d replace the stuff.

A month passed, and she still hadn’t, so I replaced it myself. Then she asked to borrow a card and the box again shortly after she saw I replenished it. I, of course, said no, because of what happened the last time, and she got mad and told me not to ask to borrow glue sticks or scissors in the future, which I think is unfair because those are school resources that we’re meant to SHARE. She even told me I was ‘over the top’ with gifts. Ugh! How do I deal with this? —What Happened to the Golden Rule?

Dear W.H.T.T.G.R,

It sounds like you are finding ways to make kids feel special and create a sense of belonging in your classroom. Teacher Michael Dunlea writes about the value and significance for teachers to communicate that every student matters. “We can never take for granted the importance of our students feeling they belong. In a world that does not yet fully welcome everyone, schools can reinforce existing divisions or provide students a safe community that feels like a second home.”

Teachers often balance a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems in their classrooms. Although I’m not a huge fan of extrinsic rewards systems, I appreciate your intention and desire to celebrate and excite your students. The bigger issue here is the lack of respect and responsibility from your colleague. The hypocrisy is deep and wide coming from a teacher who also sets the tone for a classroom community. This is just plain old rude and wrong.


We all encounter people in our lives who take advantage of us. And it takes awareness and courage to develop your own self-worth. You did a great job of speaking up and creating some boundaries. I love your enough is enough approach. You invested the time and money to set up a way to celebrate your students. Additionally, you were generous and shared your special resources with your colleague. Frankly, it’s immature and petty for this teacher to say that she’s not going to share school supplies with you. Really?! It sounds like you are ready to move forward from this funky context. Just hold your boundaries!

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’ve been working as a teacher’s assistant for about 20 years at an elementary school. I love helping teachers. And I especially love getting to know the students. Patience and kindness are important to me. I try and make every student I work with know I care. Lately, the lack of respect from the teachers and students is making me feel heavy. Teachers are tired. I get that. School during COVID is hard on everyone. Recently, I was terribly disrespected by a student. The student ridiculed me for my Spanish accent. He also made comments about me eating beans. I want to rectify the problem, but I’m not sure what to do. Any advice? —I Can’t Ignore This

Dear I.C.I.T.,

You are 100 percent right. You can’t ignore this, and neither can we. I’m sorry that you are enduring some tough times at the school you have been working at for so many years. When we are in working in conditions that feel demoralizing, it can be hard to stay motivated. So yes, you definitely need to share what happened and make this a learning opportunity for the student. Allowing racist comments like this to go unnoticed perpetuates discrimination and marginalization for you and can also embolden this student to attack others.

Take a moment to write down everything you remember from that interaction. What happened before the student said those comments? What exact words were said? How did you react and feel? Were there any witnesses? Now, consider who you trust at your school. Who knows you well and knows your dedication and positive track record? It helps to have an ally during such an emotionally charged situation. It’s important to inform the administration about this issue. You also might want your support colleague to join you for moral support. Additionally, districts usually have an equity, diversity, and inclusion team. Consider reaching out to them to get some additional strategic support.

It’s likely we will all witness or experience racist comments in our lives. It can be hard to know how to respond to racist remarks. And the student’s racist comments need to be shut down. Here is some language that may support you if this ever happens again or if you witness this type of prejudice and marginalization again.

    • That’s not how we do things here.
    • That’s not funny to me.
    • That was not necessary.
    • I need a moment to process that.
    • Let’s be careful that our words are respectful of everyone.
    • Racial jokes are not OK.
    • That comment makes me uncomfortable.
    • Maybe you don’t realize the impact your words have had.

It’s critical the student knows the words they said were extremely hurtful and will not be tolerated. It’s also our responsibility to use this context as an opportunity to promote reflection and learning. Deliberately building student self-awareness and compassion is necessary. If you are willing, I wonder if a counselor or administrator could help to facilitate a meeting with you and the student to share what was hurtful, how you felt, and what you need in order to move forward.

When comments are not addressed, “…kids breathe this racially charged air — and if their parents and teachers don’t help to explain to them what race means (and what it doesn’t), kids start to create their own narratives.”

Thank you for bringing up this absolutely critical issue. By sharing with our WeAreTeachers community, you are promoting reflection and the potential for change. Here’s a poem I wrote that emphasizes how our decisions have the potential for justice.:

At any moment
You have the choice to
Push away prejudice
Block bias
Inspire inclusion
Harness humanity
Lift up liberation
Every story
Every human
Just us
—Elizabeth Pappas

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m dealing with a lot of issues around giving consequences to students and having parents not support my decision. I’m a high school teacher, and it’s gotten to the point that I can’t even give lunch detention without a parent wanting to come and pick their child up from school to take them home instead of serving the detention. I don’t give many detentions, but I do need to give consequences for repeated behaviors like wandering/skipping class. I feel like I can’t do my job effectively, and normally I would have the support of my parents. What can I do? —Fly Away Helicopter Parents

Dear F.A.H.P.,

Most educators wholeheartedly agree that establishing a calm and safe classroom environment while helping students to build self-discipline and responsibility is a primary goal. Cultivating a positive classroom culture is foundational to all academic endeavors. It’s understandable that you feel frustrated and maybe even undermined by some of the parents.

It’s vital for educators and families to work together to support the kids. We all know that kids show more pro-social behaviors and academic proficiency when families and educators have reciprocal communication and respect. Unfortunately, by rescuing their high school student from the consequences of their behavior, parents do a major disservice to their children.

The Raising Champion Families organization emphasizes how “removing consequences may bring short-term peace, but it results in long-term problems. The question for every parent is this: are you parenting only for today, or are you parenting for the long-term impact on your child? If parents don’t let their kids learn from consequences, they will grow up to be irresponsible, lazy, dependent on others.”

I wonder how many teachers truly believe that high school detention is having a positive effect on students’ behavior and learning. Nick Morrison wraps words around the ineffectiveness of detention at schools. “Instead of changing behavior, these established punishments create resentment and damage the relationship between student and teacher.” Let’s be honest, are detentions really having the positive effect we are hoping for? It’s worth doing a bit of research as a staff and rethinking the school-wide approach. A place to begin is to discuss the difference between punishment and logical consequences.

In the meantime, when kids make negative choices, your follow-through is critical. If you have to continue using the detention approach, think of ways to promote reflection while at detention. Maybe you can squeeze in a few one-on-one conversations or written reflections to promote student self-awareness and solid decision-making.

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Dear WeAreTeachers:
Well, there is a first time for everything! I just heard from a mom that her child is NOT to use her Chromebook at all! She is worried the computer emits radiation that is harmful to her daughter. The email from the mom went on to say that all her teachers need to make copies of assignments and provide everything in pen and paper for her daughter. This is a big ask! Did she meet with any teachers? No. Did she meet with the principal? No. Is she sending email after email and being pushy? Yes.  How can I deal with this?

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Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson

Help! My Colleague Stole My Prize Box