Welcome to Dear Love, Teach, WeAreTeachers’ new advice column. In each installment our columnist Love, Teach will tackle your burning questions. Up this week: colleague trash-talking and not connecting with the age group you teach. Have a question for Love, Teach? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Colleague Is Trash-Talking Me to Students
Dear Love, Teach: One of my colleagues repeatedly makes small, aggressive comments about me to our mutual students. Things like “well, of course, Mrs. X does it that way” or “Lord knows I wouldn’t want to step on Mrs. X’s toes.” But you know, in a sarcastic tone of voice. To be honest, I think she is jealous, but these comments keep finding their way back to me. Help!
Welcome to one of the more bizarre corners of the teacher universe. For some reason, in a profession where we regularly practice being super-clear with our students about what we need, some teachers can’t do the same things when it comes to relationships with their adult colleagues. And they resort to pretty immature behavior.
Before you go into a confrontation with guns blazing, I see one of two possible situations here. 1) Your coworker actually has some negative thoughts about you and is passive-aggressively remarking on this to your shared students. Or 2) something is being lost in translation between what your students are hearing and what they’re saying to you.
But regardless of what’s actually happening here, your coworker needs to know that your students are interpreting and parroting her words is unprofessional behavior. I would approach her privately and say something like, “Hey, I really value you as a coworker and I want to be transparent about something that has come up. Some of our shared students have suggested that you’re making comments about me in your class that seem to paint me in a negative light. I obviously wanted to hear your side of the story first before jumping to any conclusions.”
This shows your coworker that her comments have reached you, but you respect her enough to still listen to her point of view. Hopefully, the behavior stops here, but if it doesn’t, you can move forward up the chain of command with the documentation that you tried talking to the source privately first.
Dear Love, Teach: I’m Scared of My Middle Schoolers
I hate to admit it, but I’m a seventh grade teacher who has a hard time connecting with tweens and teens. Younger kids are more my jam. But I’m sort of stuck in this position for the time being. (Husband in the military, not a lot of options in our current location.) I really want to like my students AND my job more, but I feel stuck. Do you have any pointers or tricks for me?
My first trick is this: be kind to yourself! It’s not uncommon to be in a teaching position that isn’t your perfect fit. And there’s nothing wrong with connecting better with a different age group. If you hated kids or teaching, that would be a different story, but it sounds like your intentions are pure and that you’re trying.
My second trick is this: I have never, ever liked a student less as a result of getting to know them.
Now, how are you supposed to get to know your students in a meaningful way when you’re already a week behind on curriculum and have 35 students per class?
One of my top recommendations is having students journal regularly in a low-risk, not-directly-related-to-academics way. Maybe once a week, take five minutes and have students journal on an interesting question, like, “If you only got to have four snack foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?” or “What’s the weirdest dream you’ve had?” or “Explain to me what Tik-Tok is. I have no idea.” When you “grade” these journals once a month, just respond back with quick notes—a smiley face, an “LOL” or a “Me too!!”—but make sure you respond to each entry.
Eventually you can ask “How is school going?” or “What’s something you think about a lot?” or “What’s one problem in the world you wish you could solve?” to get to know your students on a deeper level when that trust is there. To this day, these journals are not only my favorite thing to “grade,” but are one of the best things I’ve implemented as a teacher. Bonus: informal writing practice!
Have a question for Love, Teach? Email it to email@example.com.