I am being harassed by students who took the time to Google my personal information and brag about how they found my home address. One joked about breaking into my home and harming my cat. I have to admit I am really shaken by this. After hearing chatter, I was able to figure out who the main culprit was. Unfortunately, the parents of this high school student have a lot of power in our school community. When I filled in my principal, I was blamed for letting things get out of control. I don’t even know what to say. —This Has Gone Too Far
This is scary on so many levels. How alarming that your students have threatened you and talked about violating your space and your home. And it’s disturbing to imagine anyone talking about harming someone’s pet or any animal. I’m hoping that at this point, you have gotten other people involved. Most people will tell you to file an official police report. What steps have you taken to start the follow-through process?
It’s utterly disappointing that your admin team did not step up and support you. On the contrary, they are placing an added burden on you during a time when you need protection and support. Be sure to keep records of your communication with your principal. Jot down notes about your conversations and save emails. Also, reaching out for guidance from your district staff will hopefully help, too. Since you suspect the parents will have a strong reaction, it’s important to pull in other site and district support.
It sounds like you have done some research to find out which students seem to be involved. Talking to each student individually and asking them some restorative practices questions can open up dialogue and build a more positive climate. Restorative practices aren’t a quick fix, but over time, with relentless hope and persistence, this type of discussion has the power to deescalate this unsettling and troubling context you are experiencing. Try a few of these prompts to get the conversation started.
- What happened?
- Describe what you were thinking about at the time.
- Share what you have thought of since the event.
- Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
- Reflect on what you need to do to make things right.
It sounds like your whole class is aware of the upsetting threats. Take the time to address what happened and describe how you feel with the whole group. You are a human with a full range of emotions. The kids should realize that their actions have had a major ripple effect on others, especially you. Take the time to have the kids come to common definitions for words like harassment, threat, bullying, and animal abuse. This context is an opportunity to cultivate compassion and a deeper understanding of the seriousness of the harassment.
Let your students know that you won’t tolerate this. Remember that addressing the issue does not mean you are difficult or “making waves.” If ANY retaliation happens, let the site, district, and authorities know immediately. The WeAreTeachers community is in solidarity with you as you advocate for yourself. Hang in there.
Does anyone else spend their planning period with their head in their hands because there is just no motivation to do anything besides feeling overwhelmed? And then feel terrible for wasting a planning period? What advice do you have to help me find my motivation and focus? —Head in My Hands
You asked if any of us have felt a waning sense of motivation and lack of focus while experiencing an increase in overwhelm. The answer is “YES.” Most of us can relate on a first-hand basis to the feelings you describe. Low motivation, lack of focus, and overwhelm feed off each other. We ALL have difficulties coping with issues in our lives. And here we are living in the context of a continued global pandemic with another contagious variant. The dread of more restrictions and increased risk of infection in our school settings are most likely contributing to that “head in hands” feeling.
In addition to the ideas shared here, consider talking to a therapist because a lack of motivation can be a symptom of depression. Some symptoms of depression include ongoing feelings of sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in activities you have enjoyed, feeling guilty, lowered self-confidence, difficulty concentrating. It helps to delve into emotional granularity with a professional and gain perspective on ideas to feel more balanced.
The good news is there are ways to consciously build motivation and focus. One key idea is to believe in yourself. Research shows that when we develop our own positive self-image, a brain chemical called dopamine is released. Dopamine is associated with motivation and reward. So, working on your mindset and internal narrative about yourself is a place to begin boosting your motivation. The hard part is getting started and keeping it going.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, she helps to map out ideas to cultivate motivation and creativity. Elizabeth describes how the word “passion” can often induce feelings of stress and pressure for many of us. “At some point in your life, you were told, ‘Chase your passion.’ Not everyone knows how to answer that command.” So starting with following your curiosities might feel more doable and incremental.
What have you been curious about lately? Take a minute to do a quick brainstorm. Maybe there is a podcast or book you heard was interesting or a recipe you’d like to try. Possibly, you get curious when you look closely at nature and notice the veins of a leaf or wonder about the ocean tides. Perhaps your creativity is prompted by the way the rainwater runs down your windshield. Whatever makes you curious is the birth of your creativity, and creativity feeds motivation, focus, and purpose.
It’s easier said than done, but try and catch yourself from the negative self chatter like, “Oh, I just wasted my planning period. What’s wrong with me? Get your act together.” Instead, try flipping the script and realize that you probably need a very much-deserved break coupled with some inspiration to buoy your spirits. I hope you seek out and explore your curiosities while also surrounding yourself with beauty. Rudy Francisco, an American poet, inspires me. How about you?
Isn’t it amazing,
the way beautiful
things find us,
climb into our laps
intimidate the worst
parts of our day
and only ask
that we notice them?
I recently resigned. My last day was December 21. I feel like I am abandoning some students, avoiding verbal abuse from others, and honestly can’t watch any more disruptive students steal all the time from those learning. The environment is one where no admin interventions are working, yet nothing new is tried, and students are sent back to class to continue poor behavior. I tried everything, and the only thing they responded to was extreme anger and yelling. I can’t live in that space. I treat others how I want to be treated. How can I get districts to see value in an old soul kind of new teacher?—Green but Golden
It sounds like you were immersed in an environment that was taking a toll on your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Even though you may feel some mixed emotions about your decision, you followed through and kept your needs at the forefront. Hopefully, you are finding ways to protect your downtime and surrender to some rest to help you refresh and get motivated to apply for new positions in other districts.
Over the past couple of years, many teachers have written in and shared that behavior issues are on the rise. In all sincerity, the pandemic has brought the world to its knees. School cultures and levels of teacher efficacy are strained big time. In a survey by Horace Mann Education Company, 27 percent of teachers surveyed, compared to the pre-Covid amount of 8-9 percent, admit to considering leaving the profession or taking a leave of absence. It’s not just new teachers that are experiencing the turmoil in the classroom; teachers with all levels of experience are too.
When educators don’t feel supported by their administrators, frustration and feelings of powerlessness often take hold. It’s like teaching with the weight of a piano on your back. What would happen if there were more bold actions from our leadership teams? Imagine more advocacy for mental health support for families AND teachers. We can’t keep trying to solve these dynamic issues with the same pre-Covid solutions.
As you prepare for interviews, consider what you have learned from your experiences. Be aware of the type of language you choose to use when you describe your teaching experiences. For example, saying, “I tried everything, and the only thing they respond to is extreme anger and yelling,” may bury your skills of creative problem solving and growth mindset.
We want you to shine and use language as a tool that represents your beliefs and skill for creating learning conditions with your students. We all think and say things that, at times, have unintended consequences. I wanted to point this out so you can shape your interview and leverage the power of language.
Many students are emerging in their self-control, social awareness, and relationship skills. And it’s overwhelming and exhausting to deal with. A tip for your interviews is to describe the student behaviors. For example, you might say, “when students work in collaborative groups, they interrupt each other, raise their voices, and shove each other.”
Threading in strength-based language when talking about your approach will represent your belief in students’ potential to grow. This could sound like, “I know that behavioral issues like this don’t change overnight, so I’m focusing on engaging in more modeling about what respect looks like, sounds like, and feels like in group work. Also, I’m working on having daily classroom meetings to get to the deeper issues of valuing multiple perspectives in the room.”
For all the teachers who are deciding to pivot into new workspaces, I wish you grace and patience during your transitions and many seeds of hope for inspiration, joy, and feeling like you are making a positive impact.
I have a 14-year-old student who has been absent because he lost his father suddenly. He should be returning to class this week. I excused all of his work and emailed, reminding him I am here to support him. My question is, how can I be helpful when he returns? Should I bring up his loss or not bring it up and just support him academically? I don’t want to trigger anything painful for him. What is the best way to handle this? I feel for him. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a parent so young and so suddenly. —Compass of Compassion
I can feel your compassion in the words you shared. You are putting your student first, being conscious and considerate, and showing up for the hard stuff. Thanks for bringing up this tender life circumstance for us to consider.
Loss is so personal. Even writing this makes my throat constrict. My dad died over 16 years ago, and I still have moments of grief that sweep through me. And, do you know what has made a major impact on me? Connection. Feeling seen, heard, and understood has made the big feelings more manageable. When people around me hold space for my varied emotions, without trying to diminish them or make them go away, I’m able to feel them and allow them to pass. My advice is to reach out to your student. Let him know that you are aware of what happened and you are here to support him.
When my students experience especially intense life circumstances, I let them know that I’ll be checking in on them every couple of days. There’s a fine balance of checking in and not forcing kids to talk. Remember the power of your body language to communicate the care you feel. Your check-in can sound something like, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I’m here for you. How does it sound to take a walk during lunch or come to our classroom to talk or draw? I’m here for you, and I’m wondering how you are feeling today.”
Also, reach out to other teachers and the school counselor so the support system can widen. For your in-classroom support, be extra aware during your classroom meetings and help navigate other students’ reactions to the loss of your students’ father. You might suggest something like, “Thanks, Juan, for sharing about what’s going on in your life. That sounds like a lot to manage. Our class community cares about you. How do you feel about other students writing you cards to share their support?”
As we talk about loss, maybe some of our WeAreTeachers community are feeling some grief well up too. Here’s a poem about themes of loss and how ordinary things can touch those tender places of grief.
The usual subject by Simon Darragh
One grows used to the loss itself;
it is the details catch, and scourge:
the extra tea-cup on the shelf;
the kitchen table, grown too large.
Not in sorrow for wasted days
of love unspoken,
but by trivia such as these
the heart is broken
Thank you for putting compassion at the forefront of teaching. The Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education defines compassion as “the sympathetic awareness of others’ distress, coupled with a desire to alleviate suffering. It’s empathy plus prosocial action to improve the condition of others.” Imagine what would happen if each and every one of us educators did that for ourselves, each other, and our students?
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a parent that writes me angry paragraphs every time I give her 1st-grade child anything other than an A. She happens to be a high school educator. I’ve always felt a little nervous about having other teachers’ children. You’d think we’d be more supportive and understanding of each other, but it doesn’t feel that with this parent/teacher. What options can you think of to help me?
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Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson