Help! My Colleagues Rejected My Homemade Food Gift, and I’m Offended

It’s the thought that counts.

Disgusting fruitcake and "For my colleagues" sticky note with teachers in background feeling sick

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I really appreciate the colleagues I work with at my school. There are so many ways we support each other on a daily basis. And even though I express my gratitude, there are times I want to do more.  I love to cook, and I think homemade gifts are special to give and to receive. Recently, I made my homemade food gift, and my colleagues refused. I feel kind of funny saying this, but I’m offended! Is there a reason why homemade food gifts are inappropriate for colleagues? —Flustered Foodie

Dear F.F.,

Expressing gratitude is such a powerful act! Gratitude fosters positive emotions, helps manage adversity, nurtures relationships, and so much more. There truly is transformative power in gratitude. And we are fortunate that we have many ways to show gratitude. Making a homemade gift is certainly one way to share your appreciation with your team. Your personal touch and thoughtfulness shine bright. It seems clear that your intentions are coming from a good place.

Here are a few reasons that might explain why people hesitate to accept your homemade food gift: sanitation and food restrictions. There is a heightened awareness and sensitivity in the context of COVID that make people feel unsafe to eat food prepared by someone else. Also, many people have food allergies and restrictions. Some people NEED to know ingredients and, even when ingredients are listed, they still may not risk eating something that may cause them to have a negative reaction.

So, let’s think about a few ideas for what you CAN do.

  1. Prepare your food, leave a list of ingredients, and share with others. Be OK if some people enjoy your homemade gift of food and others take a pass.
  2. Leave a note near the food gift to clearly send a message of gratitude. You might say something like, “Dear Team, I’m tremendously grateful for the way we support each other. This past year and a half has been one of the most challenging times I’ve ever experienced as a teacher. Here’s a little something special I made to say, THANK YOU. I hope this note and treats brighten your day!”
  3. Reflect on why you feel so hurt about your colleagues declining the food you made. Feeling hurt can be an opportunity to dive a little deeper. The emotional distress could be signaling a need to address some underlying anger, anxiety, sadness, or shame.  Consider doing some expressive journal writing to gain some clarity and reframe your thoughts. Reach out to someone you can trust and talk about what’s coming up for you.

Hopefully, you can get to the point where you don’t take it personally that your colleagues aren’t receiving the food treat in the way you had imagined. All you can do is control the way you react to a situation. Maybe a little self-care would feel good after those hurt and bitter feelings. Try and do something calming and nurturing for you. Consider taking a stroll, listening to music, cuddling a pet, taking a drive, or doing something creative for YOU.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m super excited that I’m starting a new position in August at a new district. I really want to get off on the right foot and show the leadership and my grade level team that I care and that I’m responsible. Here’s the conflict I’m having; my boyfriend’s very close friend is getting married in October, and my boyfriend will be in the wedding.  We need to RSVP now, and I’m hesitating because of my worry about how I’ll be perceived at work. I’m feeling self-conscious, and I’m embarrassed to take a day off right away while I’m so new in the position. I’m concerned others will make a snap judgment and think I don’t care about this position. Does it make me look bad by asking for a couple of days off as a new employee?  —Walking a Tight Rope

Dear W.A.T.R.,

Congratulations on your new position! It’s clear that you care about your work and that you want to foster strong and positive relationships. Life happens to all of us, and communication is key! Good communication helps to build understanding, empathy, and compassion, while poor communication creates misunderstandings. Communication was listed as the most sought-after skill in a 2016 LinkedIn study. So, let’s focus on communicating in an effective way.

By the time the wedding comes around, you will have had a couple of months to build a strong rapport and solid routines with your students. Your first couple of months will be a time to connect and communicate well with families and your colleagues. Taking two days off will not be detrimental to your students’ learning. In fact, this gives your students opportunities to rise up to challenges and exhibit more self-management and social awareness.

Here are a few tasks to consider in order to prepare and be professional:

  1. Be proactive and take action to get informed. Read your contract. You will most likely have one or two personal days that you can use, but there may be a specific process and protocol that you need to complete. If you are unsure, talk to your human resources department or your administration team at your site. Try not to procrastinate and find out what you need to do so that your time away goes smoothly.
  2. Create clear and well-developed substitute teaching plans. You never know when you might get sick or have something unexpected happen. In fact, many districts require teachers to have substitute teaching plans ready from the beginning of the year. Try and outline a typical schedule for the day. Include high-interest experiences such as a well-loved read-aloud experience, self-reflective journal writing, independent reading time, math in the real world, structured P.E. time outside/indoors, and science observations. Also, ask a team member for a possible substitute teacher recommendation.

Meanwhile, enjoy cultivating a positive learning culture with your students and families. Take the time to invest in your grade-level team and get to know each other. These two priorities will help you feel part of the team and establish a space where your learners thrive.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I excitedly attended my first day of orientation at my new position in an early childhood setting as a music teacher.  There were GREAT supports shared for the early childhood teaching context, including coaches and curriculum to support teachers. However, on day two of my training, I realized that I need much more specific support as a new music teacher.  I’m feeling overwhelmed and left in the dark. My new hire orientation left me with almost NOTHING! Where do I go from here?  —In the Dark

Dear I.T.D.,

What an important and enriching role you will have in the lives of children. The power of music in young children’s lives is BIG! You will be instrumental in promoting creative expression, focus, motivation, engagement, and so much more for your learners. Congratulations on your exciting new position!

Even if the new hire training didn’t feel like the best use of your time, there are many resources you can utilize as you move forward. Consider reaching out to the coaches and asking for support with setting up your learning space and options for classroom management techniques. The coaches will most likely be willing and able to help in any context. It’s always helpful to have thought partners as you imagine possibilities for your classroom community.

Also, you can ask a coach to facilitate or set up a meeting/visit with other music teachers or fine arts teachers. Networking is so impactful. When teachers collaborate and share resources, ideas, and expertise, they build a strong level of interdependence and support. There are many benefits to teacher collaboration. If you do, be sure to ask if you can take photos of the room environment and ask for ideas with scheduling and content for your lesson plans.

You might also reframe the lack of specific support as an opportunity to enjoy the freedom and creativity that comes with your new position. What are you passionate about in regards to music? What is important for the students to learn? There is a saying by Sandra Scheier, “Love what you teach and they will love it, too.”  Embrace the strong connection between a teacher’s passion and the positive influence on the students’ willingness to learn!

As you step into this role, be confident of your value! Science has shown that music has a positive impact on shaping the brain. The Great Kids organization reminds us that “Music is a language we all understand even before birth!”

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I worked really hard to attain my Master’s in Education with a teaching certification. The classes were super challenging, and student teaching out in the field was humbling as well as rewarding. Even though I was challenged and stretched, I also learned so much about myself and about effective teaching and learning.  I made a deliberate decision to BE A TEACHER! I want my students to love coming to school every day to learn. Lately, a lot of my friends are going into teaching as a fall-back career, and it’s really upsetting me.  Why do I feel so bitter? —A Little Bit Bitter

Dear A.L.B.B,

It’s understandable that you feel frustrated and bitter. You worked really hard to become a well-prepared teacher. Not only did you invest time and money, but you also invested a lot of heart! Unfortunately, many people undervalue teachers. According to a survey by the U.K. Times Educational Supplement, eight out of ten teachers do not feel valued by society. You chose a meaningful and rewarding career, and it’s clear that it’s important for you to elevate the profession and be exemplary for your learners. There is a big difference between becoming a teacher and being a GOOD teacher! We don’t need more mediocre teachers out there.

So, let’s focus on some things you can do!

  1. Notice and name your feelings. This context you described provides a great opportunity to engage in some self-reflection about the bitter and intense feelings that are coming up for you. Noticing and naming your feelings can help you feel more empowered. When you notice and name, you shift from “I AM this…” to “I am FEELING this….” This is an important technique that helps to bridge the gap between thoughts and feelings.
  2. Let go of comparisons. Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Comparing yourself to others who are entering teaching as a “fall-back” career gets you nowhere. Instead, focus on being a lifelong learner, valuing real-world learning, being an effective communicator, developing patience and compassion, being flexible, and learning effective strategies for the developmental age and content you teach.
  3. Build your own resilience. Teaching involves complex and hard times, and we as teachers need to consciously be proactive to build our emotional resilience to endure and hopefully thrive in this profession.
  4. Consider volunteering for hiring committees so that you can help select passionate, well-prepared teachers who REALLY want to be working with children. We’ve heard that saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Getting involved can have a positive ripple effect in your site and district. Give it a try!

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Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m having a case of hardcore imposter syndrome going into this year. Even though I am a well-prepared teacher, I feel a lot of self-doubt. I second guess my decisions around teaching all the time. I feel indecisive about how to handle challenging issues. It would be good to connect with other teachers, but I feel nervous talking about my imposter syndrome. I don’t want other educators to feel like I’m not doing a good job. Any tips or advice?

Help! My Colleagues Rejected My Homemade Food Gift, and I'm Offended