Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’ve been teaching for 14 years now—six as a Special Education teacher and eight as an Intervention teacher. I love my job, and I’m good at it. I am consistently rated highly, I put students first, and I work well with my colleagues. Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more and more about moving out of Special Ed and into General Ed. I feel like the skills I’ve learned, such as being a responsive teacher, promoting access, implementing differentiation strategies, and monitoring progress, are needed in general education too. So I was really excited when a third-grade position opened up in my building. It’s been a while since I’ve been in an interview, but I’m ready for a change. I applied, and even though I thought the interview went great, I wasn’t hired. Instead, they hired one of my colleagues from the SpEd program. She just finished her second year as a teacher, and I’m surprised, angry, and feeling let down. How do I go into next year knowing I have to work in her room? —Passed Over

Dear P.O.,

Setbacks are hard, and it’s normal for anger and frustration to emerge when you feel you have been wronged and under-valued. I also know that with your years and type of experience, you have developed some skills to help you get through this hard time. Now you have a great opportunity to strengthen your emotional resilience even more. You’ve heard the saying, fall down seven times and get up eight, right?

First, consider mustering up the courage to request feedback on your interview. Feedback loops are great ways to gain self-awareness, stretch, and grow skills and confidence. Start by expressing gratitude for the leader’s time and try saying something like, “Thank you for considering me as a candidate. Would you be willing to provide feedback related to my application and interview? I’d love to learn what you consider to be some of my strengths. Is there an area where you think I need to grow? What do you remember most about me? I’d love to be considered for other positions in the future.” Trust that your unique prior experiences as a Special Education and Intervention teacher will be valued. In your next interview, focus on how you have honed your skills to differentiate for the variability of a FULL range of learners. That’s HUGE and so needed.

Meanwhile, if you do end up in that challenging co-teaching context, focus on the kids. As an Intervention teacher, remember you are somebody’s rainbow in their day. You are helping the learners who often feel marginalized be seen and heard while building conditions to nurture their self-efficacy and competence. Show up and be present. Let your growth mindset shine bright, and trust in yourself. Remember, you can do hard things!

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m teaching summer school for eighth graders, and I have one of my former students from before the pandemic. This is a kid who was suspended multiple times last year, so many teachers were just “done” with them, but we have a pretty good relationship. I’ve always made an effort to make this student feel seen and heard. Yesterday, when I asked my students how their weekend was, she said, “It was bad!” When I asked her what happened, she replied, “My brother overdosed a day after he got out of prison and a year after my niece died of the same thing.” My heart absolutely broke for her. I was at a loss for words. I was grateful she had a friend there to hug her. It just goes to show you never know what’s going on with someone. Any advice for how to support her? —Teaching Through Trauma

Dear T.T.T.,

You are an absolute gift to this student and all of the learners under your wings. Take a moment to feel proud of the learning conditions you have created in your classroom. You clearly value relationships, and your student felt brave to share about the troubling experiences in her life. Your compassionate, responsive approach is leading you to the path of being a trauma-informed teacher

Trauma and violence impact learning in a BIG way. When humans sense threats and danger, our brains shift from being receptive to learning to focusing on basic survival needs. It’s likely that your student may be distracted, jumpy, and having a hard time caring about the learning. Make sure to check in frequently. Here are some simple ways to connect. Try saying, “I’ve been thinking about you. How are things going? I’m here if you would like to talk. You are definitely not alone during this hard time.” Holding space without judgment is super challenging. Be gentle to yourself if you feel drained and overwhelmed with the intensity of the context. Remember that you are absolutely making a difference in this young person’s life. 

Reach out to your school or district counselors to set this student and family up with psychological resources and support. You can’t do it alone! Let other teachers know what’s going on. By communicating with other teachers, you are creating a strong web of support for this precious student. Life is hard and so much better when we support one another.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m an experienced teacher, but I took last year off. I have three kids, age four and under, and with the pandemic, I just couldn’t manage consistent childcare for them. What a crazy year! I have so much empathy for the teachers and the parents. I’m back in the hiring pool now. I want to work, and I really need to work, too.  I’m about to have my first set of interviews for the upcoming school year. I’m feeling nervous and insecure about a few things.  I’m wondering if I should be proactive in disclosing my reason for not teaching last year. I don’t want it to seem like I was “too lazy” to put up with the challenge of the last school year. Do I owe anyone an explanation? Or should I only say something if they ask? —Resume Gap

Dear R.G.,

Raising three kids under the age of four during the pandemic is a monumental feat! There is NOTHING lazy about your decision to do what was best for your family. You definitely did not avoid challenges by staying home with your young children. I’m sure you learned a lot of insights and strategies that can be applied to the classroom. We need to stop feeling self-conscious about prioritizing our families. 

Here are some ideas to focus on for the interview. Do a power pose before going into your interview. For real! During the interview, focus on responding to the questions with vivid examples from your prior teaching experiences. Be specific. For example, “In my classroom, I focus on building a strong sense of community by… Some ways that I promote student engagement include… I’m proud of the strong rapport I build with families. My families will always remember…” Make the panel visualize your exemplary practices. Here are a few topics to weave into your responses: social-emotional learning competencies, handling challenging caregiver situations, collective teacher efficacy, student engagement, progress monitoring, and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

And, be proactive! Share what you learned about yourself while you took on the challenge of staying home with your children. What skills and dispositions did you develop while you were at home caring for your three children? I bet you honed your emotional resilience, patience, communication, intentional language, active listening, and negotiation of ideas. You’ve got this!

Dear WeAreTeachers,
2020-21 was my first year of teaching. My school year was completely virtual, and I finished my certification program during it. It was hard and frustrating! It was challenging to build strong relationships and to monitor student understanding.  But I also felt like I did a great job innovating, making learning fun, and learning various technology platforms. Now, fast forward to teaching summer school. Even though I wanted a break after that hard year, I stepped up to support the kids. I had an emergency at home, and a veteran teacher came to take over my class for me. I communicated some ideas for lesson plans and then focused on my emergency situation. The kids were singing my praises, and the teacher asked them, “Why do you even like her so much? If she’s so great, tell me what you’ve learned.” She went on to tell them that she was a certified teacher, so they’d be doing things her way and “actually learning something.” I just don’t know how I feel about her challenging if I can even teach. Is it worth mentioning ,or is she just being petty, and I should let it go? —Plenty Proficient

Dear P.P.,

It takes a lot of courage to enter into the teaching profession during a global pandemic! Big congrats on completing your certification during super challenging and distressing times. It’s astounding that ANY teacher would talk negatively about other people to students. I’m certain that this does NOT align with any part of your classroom culture or the school’s vision and mission. 

However, some colleagues we work with are emerging in their own emotional intelligence. This individual is not showing empathy or respect and is not considering the impact of their words and actions on others. And yet, we humans are hardwired to register negative stimuli faster than positive or negative experiences. This is hurtful language, and it’s normal to feel upset. Try not to dwell on those brash, negative comments, and definitely don’t let them erode what you have worked so hard to achieve. 

Here are three things you can do.

  1. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that are coming up for you. Notice and name them. Write about your feelings to untangle your thoughts and bring clarity.
  2. Create opportunities for your students to reflect on their learning to dispel the assumption they haven’t learned anything. This will motivate your learners and help boost your confidence that the kids ARE learning with YOU.
  3. If you choose to talk to this individual, consider saying, “Are you open to debriefing how the day went? I’m working hard to build a respectful classroom culture. I’d like to share what I learned and how I felt.” 

Do you have a burning question? Email us at askweareteachers@weareteachers.com.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m really struggling to adjust to summer after this insane year of teaching. I taught virtually for most of the year and then spent the last few months hybrid. It just really sucked the life out of me as it did so many teachers. And now that I’m off, I don’t know what to do with myself. I still feel stressed and worried. I dream about school every night.  I’m completely exhausted from the last year and a half, so you’d think I’d be enjoying the break. It’s always an adjustment from full-time teaching, but if feels so different this time. Can you help me figure out how to actually enjoy this time before I have to jump back in?