Dear WeAreTeachers: I just finished my first year of teaching at 33 years old. I teach math at an alternative high school. Maybe it’s since the shutdown happened last spring or since I got married or since I started teaching, but I feel so frumpy! I was a bartender for years and years and would put effort into my appearance for tips. But since the pandemic, my hair has grown out, and I haven’t colored it for more than a year. And then I started teaching high schoolers, and I’ve consciously tried to make myself look presentable but not “impressive,” if that makes sense? Anyway, I just feel like I’ve lost my mojo in the last year or so. Or it’s shifted, and I can’t identify what my mojo is exactly anymore. How do I get it back? —Shabby Not Chic
It’s easy to say, “girl, wash your face,” but the fact is that a lot of this is mental. I know we all had enough of the self-care messaging over the past year, but truly, taking time for yourself (whether that’s taking a bath, going for a walk, or dressing in a way that makes you feel confident) can help with these feelings. Journaling and counseling can also be helpful ways to explore why you aren’t feeling yourself right now.
Appearances aren’t everything, but how you look can make a difference in how you feel. I talked to middle school teacher Caleb Timothy, who also has experience in working in the service industry. He said, “Find a ‘uniform’ that makes you feel comfortable but also respectable. I can tell you have an outgoing personality, so match your closet with your classroom.” Caleb also suggests exploring teacher styles on social media and going thrifting.
Above all, go easy on yourself. Teachers are pretty much unanimous that this has been one of the most challenging periods in recent history. We’re all emerging from our COVID selves and habits at the moment, and what that looks like (and how long it takes) will be different for everyone. And if you feel like your career is the thing holding you back from your true self, that’s worth exploring, too. Hang in there. I’m rooting for you.
Dear WeAreTeachers: I’ve been teaching for five years now, and this class of juniors that I have for English is a straight-up nightmare. They’re disruptive and disrespectful, and I spend more time managing behavior than I do actually teaching. I just feel like they continuously set the bar lower and lower by the day. We’re coming up on the end of the school year, and I can’t tell you how tempted I am to tell them the truth—that they are, by far, the worst class I’ve had in my entire teaching career. I feel like it would be really satisfying in the moment, but I’ll probably regret it in the long run. What do you think? —Preparing My Mic Drop
That sounds like a rough group, but I would definitely caution you against acting on this impulse. I asked award-winning teacher Richard Kennedy to weigh in, and he advised, “You will definitely regret it! The absolute last thing that you want to do is say anything out of emotion or frustration.
“It’s obvious that you care about them, and even though they don’t show it, trust and believe that they know. In my experience, the kids who have given me the most hell are the ones that come to see me every day the following year, want me to know how they’re doing, etc. Some have even apologized. They will always remember how you made them feel.”
Take a deep breath and push through the end of the year. And let me share what a mentor once told me—no matter how bad things get, you are always reaching at least one student. And that kid doesn’t need to feel guilty by association.
Dear WeAreTeachers: I’m STILL in school, and at this point, I’ve resorted to watching movies with my second graders. I mentioned this to my colleagues during recess and told them what I planned on showing. One had a very strong reaction to my choice because fourth grade does a novel study on Kate DiCamillo, and I wanted to show Because of Winn Dixie. A few minutes after recess, my principal emailed me as I was starting the movie to ask if I was watching something because he wanted to make sure it was rated G. It’s pretty clear my colleague tattled on me, and I’m pissed. I’m also being non-renewed (my colleague only knows that I resigned), so this just sucks. How do I deal with it? —Snitches Get Stitches
It sucks to feel like someone told on you. But seeing as you’re leaving anyway, I think the best course of action is to let it go. I don’t see anything positive that could come out of calling your colleague out.
I spoke to a fellow second grade teacher Tanya Jackson, and she said, “If your principal didn’t say anything about you sharing the video, try not to worry about it.” It sounds like the concern was around the movie’s rating as opposed to you showing a movie at all or a conflict with fourth grade curriculum.
Consider this gentle encouragement to think about how you’re using this time. I know it’s the end of the year (and what a year it’s been), and you’re exhausted. Tanya advised, “Keeping a routine with students is important. If you’re going to show movies, try to link them to something educational. You don’t want to just to fill up time with students.”
Dear WeAreTeachers: I am a first year teacher at a private school. Overall, I had a really good year. At the end of our last day of school, I had to have an exit meeting with my admin team. I was feeling pretty good about it based on what colleagues and parents had said about my teaching. When my admin asked me to do some self-reflection about my year, I told them I wanted to continue working on classroom management and finding fair and consistent ways to handle problems when they arise. After suggesting this, they laid into me for about 30 minutes about how I need to build better relationships with my students. This came as a shock because I honestly feel like that’s one of my strengths. They also brought to my attention that I received five parent complaints, which I’d never heard about before. I’m feeling very discouraged and like I don’t want to return to this school. I need some outside perspective. Is this feedback a result of bad administration or bad practice? —Exit Wounds
Oh wow. They really caught you off guard. As far as I’m concerned, that was super shady of them to hold that feedback for your exit interview. But that’s coming from a teacher. I felt like this needed an admin perspective, so I asked my go-to principal, Kela Small.
She said, “My first reaction says this is a result of bad administration. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have been aware of any parent complaints. Waiting until the end of the year gives you no chance to address any issues or learn from them. Everyone has something they can get better at, but if your admin keeps you in the dark about it, you can’t fully own your development.
“It doesn’t sound like this school is interested in helping you become a better teacher. Those kinds of places squeeze the life out of even great teachers. I’d start applying for a new job if you can do so without jeopardizing your current position. And in the interview, ask how admin supports teachers who are committed to sharpening their skills.”
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Dear WeAreTeachers: One of my students nominated me for an inspiring teacher award last week. I was not expecting it at all. We were at an assembly, and I had to give an acceptance speech on the spot and couldn’t stop crying. Through my tears, I said kind words about the student and her character. The student then gave a short speech about how my class made her a better math student and fall in love with STEM. Later, l felt awkward because no one else cried during their speeches. I feel like everyone was judging me, and I just know they’re gossiping about me being too emotional for a teacher. What should I do?