Dear We Are Teachers,—overworked and overpaid
I got my master’s in Curriculum and Instruction this past May. I knew it would mean a pay increase and saw the bump on my first paycheck plus our cost-of-living raise this year. This week, I got an email from the district saying they have been overpaying me and because it was my responsibility to report it, they said I can either pay it back or work Saturdays until the debt is paid. What is this nonsense? I’m not in a union so that resource is unavailable to me.
Unfortunately (and please know that I write this with total sensitivity to your situation), employers have the right to demand money back that they’ve overpaid.
Here’s what I would do:
First, ask for documentation to prove you were overpaid, including the exact amount you should have been paid. This should include the district’s salary schedule, including step increases for degrees conferred. That way, you can ensure they’re telling the truth as well as monitor future paychecks.
Then, ask your principal if they’d be willing to approve that you work Saturdays remotely. You know, from your home.
Keep me posted. I will eat my hat if your principal wants to come in on Saturdays to babysit you for a mistake that wasn’t your fault.
Dear We Are Teachers,
One of my coworkers on our 7th-grade history team has a weird hill he’s willing to die on. He’s been teaching for over 30 years and calls every student “sir” or “ma’am.” With national conversations about gender fluidity in recent years, he’s doubled down on his “right” to refer to students however he wants. This year, two students complained to me—one said she doesn’t want to be called “ma’am” or “sir,” and one said she’s concerned for a trans classmate who dreads this teacher’s class. I think it’s time I confront him, but what do I say that won’t make him double down?—it’s a no from me, sir
He will probably double down. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still confront him.
Depending on where you teach, you might have laws or guidelines protecting LGBTQ+ youth, or you might have ones pressuring teachers to “out” their students. Keep these things in mind as you talk to your coworker and keep your students anonymous. Here’s what you could say:
“I need to talk to you about something that concerns me. Some of your students have told me they feel uncomfortable in your class because of how you call them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am,’ but they’re afraid to tell you because of how you might react. I believe you are the type of teacher who wants students to feel at ease in your class. I think it’s time to start calling students only by their names.”
He will probably say no. That doesn’t mean you can drop the issue.
If it’s a school expectation to respect students’ chosen identities and he refuses to make this change, you need to speak to an administrator. If it’s not a school expectation, back your students and help them navigate the process to escalate this concern. Or if they don’t feel comfortable, do it yourself.
Something tells me if he’s this insistent about the “sir” or “ma’am” thing, there are other ways we’re seeing a narrow-minded framework of who deserves respect play out in his classroom.
Dear We Are Teachers,
I am very conscious of the discrimination against girls and students of color between the lines of a lot of dress codes, so as a high school teacher, there’s very little I enforce. However, this year I have a student who wears extremely short skirts and doesn’t appear to care about her underwear being on display when she flops into the class beanbag, bends over to dig into her backpack, or sits on a classmate’s desk. Her classmates have commented on this, but she dismisses them or accuses them of being a prude, or asks, “Why were you looking?” I’m a male teacher and feel uncomfortable thinking about the implications that could be raised if I suggest she ought to dress differently, but I also feel extremely uncomfortable when I see what I feel is way too much of her body. Or am I part of the problem for feeling uncomfortable? Help!—code red
Dress codes are super-tricky territories. You are right to question your own reaction. I’m glad you’re aware of the discriminatory nature of many dress code policies. It’s great that your student feels confident and empowered about her body and what she chooses to wear. But it’s just not appropriate for any student’s underwear to be on display at school. If you think about it, you could also get in trouble for not intervening.
It could just be that your student needs a reminder on best practices while wearing skirts from someone who isn’t a peer. But it could also be an indication of a more worrisome, attention-seeking behavior. I had a similar-behaving student once, and the combined efforts between her parents, me, and a counselor uncovered some really powerful and negative beliefs we’re all very glad we caught before they got worse.
I agree that you’re not the right person to chat with her. Ask your school counselor for advice on how to proceed. Be clear that you’re not trying to punish or embarrass your student, but you’re concerned that this specific behavior may be tied to issues that go beyond your qualifications as a teacher.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear We Are Teachers,
I’m a high school librarian. A week ago, I turned on the lights in a partitioned area of the library and was shocked to see my coworker and a 9th-grade student stand up from behind a bookshelf. (The library was supposed to be closed for testing.) I didn’t see anything, and my coworker said they were looking for a book, but I had a gross feeling about it. I told my principal immediately, and unfortunately it now looks like my instincts were correct.
Yesterday, my principal asked me to lie for her. She told investigators that I spoke to her in her office at 2 p.m. instead of when I really did (at 11:30 a.m.), and asked if I would corroborate this story if I’m interviewed as a witness, so it looks like she reported it earlier. I felt pressured in the moment, so I said yes. But now I feel sick about potentially having to lie to investigators. What do I do?—SICK AT HEART