Dear We Are Teachers,—Targeted in Tacoma
Up until March of last year, I was totally cool with my principal. Then, for my final observation, he gave me a low score for the interpersonal domain, but all his “evidence” was unsubstantiated rumors other teachers had told him. My union rep and our superintendent sided with me and he had to apologize, but ever since then, he has had it out for me. First, he switched me to a grade level he knows is my last choice. Then, he did my first observation the second day of school this year (and has observed me every week since!). My scores are all rock bottom—I guess I’m the only teacher to get worse the longer they teach?—plus, I’m the only teacher on campus with both lunch and recess duty. What do I do?
What a nightmare situation.
But I have good news: You have what sounds like a home-run case of workplace retaliation.
Your superintendent and union rep acknowledged, supported, and acted on your initial complaint. Your principal is the one who should be on his best behavior after last year’s incident, not you. It sounds to me like he is unlawfully retaliating and could get in Big Trouble (i.e., a federal violation). Check out the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission‘s list of examples of retaliatory behavior:
- Reprimanding the employee or giving a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be ✅
- Transferring the employee to a less desirable position ✅
- Increasing scrutiny ✅
- Making the employee’s work more difficult ✅
Talk to your union rep again. If you want to stay at your school, sit tight while they either fire (or more likely, reassign) the principal. But if they recommend filing a lawsuit, take the money and run to another district.
Dear We Are Teachers,
After a long career as a chemical engineer, I retired to spend a few years teaching high school chemistry. I absolutely love it except for one thing: I cannot seem to catch up with my team on the technology front. There seem to be hundreds of systems, programs, log-ins, accounts, etc., and I take hours to do something that takes them minutes. Everyone on my team is very kind, but I hate having to ask them over and over for their help on the same issues. Does this get easier with time, or is there something I can do to improve my technology prowess?—Old Dog In Need of New Tricks
First, more power to you stepping into a profession that is experiencing some serious growing pains right now. If you love everything but the technology aspect, I’d say you’re a prodigy!
Keep in mind that learning all the ins and outs of systems is something that every new teacher struggles with—even the ones born in the digital generations. It definitely gets easier with time. Still, I’d recommend two things to get those technology muscles into shape:
- The next time you ask a team member for help, pull up a screen recording so you have a visual and auditory record of how to do it for next time. Put those videos in a shared folder on Google Drive (another system, I’m sorry!) so you can access them later if/when you need them.
- Make one of your goals for the year to improve your fluency with technology. Then, ask your principal if you can have a full day (ideally sometime in the next month or two) to meet with a technology specialist in the district who can sit down with you and show you the ropes. Come ready with a list of programs that are the least intuitive to you, things you’d like to be able to do (or do faster), etc. Ask them to leave screen recordings in your Google Drive folder too!
Finally, be kind to yourself as you’re learning. I’m sure it feels awkward to rely on your team so much at this stage. But with a decades-long career as a chemical engineer, you have a treasure trove of workplace wisdom and real-world content knowledge to offer your team, too. Gratitude goes a long way while you’re finding your footing. You’ve got this, Old Dog!
Dear We Are Teachers,
I don’t have enough chairs! I have 39 kids in my last period class and only 33 chairs. When I asked my AP what I should do, she sent me a list of flexible seating options I could purchase. When I said I was hoping to avoid buying seating myself, she said, “We’re all in this together,” and that I needed to be a team player. I am a team player! I just don’t think I should have to pay for students’ chairs. What should I do?—Feeling the Seat Heat
I’ll tell you this right now: Your school either has chairs or avenues to get chairs. They also could easily level out your classes so you have fewer students. They are either being a little lazy (not a crime) and hoping you just buy the chairs and leave them alone, or they have way more giant fish to fry than kids sitting on the floor (which is hard to believe unless your school is covered in black mold).
First, email this to an AP:
“Hi, we’re still struggling with a seating shortage. Before I look into other options, I just wanted to confirm:
- Can the school purchase 6 additional chairs for me?
- Can you level my last period class so I have chairs for each student (33)?
- Are there any additional chairs in the school or in a district warehouse we could borrow?”
If they have the gall to say no to all three of these questions in writing, email this to the parents in your last period class.
“Good evening, parents,
We’re off to a great year in 6th grade science! I can’t wait to meet more of you at Parent Night in a few weeks.
I’m emailing because we have a bit of a seating shortage in our last period class. Out of fairness, I will rotate which students can use the desks each week, but unfortunately the remaining six students will need to find a place on the floor. Just wanted to communicate this in advance in case you’d like to send a cushion or camping chair with your child. Thanks for your flexibility, and I apologize for the inconvenience.”
Then sit back and watch as your school magically produces six chairs for you.
Is it a little petty to create a situation that you know will result in a deluge of parent complaints to the school? Sure.
But is it also petty to pretend that the only solution to a problem you created is for a teacher to spend their own money? Also yes.
They made up the rules to this dumb game. They can’t be mad when you win.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear We Are Teachers,
I teach middle school. Last week, one of my students accidentally knocked my potted plant off its spot on the windowsill and broke the pot. After class, I told my student in private that I don’t really care about the pot or the plant, but that her response hurt my feelings (she laughed and refused to apologize for hurting a plant). The next day, my principal called me in to say I shouldn’t tell students they hurt my feelings because it’s “unprofessional” and made my student feel bad. Now I’m being asked to apologize to the student! Am I out of line, or is my principal?—PATHOS FOR POTHOS