Well, there is a first time for everything! I just heard from a mom that her child is NOT to use her Chromebook at all! She is worried the computer emits radiation that is harmful to her daughter. The email from the mom went on to say that all her teachers need to make copies of assignments and provide everything in pen and paper for her daughter. This is a big ask! Did she meet with any teachers? No. Did she meet with the principal? No. Is she sending email after email and being pushy? Yes. How can I deal with this? —Can’t Make Everyone Happy
I’m not going to skim through articles and opinions and debate whether computers emit harmful radiation. The reality is that this parent has concerns about the health of their child. We can all appreciate that. The thing is, there’s a difference between caregivers who advocate and parents who are aggressive, confrontational, and just too demanding. It sounds like this situation is putting a lot of pressure on teachers who are already stretched thin. As I’ve stated before in other columns, the only thing we can do is control how we respond to the situation.
I’m sure you have already alerted your principal and recruited their help with a face-to-face meeting. The parent is asking a lot via email, and this situation definitely requires more than an email exchange. When you meet, look for things that you DO agree on. I’m certain that everyone involved cares about the student and wants the best for them. There are best intentions sprinkled among the demands. Imagine how the student must be feeling. Maybe there are feelings of discomfort and fear welling up.
This complex context is going to require major compassion and understanding on your part. I think it’s safe to say that it’s impossible to make everyone happy! One thing we CAN do, however, is to engage in the act of active listening. This powerful approach to building understanding involves paying attention, extending full-body listening, asking follow-up questions, offering perspective, and not jumping to conclusions. Feeling heard helps to deescalate the intensity and hopefully create opportunities to come to a consensus on ways to address the concerns. Remind the family that you truly care about their child and want to be part of the solution.
During the meeting with your administrator and the family, consider offering up an alternative. One option may be informing the family about independent study school experiences that can more readily provide this type of accommodation. There are more and more flexible school options that are more personalized than a traditional classroom setting. If there is resistance to a school change, then be sure to request a shared responsibility to prepare the learning materials for this student. Also, it’s likely that the family will need to get a more official level of special services, and your administrator and leadership team can help facilitate this process with you. If the family decides to stay enrolled, it’s a good idea to set up ongoing check-in meetings to reflect on what’s going well and what needs adjusting.
Take some deep breaths and advocate for yourself. This is an outlier type of request for sure, and you don’t have to carry the sole responsibility of navigating the pushiness and work-intensive demand.
My middle school English classes are out of control behavior-wise. The biggest issues are mostly talking when they shouldn’t, talking back, and not following instructions. The kids are also not prepared for class. Only a few do their homework. I find myself raising my voice more than I want to. It feels awful! I know I need to do a reset and review class expectations and then come up with a simple behavior plan to use going forward. I am a 30+ year veteran teacher, and this year my 7th and 8th graders have the worst behavior I’ve ever seen. What should I do first? —Weary And Worn Out
Many of us have had nightmares about classroom chaos. But experiencing the intensity in real life is demoralizing. It’s difficult to stay motivated when it feels like you are working really hard and not seeing the results you desire and know are possible. The disrespectful behavior you referred to is a major drain. And it takes planning and perseverance to address it and transform the classroom culture into a more positive space for all … including you.
So, yes, follow your gut on the idea of implementing a reset of expectations. It’s absolutely worth the investment because all learning is built on these social-emotional foundations. Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based, three-tiered approach to school and classroom community building. There is an emphasis on respect, responsibility, and safety. Consider having your students work collaboratively to define what each concept looks, sounds, and feels like. Incorporating student voice and perspective will promote more buy-in.
I’m working closely with a middle school and witnessed the way one teacher builds a positive, respectful, and engaging learning space. This middle school ELA teacher I observed organized a meaningful poetry project. She authentically glowed with excitement around the poetry forms and topics. She communicated clear expectations and modeled with authors the kids could relate to. The use of a rubric helped with the specific details regarding content goals as well as social interactions. When students were working together, their teacher was circulating, conferring, and providing specific feedback. She took notes on content, language development, self-regulation, and social skills. Students had many opportunities to reflect on their progress and set goals. Additionally, the projects infused choice for their collaboration and topics. And even though it may sound cliché, the kids’ smiles were big, they were taking risks, and there was mutual respect alive and well.
Dear WeAre Teachers:
Lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure as a resource specialist. I’ve always loved supporting my students and helping them build skills and confidence. But I LITERALLY do not have time to organize all the data for IEPs and reading intervention. Every day, there are piles and piles that I don’t deal with. I do not have time to type the lesson plans I’ve sketched out. There’s no time to create the differentiated worksheets. How can I find time to put in grades and progress monitoring in the computer software? It’s disturbing that I don’t have time to help my kids catch up on work in their other seven classes. I keep thinking that a teacher goes to work but never gets anything done. There is very little feeling of success. It literally makes me want to give up. —Under Piles of Paperwork
You are describing what so many resource specialists experience day after day. You have the desire to support your students, plan responsive lessons to meet their points of need, monitor progress, and build confidence. You’re also buried by the compliance side of your work. This can create so much tension and feelings of overwhelm and frustration. So many special education educators have to choose to focus on paperwork at school at the expense of working closely with kids or taking the piles how and cutting into their personal time. Paper can create job dissatisfaction!
One thing to consider is how well your organizational system is working for you. Next time you have a meeting, take the time to network and share ways to be more efficient and effective in your work. This way, everyone gets tethered up. Are you able to connect with other resource teachers to share how they manage their piles of paperwork? One district leader uses the idea of division of labor as a way to free up teachers to focus on teaching and learning. Every school site has someone who excels at detailed work. Maybe a variation of this idea could work at your site or district?
In an article titled “Reducing Special Education Paperwork,” Sheri Klein writes, “Only 50 percent of special education teachers receive any assistance on paperwork from a paraprofessional … or secretary.” Between writing the IEPs, attending the meetings, conducting assessments, completing student referrals for services, and more, teachers are feeling miserable and drowning with the requirements. Moreover, we really need to get additional support with the compliance side of special ed.
How can we offset the draining aspects and spark the rewarding feelings flowing back to your work? More and more authors are writing about teacher burnout. “To avoid a Great Resignation, districts need to make substantive changes to reduce stress and improve morale in schools. Educators don’t need any more chair massages or Casual Fridays. This is about support and autonomy.” When teachers have the freedom to be creative with their approach, content, and planning, they feel more inspired and motivated. Principals that trust their teachers and outwardly support a strong sense of teacher agency build an empowered school culture. Hopefully, these ideas will be ones you can share with other educators to promote some solution-oriented actions.
Meanwhile, I hope you find bright spots of incremental growth with your students on a daily basis. Even though you feel weary at times, I have no doubt that you are making more of an impact than you realize! And so let’s remember the things you can do. For example, maintaining a mindset of optimism, perseverance, humor, perspective, appreciation, and celebration is a way to build the absolutely necessary emotional resilience we need in our challenging roles as teachers.
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Well, it happened. I guess it was my turn to have a panic attack at school, lose it, and have to go home for a few days. It’s hard to pin it down to one single trigger. I think it’s a lot of things after two years of pandemic teaching. I figured I’d be the last one to crack and need a mental health day. A panic attack out of the blue at the end of lunch changed that, so here we are. My admin is supportive. Colleagues are supportive. I tried to get it back together and go to class, but the more I tried to talk myself into it, the more I was overcome by nausea. So, the overwhelming urge to puke forced me to blurt out, “I need to leave. I can’t be here right now.” Please tell me I’m not the only one.
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Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson