As a teacher, I’ve been on the receiving end of comments about my appearance. Even those meant to be complimentary made me feel at best uncomfortable and at worst like I’d somehow lost credibility. Let’s face it—being objectified at work has long been an issue, particularly for women. So it’s no surprise that it happens in a female-dominated profession like teaching. But not only is it not getting better—with virtual teaching, it’s actually getting worse.
In our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook, one fifth-grade teacher says she overheard a parent making fun of her weight, comparing her to Buddha. It’s not an isolated incident. With many of us teaching online, parents are now commenting on teachers’ looks on Zoom. Here’s what makes that extra awful:
It’s happening in front of our students
When parents have made comments to me about my appearance, it’s generally been in passing in the hallways or in conferences. It sucked, but at least it wasn’t in front of my entire class. What’s being said now is overheard by students. It’s bad enough to have to hear it yourself. It’s exponentially worse with an audience (and an impressionable one at that). Being reduced to your physical appearance is demeaning and humiliating. When it’s done in front of your students, it strips away your authority and undermines your ability to teach effectively.
Here’s the issue, all the other kids heard it too. To ignore it would be to let all the other kids think we should be doormats. —Kara S.
The Internet is not a shield
We hear some comments in the background. Parents think their child is on mute and say something inappropriate. But is that really an excuse? I mean, it’s not as if their child can’t hear them. And if our students know their parents don’t respect us, how can we demand that they do? Other parents seem to think the fact that they’re behind a computer screen or off camera makes this behavior acceptable. It’s the same mindset that allows people to say things in the comments section that they would never say to someone’s face. And it’s just as unacceptable.
You have every right to come to school and feel safe, including with your virtual families. —Kayleigh K.
Impact matters more than intent
I know some folks might try to defend their actions and say, “But I meant it as a compliment!” It makes no difference. Coming on camera to tell us how attractive you think we are or how you’d have trouble concentrating in our class isn’t just unnecessary—it’s gross. Just ask teacher Kiara Feliciano, who was horrifically objectified by a parent on Zoom. In her response video on parental expectations, she asserts, “I don’t think it’s cute. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m not flattered by it. You have degraded me in that moment.”
Every day I show up for the kids on Zoom. I may not look my best, the lighting sucks, and I haven’t had my hair done professionally in ages. COVID safety protocols, you know. But I’m here for your child. And I’ll continue to be. —Heidi B.
We’re doing the best we can
Don’t we all deserve a little grace, especially right now? We are managing an incredibly difficult situation for which we were wholly unprepared. Comments on what we look like should always be out of bounds, but they seem especially egregious in the midst of a global pandemic that has completely upended our educational system. We’re working so hard, and dammit, we’re human beings. We deserve better than to be teased, ridiculed, or judged by something that makes zero difference in how well we do our jobs.
Have you experienced parents commenting on teachers’ looks? Please share your experiences in the comments. And for more teacher commentary, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter!