This was my first year teaching high school biology. We are supposed to be a “cell phones out of sight during class” school, but I struggled a lot this past year not knowing what to do when students were texting their parents. The one time that I put my foot down and said for everyone to put their phones away no matter who they were talking to, I got an email from a parent saying I had no right to interfere with communication with her daughter. What should I do differently next year? —E.T., You Cannot Phone Home
When I was in the classroom, I was fairly lax about phones. As long as students were getting their work done and not distracting others, I didn’t really mind if they had their phones on their person. My students were mostly responsible about this and handed the phone over (begrudgingly, but willingly) if they pushed it too far.
But sometime in my last few years of teaching, there was this shift in attitudes toward phones. It felt like phones had become a human right instead of a privilege. Where before my students used their phones sparingly and responded well to redirection, now there was no middle ground. Teachers weren’t allowed to take up students’ phones at all, even if we were only holding them until the end of class. And the rare times an administrator did take up a phone, it was met with a reaction like the student was handing over their firstborn to a werewolf.
While phones and social media have their benefits for teenagers, we also know that phones are hurting kids. We need schools to be clear about what they expect.
Ask to talk with your principal in person this summer. Go when there’s still time to get clarity before the onslaught of back-to-school. Explain that phones were a major distraction in your class this year, and that when you enforced the rules, a parent pushed back. Get crystal-clear about what expectations are—for parents, students, and you—heading into this next school year.
- Do students have the right to use their phones at any time if they’re calling/texting their parents? And is that with or without the teacher’s permission?
- If students need to call their parents, is it OK to specify that they use the classroom phone?
- What kind of communication will parents receive? Should they be aware that if they need to communicate with their child, they should call the school?
Hopefully this will help you in your classroom and also send the message that the cell phone policy (and its enforcement) needs to be revamped at your school.
It’s my second teacher summer (yay!). After a few weeks to relax, I’m now in productivity mode. I don’t want to work on lesson plans yet since my principal hasn’t set any of our roles in stone. But what are some other things I can do now to make the back-to-school hurricane more manageable? Is that even possible? —Why, Yes, I’m Type A
First of all, I am in awe! I didn’t ever have the mental capacity or work ethic to think ahead during my summers.
I don’t know if you can ever fully be ready for the back-to-school rush. But here are some things that might help alleviate all the little side issues that tend to pop up when teachers are slammed.
- Make sure your home, self, and vehicle are up to speed. The idea is that you want to free yourself from any appointments, maintenance, or other minutiae during BTS.
- Create backup plans. Make copies of your house and car keys and leave them with safe people (even better: get a key pad instead of a key lock). Get a second copy of your teacher ID if you can and make a second lanyard for the mornings when you can’t find yours to save your life. Separate your school keys and your car/home keys!
- Prep lots of meals. Freeze meals in individual serving sizes (both for your lunch and dinner).
- Invest in a quality wagon. This makes all the difference moving stuff back to your classroom (and if you end up having to move classrooms at the last minute). It’s also great to have on hand for field trips, school events, and obstinate toddlers you may have in your life who neither want to walk nor ride in a stroller.
- Do an inventory of your work wardrobe. Do you have comfortable clothes that fit and are appropriate if the weather is about to change? If not, take care of that now.
- Consider short-term outsourcing to save yourself stress and time. Could you hire a housekeeper? Laundry service?
- Look at your calendar and prep for special events now. Mom’s birthday? Get her gift now. Wedding weekend? Get everything you need sorted now.
Just realized this is not unlike prepping for the birth of a baby. Which makes sense as back-to-school creates a similar level of deliriousness, chaos, joy, and sense of “What am I doing?”
I was assigned a year-long student teacher back in May. Knowing we would be working with each other for a year, I invited her to lunch to get to know each other. I hate to say it, but it left a bad taste in my mouth (no lunch pun intended). She showed up 30 minutes late, complained about all the food on the menu, and talked at length about how much she hated her shadowing position (a 4-week stint at a different school). I’m really scared I’m going to be miserable working with her next year. How do I prepare myself to work with someone like this? Should I tell her supervisor? Mine? Help! —Awful First Date
One year, my principal asked me to have a follow-up interview with a candidate they were considering and report back with my thoughts. We met at a Starbucks. She was late, sweaty and dirty from her kid’s softball game, and said things like, “A parent I know from my last school begged me to interview here or I wouldn’t have come,” and, “I don’t know, man, I might be burned out. I guess we’ll see!” I left feeling like this emoji: 😳
Luckily my principal hired her anyway. She turned out to be one of my dearest friends, closest confidantes, and—no exaggeration—probably the most talented teacher I’ve ever seen. We laugh now about her “interview” and how close I was to missing out on our friendship.
Between this instance and several others where my first impression was dead-wrong, I’ve learned to not put a whole lot of stock into a first meeting. Often people are super nervous, running their mouths about things they wouldn’t normally talk about, and just generally not themselves.
Don’t tell her supervisor or yours. Save your evaluation for once you’ve seen her at her best.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at email@example.com.
I have been interviewing for new schools since late April. I have a pretty stellar teaching record: no write-ups, multiple teaching and faculty awards, and several leadership positions. No matter how enthusiastic my interviewers have been, I’ve had no luck. After my last interview, where I was pretty much offered the job on the spot, the interviewer told me she ended up rejecting me because my principal was “very clear that she could not recommend me for the position.” What am I supposed to do about this? —Richmond Reject