Help! My School Won’t Let Me Have a Microwave or Fridge

Get ready for a lot of hangry teachers.

An illustration showing rushed teachers to represent how school won't let them have a refrigerator

Dear WeAreTeachers:
This year, in an effort to conserve energy, our district has said teachers can no longer have microwaves or mini-fridges in their rooms. Which, fine. We thought surely we could share these appliances by department or among a small group of classrooms. Nope! The only approved appliances for teachers are the ones in our teachers lounge. With overlapping lunches, this gets really crowded really fast. I had maybe six minutes to eat the other day between walking to the other side of the school to get my lunch and waiting for the microwave to be free. I need some perspective—is this a battle worth fighting? —Hungry for Answers

Dear H.F.A.,

As someone whose blood boils white-hot when she gets too hungry, YES, this battle is worth fighting. Depending on your state, you should be entitled to a 30-minute lunch, which is made impossible by your school’s restrictions. Here’s what I see as your three options, depending on the risk level you’re comfortable with.

  • Low risk. Wait for other people to complain about this draconian policy and get it sorted out. See if you can hunt down who’s talking to their union and ask for periodic updates.
  • Medium risk. Talk to administration yourself. While professional conversations shouldn’t be risky at all, some administrators interpret any dialogue as pushback. Acknowledge their side and yours. “I know the district guidelines are out of your hands, but I was hoping we could work out some kind of creative solution to what happens in the teachers lounge every day.”
  • High risk. See if you can get a doctor’s note that says you need food at lunchtime, therefore you require immediate access to a mini-fridge and microwave in your room. A little childish? Yes. But still not as childish as expecting all the adults in a school to use one microwave.
  • High risk (but exciting!). Keep a mini-fridge and microwave out of view in your room. If discovered, say, “Oh, my gosh! I’ve been meaning to take these out, but I keep forgetting my dolly from home. Thanks for the reminder!” Important caveat: If this were a safety/fire marshal restriction, I wouldn’t even include this approach. But since it’s a money saver that didn’t take teachers’ needs into consideration at all, I don’t think it’ll land anyone in too much hot water on the first strike.

Personally, I like the last two options best, but that’s because I’m an agent of chaos when faced with injustice. Decide at your own risk!

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I teach elementary school and am really struggling with our new fun-sucking principal. He won’t let teachers dress up for Halloween, he forbids we do anything non-professional in our yearbook photos (even though we have a tradition of wearing costumes/doing silly faces). Our morning announcements sound like a Dolores Umbridge–esque list of reminders of all the things that are banned (hoodies, bouncy balls, fidgets without a doctor’s note, etc.). We’re all struggling, but how do you tell a principal, “Lighten up, buddy”? —Vibes Have Been Harsh

Dear V.H.B.H.,

Just like that! Walk into his office, say, “Lighten up, buddy!” and walk out.

(Just kidding. I think my chaotic energy has carried over from the first question.)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I refuse to believe that anyone is inherently this much of a bummer. In my experience, new building principals typically go in with an observational attitude the first semester or year. They usually talk to teachers and staff, watch how things run, and then start making small, incremental changes.

A principal who goes in and immediately lays down the law seems like a principal who either a) struggled with being taken advantage of at past schools and is now on the opposite side of the control spectrum, or b) got bad “don’t smile until December”–type advice from their mentor.

Work on establishing a friendly, professional relationship first. When you feel like you have enough of a rapport, ask about one of the lower-stakes issues, but do so with an approach that’s more curious than investigative. “I’m curious. Can you tell me more about why you don’t want teachers dressing up for Halloween?” I imagine he’ll respond about inclusivity for those who might not celebrate Halloween, professionalism, image, etc. (all of which are valid).

Then you can say, “I hear you—it’d be a PR nightmare if a teacher made a bad or offensive costume choice. We’ve had a tradition of dressing up here for years, and it contributes a lot to school spirit and morale. What if we went with a school-wide, non-Halloween-themed dress-up day for teachers—dress up as different decades, sports players, things like that?”

If he doesn’t do a 180 on the fun front, give it time. There are far worse traits for a principal to have, and if you discover him being a bummer is the least of your problems, he probably won’t be your principal for very long.

For what it’s worth, I’d probably ban bouncy balls, too, as an administrator. They make me nervous.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
This is my second year coaching middle school basketball. Last year, I got so tired of parents yelling mean things at the other team’s players, criticizing my coaching decisions, and treating every game like the NBA finals that I almost quit. Is there anything I can do to curb this behavior this year, or is this just “parents these days”? —Feels Like a Net Loss

Dear F.L.A.N.L.,

Right next to choking on beef fajita meat, one of my top concerns for my 15-month-old as he grows up is exposure to Terrible Sports Parents. (Same goes for Terrible Dance Parents, Terrible Bagpipes Parents, or whatever passions he winds up having.)

Terrible Sports Parents absolutely need to be reined in. First, if you haven’t already talked to your principal or another administrator about this, get them in on it—mean parents and their emotional escalation are a liability. Then, talk with your administrator about how to approach setting expectations for parents.

  • Send a “Parent Spectator Agreement” form with the rest of the pre-season paperwork.
  • Talk about appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the pre-season parent meeting, if you have one.
  • Ask your school about having a sign like this one printed to remind parents of expectations.
  • Before each game, remind all parents of behavioral expectations and consequences.
  • If an SRO attends your games, brief them on your expectations, too.

If all else fails, calmly walk across the court during a break and ask to speak to the offending spectator. Then, in a low voice and with complete seriousness, tell them this: “I just want to make sure you’re aware so that you’re not disappointed. You do understand there are no NBA scouts here today, correct? OK. Just wanted to make sure.”

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Dear WeAreTeachers:
Last week I was at school late, cleaning up after our annual Multicultural Festival. I decided to run back to my room and get a few things done to get ahead for the next morning. Later when I was leaving, I was passing the multipurpose room (where the festival was held) and heard noises coming from inside. Thinking it was kids who’d stayed behind, I opened the door and saw my principal and a fellow teacher at my school all over each other. We were all startled and I practically ran out of the building from awkward panic. They’re both married to other people. I was shocked and I still don’t know what, if anything, I should do. Help! —Looking for Answers and Eyeball Bleach

This week on Ask WeAreTeachers, we cover an extremely inconvenient appliance policy, a fun-sucking principal, and Terrible Sports Parents.