On the last day of school, I had my middle school students fill out anonymous surveys evaluating my class. I decided to wait a few weeks into summer before reading them, and … yikes. I was sure this was my best year of teaching ever, but the feedback shocked me. Mean-spirited comments ranged from my teaching (“This class is a joke—I didn’t learn anything”) to my appearance (“You look disgusting”) to things I thought I did well (“Your jokes suck”). Now I’m not sure I even want to return in the fall. Should I even keep teaching if students are this miserable in my class? —Questioning Everything
Do you hear that sound? It’s every cell in my body cringing along with you. I, too, have known the sting of shame from reading anonymous student survey responses. Once when I included a particularly long text field, I got back a series of letters and special characters arranged in rows to create a highly recognizable piece of the male anatomy. (If I hadn’t been so horrified, I might have been impressed at the creativity.)
First, can I just commend you for even giving your students an opportunity for feedback? Too many teachers go their whole careers completely uninterested (or not mature enough to hear) their students’ experiences, let alone use that to help inform their instruction. That in itself is brave and honorable. Bravo!
Now on to the hurtful comments. What I think we have here is an opportunity to reflect on two things. The first is the formatting of the survey itself. Sometimes when students aren’t given enough structure for their thinking, their responses can devolve into chaos. Instead of asking vague questions like “How do you feel about my class?” or “What’s something you want to tell me?” try more pointed questions like “If you could get rid of any assignment we do, what would you choose?” or offer a rating system from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree” for statements like “I feel like my teacher ‘gets’ me.”
The second thing you can reflect on now is the connections and relationships with your students. If these survey responses were a huge surprise to you, think about why. Besides this end-of-year survey, how often do you check in with how your students are—as your students and as people? How can you make them feel seen and respected? (And if you’re stuck, we’ve got your back with building an inclusive classroom, building relationships with teenagers, and the power of micro-affirmations.)
Personally, I think that a teacher who seeks out feedback from their students is one of the good ones. Be kind to yourself as you consider your options for next year. Remember, though, that even the best teachers have had moments where they’ve been knocked down a few pegs. (They just might not post about it on Instagram).
As an elementary PE teacher, I feel like I have a certificate in Maintaining Structure. During the school year, nearly every minute of my day is routinized. From the time I wake up, I build in chunks of time that allow me to get everything I need to done and still have time for myself. Then summer comes and it’s like I do a complete regression. As soon as June hits, I struggle to keep up any kind of routine—exercise, chores, even self-care rituals that I know are good for me. How do I balance the things I need and want to do with the urge to just … lay there? —Lazy and Ashamed
If you physically survived the 2021-22 school year, you’re already a goddess. If you ask me, you’ve earned every right to have your Fitbit remain in the single digits all summer. However, I understand that if you don’t necessarily enjoy the departure from routine, living like a couch-dwelling blob of inertia might feel frustrating instead of relaxing.
A good middle ground can be mapping out a “summer routine” with small blocks of time for you to devote to certain categories of tasks without committing too heavily to a strict regimen. Consider this example:
Wake-up time – 10 a.m.: Breakfast and fun podcast while planning out day
10 to 11 a.m.: Movement Block (options here might be: a fitness class, walk the dog, dance to music, yoga)
11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Maintenance Block (options here might be: chores, errands, deep cleans, car wash/inspection, doctor or dentist appointments, planning for next school year if that sparks joy for you)
12 to 1 p.m.: Leisurely lunch!
1 to 2 p.m.: Creativity Block (options here might be: craft or DIY project you saved ages ago on TikTok or Instagram, doodling or sketching, belting out along with a 1990s power ballads playlist)
3 to 5 p.m.: Fun Block (options here might be: going to the pool, getting coffee with a friend, catching up on a show or movie you’ve wanted to see, baking)
The beauty of this kind of schedule is not only that it’s flexible, but it makes it easier to commit to the less fun stuff if you know it’ll only take a short amount of time. Give it a shot and see what you think. (And if you find yourself napping through all your blocks, be gentle with yourself. Your body might be telling you you needed it!)
I just finished my second year of teaching and am itching for a creative outlet beyond the classroom. I’m fashion-obsessed and have recently tossed around the idea of creating a TikTok account curating outfits, rating brands, exploring sustainable fashion options, etc. My worry is that students will find my TikTok and never let me live it down. Similarly, I worry parents might find it and think I’m wasting time I could be devoting for their child. (I know the teacher-martyr narrative is harmful, but they don’t.) What do you think? Can I take on this fun side project without jeopardizing my professional reputation? —Inspired but Hesitant
Short answer: Your TikTok sounds awesome. Go for it!
Longer answer: I really, really hate living in an age where teachers have to second-guess whether we’re allowed to have interests beyond the classroom. But when we’re getting fired for holding a glass of wine on our private social media pages, I understand the need for hyper-vigilance.
If you want an added measure of security, I would send a short email to an administrator about the plans for your side project. Should you have to do this? No. But since it’s a public project, it might be good to have it in writing that you’ve cleared this with administration. If a fun-hating parent decides to report you, you’ve eliminated the element of surprise. As long as you’re not using district time or devices to record, edit, or run your side project, I think you’re safe.
And if a parent finds your TikTok and wants to know why you haven’t graded their kid’s quiz they took yesterday but clearly you had time to post a fashion video, send them to me. I’ll straighten them out.
Also, will you let me know when you have a video on how to style wide-leg pants with closed-toed shoes? I … I mean, my friend … can’t pair them without feeling like a doofus.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I resigned from my past district along with another teacher. Since we’re both in the job-hunting boat, we’ve gotten closer since school got out. It’s my nature to be a helper, so I’ve told her some of the places I was interviewing and helped her with the application process. Fast-forward to last week when we interviewed back-to-back with two schools. It was so awkward to be in the waiting area together knowing we were competing for the same jobs. I was given an offer that same afternoon, but so far she has heard nothing. She doesn’t know about the offer; it’s not official until tomorrow. How do I break the news to her? I know she’s going to be upset. —Cringing and Excited