I’m a first year teacher who is already feeling on rocky ground, and now I just cursed in front of a few of my 8th grade students. I was irritable, and it had been a long week. Towards the end of the class, I went to say “freaking” (which is acceptable at my school) and accidentally said “f*cking.” I immediately apologized and corrected myself. One of my students said, “Too late. I can’t wait to tell my mom and she’ll send an email to the principal.” He said it in a jokey way, but I swear he could smell my fear. Is this a big deal? Should I confess or just let it go? —Accidental Potty Mouth
Here’s the thing. This has happened to me. This has happened to nearly every one of my teacher friends. Unless you are a person who never ever swears or uses profane language at all (and if that is the case, bless you!), it is bound to happen at least once in your career. So try not to beat yourself up. You apologized to your students. You let them see that you are human. That you, too, make mistakes, and you own up to them.
Now, as far as your possibly joking, possibly blackmailing student goes, nip this in the bud. Send an email or drop by your department head’s office and let them know what happened. (Depending on your school culture, you might want to go directly to your principal.) Explain what happened: “I just wanted to let you know that you might get an email or hear about something that happened in class today. I accidentally swore in front of my 8th graders. It was unintentional, I apologized, and it won’t happen again.”
If this student or another student in the future tries to intimidate by implying that they take advantage of a small mistake to get you in trouble or jeopardize your job, make it clear that you will not be intimidated. Be prepared to smile, look your student in the eye, and let them know, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it. I’ll tell the principal myself.”
Dear WeAreTeachers: I’m a 30 year-old teacher who usually works with middle school students. But right now, I am filling in for a kindergarten teacher on maternity leave. These students try to sit on my lap while I am reading them stories. I tell them to sit in a chair because it seems wrong for them to be sitting on my lap. My girlfriend said I was being weird and paranoid, but I’m a male special education teacher working with these kids, most of the time in a room alone. It just doesn’t seem appropriate to be having that type of contact with them. Am I being weird asking them to sit in a separate chair? —Not a Lap Person
No, I don’t think it’s weird. You’re allowed to have boundaries. Everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to these kinds of things (I’m a hugger myself). And you do have to protect yourself from suspicions of impropriety, especially as a male teacher (I know it’s a double standard, but it is what it is). I spoke with Amy Williams, school psychologist and mother of young children, and she advised talking about body boundaries and encouraging contact that you are comfortable with, like fist bumps, elbow bumps, and high fives.
I do think it’s important to recognize that your students are looking for love and validation here. But, as Amy explained to me, “Kids can still be made to feel loved and accepted without having to sit in the teacher’s lap.” Think about giving a kind redirect: “You’re welcome to sit on this carpet spot right next to me.”
When I taught third grade, I had a student climb into my lap at an assembly the week her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I told her I loved her and was there for her and then invited her to sit on the floor next to me. I made a choice that was in my best interest while still giving her what she needed. Win win.
Dear WeAreTeachers: I have a question about teacher responsibility on an IEP. We have a student next year who needs all materials on a light blue background in Comic Sans font. This means changing all of my daily slides, converting our online textbook, remaking my teacher-made review videos, retyping every test, quiz, etc. It also limits outside materials that I can use. Our SpEd teacher insists that it’s my job. I want to do the best for my student, but this seems like a lot to ask of a classroom teacher with minimal support. Is this really a reasonable expectation? —Already Overwhelmed in Gen Ed
Wow, that does seem like a heavy lift for a busy classroom teacher. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you have a legal obligation to follow the IEP. And I know you can care about doing what’s best for a student while also questioning the reasonableness of the ask.
Former special education teacher and Teacher of the Year Richard Kennedy weighed in: “I don’t think that it’s an unreasonable expectation if it’s a team effort. It’s not solely the responsibility of the SpEd or general education teacher. Perhaps you and the SpEd teacher could collaborate on converting material.”
You could also look at some easier ways to make the accommodations, like using a blue overlay on white paper instead of putting everything on blue paper.
Dear WeAreTeachers: I teach high school and typically eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge. There’s a good number of us that teach different subjects. As a group, we were discussing history because a U.S. history teacher was commenting on the battles he covered in class that day. The biology teacher blurted out that teaching history is pointless because no one pays attention and we just repeat all of our mistakes. As a social studies teacher, I was livid. Where does he get off disrespecting not only someone’s job but something that they are truly passionate about? I kept my mouth shut, but I can’t believe that another professional would even allow those words to come out of his mouth. What do you think? —Those Who Do Not Learn History
Yeah, that was big time rude. I can understand why you’d be so upset. But my guess is he said it without thinking. I talked to principal Kela Small about it, and she suggested looking at it in this way: “I bet his comment was more a critique of society than of teaching social studies. People generally speak from their own experiences. And they do so without considering how their experience can conflict with that of others.
“One way I navigate instances like this is by asking more questions. If I feel pressure to ‘fix’ someone’s assertion, I tend to be quiet/shut down. Next time, probe a little. I may have asked, ‘Is it that we don’t pay attention, or is it that we don’t know how to overcome our human nature, and so we fight the same battles over and over?’
“As a social studies teacher, you have the ability to lead not only students in great discussions, but your colleagues as well. It can be a mini PD and help sharpen your questioning abilities for the classroom! I personally looked forward to these conversations at lunch because of how my colleagues and I respectfully challenge each other. It has spilled over into a culture of learning among our staff!”
Do you have a burning question? Email us at email@example.com.
As both a teacher in the building and a parent of a student, I do try really hard to keep a positive relationship with all the staff. But this year, my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher is awful. She posts 50-page TPT packets daily. I’ve heard her scream things like “I’m done with all of you” to the class. She told all the kids that I’m overreacting for keeping my immunocompromised daughter in online learning. Today, she emailed to say that my daughter is failing everything. I’ve sat with my daughter and watched her submit her assignments herself, and nothing gets graded. I know my kid is on grade level. What do I do now? The year is almost over. Should I complain or suck it up and be glad we’ll be done in a few weeks?