I left a school I loved, colleagues I loved, and kids I loved because of the principal. She kept asking me to do more. (If you’ve ever had to take over the yearbook halfway through the year with a brand new software and no photography or graphics skills, I feel your pain.) Bottom line: school leaders can make or break it for teachers. Many leave a school, district, or the profession altogether because of a toxic school culture and unsupportive or overbearing admin. This year the stakes are even higher. Teachers worry about their health and safety. Many don’t feel seen or heard. Here is what teachers need you to know, principals, but feel like they can’t say.
Stop emailing optional professional development opportunities
There is nothing more maddening to teachers right now than “optional” professional development. Sure, you might have good intentions (after all, no teacher has had enough training to prepare them for the insanity that is teaching in 2021). But when you bombard teachers with invites to webinars, PD in pajamas, and virtual weekend conferences, you send the message that what teachers are already doing isn’t enough. You put teachers in an uncomfortable position when you “suggest” that they work (yes, PD is work) outside of their contract hours (for free). Many teachers are working unpaid overtime. So next time you find out about a virtual training, don’t forward it (unless it’s required and teachers are compensated for their time.)
Stop telling us that “we will all get through this together”
At the end of the day, teachers are on their own. The principal isn’t in the classroom or Zoom room. A teacher’s workload is so outrageous because it’s all on the teacher. Some of us are lucky to have grade-level teams that plan together and divide up the work , but not all of us. I’ve never had a principal help me figure out how to set up a brand new learning management system that I didn’t have access to until two days before school started. “We are all in this together” might look good on a school website or Facebook page. The sentiment is nice, but the truth is, teachers are not getting through this. They are barely surviving. Many of them feel isolated, alone, and overworked.
Stop unnecessary meetings during prep periods
When I first started teaching, I was shocked that my prep period rarely happened. This is why so many teachers end up working at night and on the weekends. An extra meeting comes up. There is a last-minute training. You are asked to cover for another teacher, and on and on. If there’s an emergency, of course you’ll jump in. But many teachers wish admin wouldn’t schedule meetings during prep (it’s sacred).
Start including us in the discussion before decisions are made
There is nothing more frustrating than getting a new curriculum (that you don’t think is the right fit for your kids) and no one asked for your opinion or feedback. I always appreciated it when my principal asked us to help her make a decision that was going to affect our day-to-day, not hers. This year teachers feel left out in the dark. Some schools chose virtual platforms without asking for teachers’ input. Now teachers are scrambling to quickly “make it work.” Many plans around school schedules and re-opening phases were made without teacher input. Or when teachers did speak up, they weren’t given clear or transparent answers (or any answers at all).
Start supporting us instead of evaluating us
Most principals are not teaching students during a global pandemic. Kudos to the principals who say, “I am no expert here, and I am trying to figure this out too. This is really hard.” Let’s shove the school hierarchy aside and accept that when it comes to teaching and working in education in 2021, everyone is on a level playing field. If there was ever a time to be humble, own our vulnerability, and give grace, now is it.
Start showing us rather than telling us that you appreciate all we do
It’s really nice when principals thank teachers. It’s also nice when principals bring bagels and coffee for a faculty meeting or “just because.” It’s even nicer when principals make time (we know you are busy and overworked too) to check in or just to chat. The nicest thing: a principal who sees, hears, and values us. It’s incredibly hard for teachers to hear, “you are the best” and “no one works harder than you” only after they’ve agreed to take on more. When teachers ask questions about health and safety and instead get an email that calls them “superheroes,” it’s heartbreaking. If there is one thing that a principal could do for teachers this year, it is to show you care in what you do, not just what you say.
Principals, we need you. We know that you have the state and district pushing their agenda. We know parents are pushing you in all directions. We know your plates are so full this year, and you’ve never done this before either. Show us your vulnerability. Listen to us. Advocate for us. When we know you have our backs, and you are transparent and straight up with us, we trust that you are making decisions with us in mind. When you do this, we stay, and not just for the kids, but because we want to. Sometimes because of you.
Teachers, what do you want to say to your principal? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, Are Teachers Ok? No, and Toxic Positivity Isn’t Helping