This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on a haunted classroom, students undermining your qualifications and knowledge, and more.
There’s weird stuff happening in my classroom, and I’m pretty sure it’s a ghost.
I teach in a school that was built in the 1940s on the site of a former one-room schoolhouse. Over the past two years, I’ve heard strange knocking and banging coming from one of the closets. A few months ago, a student who is ‘sensitive to these things’ told me there’s a little girl ghost near that closet. I brushed it off until yesterday when, out of nowhere, the closet was locked. It’s literally never been locked before, and no one has the key. The custodian came and tried to pick it. No luck. Fast forward a few hours, and I hear the lock softly click and the door open. I’m super freaked out, and I know no one will believe me. What should I do? —Haunted in Health Class
I don’t put much stock in the paranormal, but even I’ll admit that sounds unsettling. So I think it’s only fair that I give you two perspectives on your “haunted classroom”: the skeptic (that’s me) and the believer.
Personally, I think you need to check for logical reasons this could be happening. It’s an old building. You could have rodents in the closet. I know that when I heard creepy sounds in the ceiling above my desk, it was actually rats. And maybe the custodian loosened the door unknowingly, causing it to open on its own. Whatever you conclude, I’d be careful not to share your suspicions with your students because this would not be well-received by many families.
Now for the other side. Teacher Michele H. says, “I do believe in spirits, so let’s say you have a spirit of a little girl in the school. You could let her know you know she is there. You could communicate that you are wondering if she needs anything or is trying to tell you something. The spirit might just be happy being there. But also, maybe she just needs acknowledgment so she can move on. Sometimes spirits get stuck if there is unfinished business and they need help leaving a space.”
Either way you go, it’s important to maintain calm for your kids and move on as best you can. And whether you’re a believer or not, treating your classroom with respect and as a special place is something we can all get behind.
I want to share my nomination for Teacher of the Year, but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.
At our monthly team meetings, we always kick off with ‘good news.’ I recently found out that I was nominated for Teacher of the Year. The principal will only announce it if I make the top 10, but I’m really excited. I’d love to share this news with my colleagues, but I’m worried about how it will be received. I’m an American History teacher, and my teammates are both 10 years my junior. In the past, when teachers have won awards at my campus, other staff have made snide comments behind their back about them. But especially after the year we’ve had, don’t I deserve to toot my own horn a little bit? —Tentative Teacher of the Year
Speaking from experience, winning Teacher of the Year can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s a wonderful recognition in a field with too little of it. But it can also build resentment among your colleagues.
Part of me says, own it. You earned it. However, I also understand not wanting to ruffle feathers, especially since it sounds like you’re anticipating negative feedback. When I received my award, I was very careful to give credit to my grade level team, my administration, and the staff as a whole. After all, I saw myself as a product of my environment. My success didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Although, in your case, maybe it did. That means the team meeting probably isn’t the right forum for this kind of announcement. Save that time for celebrating student growth and recognizing group effort. Share your news with people who will appreciate it.
I’m a first-year teacher, and my students have implied that I don’t know what I’m doing.
This is my first year teaching, and I have high school sophomores. Recently, they’ve been making comments about how I’m moving too quickly through the material. I’m following the syllabus. Who are they to critique my pacing? I’m the one with the degree. I think they got the idea that I’m not in charge because I have a mentor teacher. In my district, all first year teachers have to be observed every month by their mentor. I think they know I’m being assessed, and that makes them feel like they have permission to correct me, too. How do I go about re-establishing myself as an authority figure? —Undermined by Underclassmen
Here comes the tough love. I’m hearing a lot of insecurity from you, and my guess is your students are picking up on it. The truth is, you probably don’t entirely know what you’re doing. That’s not a dig. I was clueless my first year, too. Instead of getting defensive, consider taking the feedback at face value.
We should encourage students to question knowledge and have different points of view. In your case, them sharing that you’re moving too quickly sounds like a pretty valid concern. And that’s not an insult to you. Teachers are allowed to make mistakes. Plus, it’s actually really powerful for students to see you admit you were wrong and then take steps to address it.
Now, if they’re giving feedback in a disrespectful manner, that’s another story. Sometimes kids do try to get a rise out of you. But I beg of you not to be one of those people who point to their degree and say, “When you have one of these, then we can talk” or shames kids with a “You think it’s so easy, you give it a try!” A private chat with individual students about appropriate ways to share their thoughts is in order.
I got frustrated with a difficult parent and sent her a rude email, and I regret it.
I am dealing with a mom that is a real piece of work, like nothing I’ve experienced in 18 years of teaching. She emails me constantly to complain. Most recently, I was planning a field trip and emailed all parents a detailed itinerary about two weeks prior. I would have done it sooner, but I was trying to figure out the venue’s COVID policies. This mother emailed me three days before the trip absolutely furious because her son came home talking about it, and it was ‘the first she’d heard.’ Well, I hit my breaking point and sent her a rude email. I’m sure I came off as condescending, highlighting information in red letters. In any case, she forwarded it to my principal. I’ve really stepped in it and could use some advice. —In Double Trouble
Oops. Take a deep breath. We’ve all done things we’ve regretted out of exasperation. You’re just going to have to do a little damage control, that’s all.
Let’s talk about your admin first. You want to head this off at the pass and meet to talk about what happened. You can explain your frustration, but you need to own up to what you did wrong and your part in all this. A good principal is going to see this for the momentary lapse it was and support you in your next steps with the parent.
Now you’re going to have to extend an olive branch to mom. No need for a grand gesture, but you do need to offer a genuine apology. Now, she doesn’t sound like the most reasonable person. So, if she doesn’t accept it, that’s on her. Teacher Dan H. says, “Sometimes you just have to leave what is bad as bad and move forward.”
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More Advice From WeAreTeachers
I’m one of two first grade teachers at my school, and we just went back to in-person instruction. The other teacher is so excited. Don’t get me wrong—I’m excited to see my kids. But I’m really nervous. I’m not even vaccinated yet. I’m taking our school’s new social distancing protocols seriously, but my teammate? Not so much. She has the kids doing group activities, and I’ve seen her students huddled together over iPads. When their masks are down, she doesn’t correct them. I guess she just doesn’t think it’s a big deal. If I say something, I know she’ll get defensive and tell me I’m overreacting. But it’s not safe! And it’s hard for my students to be stuck in their seats and see that other kids are doing things they’re not allowed to. What can I do?