How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

guilt trip

I’m currently writing a book about teacher exhaustion. Before I started, I emailed readers of this blog and asked if they’d share their stories. I wondered what they thought contributed to their exhaustion. One teacher wrote back:

Another factor is the ‘guilt trip’ administration lays on teachers about how ‘if you care for your kids you will do this.’

Principals sometimes resort to using guilt to persuade teachers to do things they would otherwise be disinclined to do. Principals need teachers to attend after-school events, join committees, do additional work after hours, and take on other tasks that are “part of the job” but not really the job. For a parent night, they’ll say, “Parents will expect to see teachers here.” They’ll stress the importance of the committee work. They’ll claim it’s a sign of “professionalism” to take on extra duties. They’ll remind you that “teaching isn’t like other jobs.”

Why They Do It

They don’t do it because they’re jerks. Most of them are in a tough spot. State and district mandates require certain work get done, and they need manpower but lack the funds to pay for it. The school improvement plan calls for more parent involvement, so they schedule two parent nights. As the date approaches, they start begging teachers to attend. The school needs a PBIS team, but the district won’t pay for subs for teachers to meet during the day, meaning they must meet before or after school. The cabinets in the science lab are a holy mess and need to be reorganized, but who’s going to do the work, and when will they do it? You know the answer.

Most of the time, principals use guilt because they don’t have money. If they do have money, they don’t want to set a precedent of paying for everything teachers do outside the school day. That’s understandable, but it’s not really teachers’ problem.

And guilt works. People who go into teaching tend to be selfless. They’ve chosen a career that puts others’ needs ahead of their own. They have a moral code and a self-image as someone who always goes the extra mile for other people. It’s hard for them to stand up to a guilt trip that implies they might be doing anything less than they can for their students, their parents, or their colleagues. Guilt works, so it gets used.

But it’s also manipulative, and teachers shouldn’t reward it. Administrators have other options. The best of them is to foster an environment where teachers want to do more (or at least don’t mind). Principals who trust their teachers, who show them appreciation, who understand the challenges of the job, and who support them and respect their personal time will need to use guilt far less often. Teachers who work for bosses like this won’t have to be begged. And if you’re a principal who finds himself pleading, prodding, and laying on guilt trips to get teachers to do more, then you should first question your school’s culture. If you think you’ve got a pretty good one but teachers aren’t willing take on extra responsibilities, find out why. Ask them.

What Buddha Can Teach Us About Guilt Trips

If you’re a teacher on the receiving end of the guilt trip, you might consider the story of Buddha and the angry man:

It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words.

The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

It’s true of guilt, too. When you refuse to accept the guilt someone is trying to make you feel, then you will not feel guilty.

How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

If you can’t, if you find yourself giving in again and again, then you need to reframe your thinking. Try these:

  • It is not my job to solve problems created by other people.
  • It is not “professional” to work for free.
  • It is only “part of the job” because teachers have allowed it to be.
  • My primary job is being an effective teacher to the kids in my class. If doing extras in any way hinders my effectiveness in that regard, then I should not do those things.
  • Allowing myself to be persuaded by a guilt trip makes it more likely I will be subjected to the same manipulative tactic in the future.
  • Choosing something means not choosing something else. Instead of thinking, “I should really help out at the after-school event,” think, “By choosing the after-school event, I’m choosing not to spend time with my family.”
  • Nothing will change if teachers keep volunteering their time. If I think teachers should be paid for their work, then I need to stop being part of the problem.

Guilt trips only work when you let them.

Stop taking the ride.

How to Get Your First Teaching Job

interview

It’s summer, the season of baseball, ice cream, the beach, and road construction. It’s also the hiring season. Districts everywhere are working to fill their open positions and the competition at some is at hot as the sand on the soles of your feet. Many aspiring teachers enter the interview season with fear and nervousness. They scour the web for anything that might give them a leg up. There’s a lot of advice out there, some good and some not. For this article I reached out to eight school administrators to find out what sets apart those teachers they hire from those they don’t.

Before you even sit down to write your resume, there are a couple of things you should do. First, clean up your social media. If an administrator can find a scandalous picture of you, then so can any parent, student, or future colleague.

Next, take advantage of relationships. If you substituted after student teaching (and you should have), then now’s the time to call school secretaries, teachers whose rooms you subbed in, and principals who are familiar with your work. Almost all of those people want to help young people succeed (that’s why they’re in education!), so don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation, to put in a kind word to administrators they know, or to use their names as references on your resume. These connections don’t guarantee you a job, but they can often lead to an interview.

Your Resume

First impressions are almost all that matter. Your resume will, if you’re lucky, get a couple minutes of consideration before it’s put into one of two piles. The administrators I talked to want a professional looking resume with well-organized credentials. Each of them said that grammatical errors and disorganization will disqualify you. Keep it brief; you needn’t include things that every teacher does in the course of their job.

You need something to separate your resume from the rest of the pile. A principal in Florida said he wants, “A resume that is eye-catching in organization, clarity, and content. Too many resumes are boilerplate and have no presence or personality.”

Another principal said, “Just ALWAYS try to find at least one thing to help you stand out among the others, ANYTHING. An international internship, bilingual, volunteering at schools while you are doing your undergrad, anything to help you get a leg up.”

A former principal and Superintendent told me, “The most attractive candidates pop out as a person who authentically cares for children. Something unique. At least one thing that separates you from others. Communicate that you’re willing to do the work of an educator–pd, meetings, parent communications.”

Andrew Phillips, the principal at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate in Ortonville, Michigan said, “I want to know what he or she did to go above and beyond. Did a candidate do the optional stuff, like help coach, or participate in an optional book study, or tutor kids? I want to hire someone who will come to after-school activities without me having to beg, who will do optional learning to better themselves and our students.”

Even the paper can help. One principal said, “The use of colored resume (parchment) paper always stands out to me that the candidate took the extra time to print their documents on something other than the traditional white copy paper that happened to be in the printer.”

The Interview

If your resume does what it’s supposed to do, you’ll be called in for an interview. In addition to obvious things like looking professional, not chewing gum, keeping your phone in your car, and smiling, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds you’ll get called back for a second interview or even offered the job.

job

It’s About Your Attitude

“Show me that you are interested in the interview,” said one principal, but don’t, as one former Superintendent said, “be a basket case.” Smile, be enthusiastic, be happy to be there (even if anxiety is eating away at your stomach) and sell yourself. It’s about attitude as much as knowledge. One principal uses the “cup of coffee test.” Would they want to have coffee with you? They have to be able to see themselves working with you for many years.

Be confident, but not arrogant. One teacher who has served on multiple interview committees said, “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. If your attitude comes off as you “know everything” you may be a turn off to teammates and difficult to coach if the need arises. Ultimately, nobody likes a “know it all.”

Be Specific

I’ve served on five interview committees over the years, both for teacher and principal jobs, and the one thing that kills candidates is a lack of specificity in their answers. The administrators I heard from echoed this. They said:

“I want to see how the applicant has applied the necessary skills in the real world with meaningful examples. I just don’t want to see one’s goals or skills. I want to see how they can demonstrate those skills.”

“Talk specifically about the way you operate math and literacy in your classroom. It’s great to make all the kids feel like your classroom is a home, but everyone says that. Not everyone can talk about running a true math workshop or guided reading groups.”

“Talk about what you will do, not what you did while student teaching. Too often, candidates talk about what their master teacher did and how they witnessed that. It leaves the impression that they don’t have any ingrained beliefs or thoughts independent of that teacher.”

Be Honest

Some knowledge of the district is good — it shows you want the job badly enough to do some research — but you’re not expected to know everything, so admit when you don’t. Listen carefully to the questions, and answer directly. If you are not sure about an answer, be honest. Don’t try to make an answer up just because you think you should. Say, “I really can’t address that question, but I’d be glad to learn about it immediately.”

Ask Questions

One principal explained that, “Asking intelligent questions shows reflection on the part of the candidate.”

Many administrators would prefer the interview to be a two-way conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is asking. You can also separate yourself from the competition by asking questions that serve a dual purpose by satisfying your authentic curiosity about aspects of the job as well as communicating your willingness to go the extra mile for students. Questions about what extra-curricular opportunities exist for new teachers, or whether or not the school has after-school clubs run by teachers are always impressive.

I hope this helped. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected]

Thank you to the current and former administrators who shared their thoughts for this article.

Related Articles:

Teaching at a Private School Versus Teaching at a Public School

6 Ways to Make the Most of Student Teaching

Teaching at a Private School Versus Teaching at a Public School

Guest post by Sharon Yu on behalf of Oak Crest Academy

Teachers looking to find a job in the education field must weigh the option of teaching at a private school or a public school. While both settings allow a teacher to work with children and fulfill their passion of teaching, the two environments offer unique advantages and disadvantages. One can decide what employment opportunity is right for him or her by learning how teaching in a public school is different than teaching in a private school.

Class Size

It is well-known that many public schools across the U.S. continue to struggle with classroom sizes. With many districts experiencing shortages of qualified teachers, those who do teach in these schools often find that their class sizes increase each year. The average public school has about 30-40 students in a single classroom.

Alternatively, private schools typically have smaller classroom sizes and a better student-to-teacher ratio. If you want to teach smaller classes and give more individualized attention to your students, you may find teaching in a private school more in line with your employment goals. Private schools control their enrollment so that the class size is smaller at a range of 15-18 students.

Salaries and Benefits

Public school teachers tend to be paid more than private school teachers. Of course, this varies with the school and the school district and additionally, private school packages may include better benefits. Even as school districts across the U.S. struggle with financial challenges, many offer higher salaries to both new and established teachers. They also offer generous benefits like pensions, paid sick and holiday leave, and college tuition reimbursement.

In contrast, private schools typically subsist on donations to the organization or church that sponsors them. They do not receive state or federal subsidies that they can in turn use to pay teacher salaries. If you teach in a private school, you may receive significantly less in pay than if you were to teach in a public school. You may also receive only basic benefits like health insurance and minimal paid sick leave.

Instructional Flexibility

Public school administrators must abide by strict federal and state laws when it comes to approving curriculum for students. The curriculum cannot include subjective lessons on religion, for example. Likewise, lessons in human sexuality must abide by stringent boundaries that avoid advocating for certain religious or secular positions on these topics. Public school teachers must follow the approved curriculum carefully or risk losing their jobs.

However, teachers in private schools often enjoy greater flexibility when it comes to teaching these and other subjects. Their lessons may advocate for religious or subjective viewpoints as long as those stances are in line with the teachings of the church or private organization that sponsors the school. These lessons can be taught even if they are not in line with popularly held secular beliefs. Also note that many private schools claim to offer better programs for children with disabilities or gifted children.

Administrative Support

Finally, if you want to teach in a setting where you can enjoy ample support from school administrators, you may choose private school teaching instead of teaching in a public school. Public school administrators often are overburdened with politics, paperwork, and other obstacles that do not allow them much time in the classroom in support of teachers.

Alternatively, private school administrators often remain in close contact with their classroom teachers and provide them with ample support throughout the school year. They do not face the same bureaucratic challenges as their public school counterparts.

Teaching in a public school is markedly different from teaching in a private school in several key ways. You can decide what type of employment to pursue and what type of educational setting best aligns with your values and professional goals by learning how these two school types present instructional opportunities to new and established teachers.

 

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If you’d like to write your own guest post for Teacher Habits, email me at [email protected] with your idea or the full article. I’ll get back to you within three days.

 

6 Ways to Make the Most of Student Teaching

student teaching

I received an email from a reader who is anxious about her upcoming student teaching experience and wanted to know if I could share some advice. After throwing some ideas around with a much younger teacher (that hurts to type) and reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve come up with some ideas. Please add your own in the comments so that aspiring teachers may benefit.

To make the most of student teaching, do as Stephen Covey commands:

Keep the main thing the main thing.

The main thing is getting a full-time teaching job next year. Yes, you also want to develop skills, collect ideas, network, and connect with students, but none of that stuff matters much if you don’t get your own classroom. Keep your eye on the prize. You are about to start a long interview process.

To that end, and before you get a placement, fight for the grade level you want. Your college will tell you it doesn’t matter. What else are they supposed to say? They have limited placement opportunities, so not everybody can get what they want. But we know how squeaky wheels work. So squeak. Your student teaching will be going on your resume. If you want to teach third grade, administrators are going to favor candidates with third grade experience over those who have only taught fifth graders. It’s not disqualifying if you student teach in a grade other than the one for which you’re applying, but in a close competition with another candidate, it may disadvantage you. Try to get the grade you want to teach for your student teaching.

Now, here’s one thing you do not need to worry much about: how good you are at teaching. You’re new. You’re young. You aren’t supposed to be that good. I’m old and still screw up all the time. I have disastrous days. Don’t freak out if your lesson flops or your classroom management sucks the first time you get up there in front of students.

My school doesn’t invite student teachers, but my wife, a fifth grade teacher, has had five of them. Her criticisms have never centered around her student teachers’ abilities. It was their attitudes that made the difference.

To start, do these things:

  • Be on time – Better yet, be early. At least 30 minutes.
  • Look professional – If you wear it to a bar, don’t wear it to work.
  • Don’t complain – There will be plenty to complain about, but no one likes a cynical 22-year-old. Save the complaints for your roommate.
  • Get better – You can stink, but your stinking should get moderately less offensive.
  • Be competent – Know the basics. If you’re teaching how to compare fractions, you must understand how to compare fractions. Watch a video or two if you’ve forgotten.
  • Enjoy kids – Parts of the job – the ones dealing with adults, mostly – are tedious, annoying, and infuriating. The kids make it worth it. If you don’t enjoy them, go find something else to do. Seriously.
  • Do the work – If your cooperating teacher asks you to give her your lesson plan the Friday before you’re going to teach your lesson, then give her your lesson plan the Friday before you teach your lesson. This sounds obvious, but my wife’s number one complaint about her student teachers was that they weren’t prepared and would expect her to bail them out. This pissed her off. Don’t piss off the teacher who’s sharing her classroom with you.

If you can’t handle those seven things, then the rest of this list won’t mean much. You probably won’t get past the interview stage, and if you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t. You simply won’t last long if the basic stuff is overwhelming.

All that said, and assuming you’re pursuing the right profession, here are 6 Ways to Make the Best of Student Teaching:

Get along with people

I hate calling it “networking” because that sounds icky and manipulative. But look, you’ll want to use these people as references on your resume. And even if you don’t, they know people who can help you. I got an interview with a high-demand district because the counselor at the school where I student taught knew an administrator over there.

The easiest way to make friends who will one day want to help you out is to show appreciation. Teachers get so little of it, you’ll stand out and be remembered. I have a former student who, every Teacher Appreciation Week, writes a thoughtful letter of appreciation to all her former teachers. There’s no ulterior motive; it’s a genuine expression of gratitude. I can guarantee that when the time comes, she’ll be able to name her district because there are many teachers, who know many other educators, who will recommend her.

Start something new

Every person who looks at your future resume will want to see something, anything, beyond what was required. Lots of people can fulfill requirements; special people do more. What’s most impressive (and I’ve sat on a number of interview committees) is initiative that benefits students. We know how busy the student teaching year is, so anyone who gets something novel off the ground is someone we want to hire. It can be simple. Start an after-school reading club for struggling readers. If you’ve got a talent, start a club for that. Chess, Quilting, Coding. Anything looks good. If you can do something with technology, either outside of school or embedded in your lessons, that’s even better. Old people are fascinated by technology, and they’re the ones doing the hiring. Volunteering to share your school’s good news on Facebook might be a simple way to impress.

Do the grunt work

Make the copies, get the coffee, write out the ridiculously detailed lesson plans your university requires even though no teacher has the time, inclination, or need to ever write them. We’ve all done it. It’s part of the initiation process. And, truthfully, it prepares you for the real world. There’s plenty of grunt work in education. I still make my own copies and plunge the classroom toilet.

Shut up

Yes, you learned some stuff in your teacher preparation courses. You read new research and were challenged on the old ways of doing things. This is what colleges do. Academia is great at questioning well-worn practices. But those TAs and profs sometimes don’t have much experience in the real world. My student teaching year, I read something about how we shouldn’t require students to raise their hands before talking. The article made a lot of high-minded, seemingly good points. I asked my master teacher if I could try it. She looked doubtful, but said go ahead. It didn’t go well. There are usually good reasons why schools and teachers do things the way they do. They might not be ideal, but sometimes the alternatives that sound so good in a college classroom cause more problems than they’re worth. Listen more than you talk.

Ask questions

Ask lots of questions. This is one of the only times in your career that you will have the opportunity to spend large amounts of time observing professional teachers. Make the most of it, it won’t come again. The teachers will do things you won’t understand. I guarantee they will have reasons for those choices. Ask about them. Benefit from their hard-won lessons earned through years of experience.

Keep an ideas file

Try to get into lots of different classrooms so you’re exposed to an array of teaching techniques, management strategies, organizational methods, and tricks of the trade. Write down everything that looks even remotely interesting. When you’re preparing for your first classroom, there will be a ton of decisions you will have to make. Having ideas in a file will give you a place to start. And if that fails, there’s always Pinterest.

Good luck. Enjoy it! You’re about to learn twenty times more about teaching than you have in all your years sitting in a classroom. Make the most of it!

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Hey, Teacher Habits readers! How about leaving your own awesome ideas in the comments so that young people can position themselves to land that first job? Thanks.

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Coming Next:  Administrators’ Advice for Landing Your First Teaching Job

Teachers, Stop Saying You Work During the Summer

summer work
I know, I know. Some of you actually work. Some of you really do plan lessons, attend conferences, renovate your classrooms, teach summer school, or even work a part-time job. Some of you do all of the above.

But most of you don’t.

I’ve been teaching seventeen years now. I know a LOT of teachers. Most of my friends are teachers. Hardly any of them work much in the summer. One teaches summer school for three days a week for about six weeks. Most of us do some planning for next year (“vaguely thinking about” would be more accurate). We might read a teaching book or two this summer (might I recommend Happy Teacher?). Almost all of us will, at some point before the year starts, head into our classrooms a few times to get everything in order. But most of us aren’t doing much work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Facebook pages of the teachers you know.

So can we please stop pretending? Can we stop lying?

Stop Being Defensive

I was on Facebook earlier today when I came across a video a friend had shared. You’ve probably seen it or one like it. It was about how teachers get no respect and how there’s a shortage in teacher prep programs. It listed some of the reasons teachers feel disrespected.

The first comment under the video trotted out the very tired, “Teachers have three months off” argument. Evidently, the commenter missed the part about teachers quitting and young people avoiding the profession. That would seem to argue that those three months off aren’t the incentive people think they are. The commenter was beset, of course, by teachers claiming, as they always do, that no, actually, we work those three months!  That’s not a vacation! We take classes and plan lessons and work other jobs because of our shitty pay. Reading them, you would think that most teachers are busting their asses all summer. We aren’t. I sure as hell am not.

And I won’t apologize to anyone for that.

Teachers Don’t Waste Time

I work hard during the school year. I work harder than a lot of people. I may not work the same number of hours as someone in another profession, but the hours I do work are not wasted. I’ve never participated in a Cyber Monday. I’m there the Monday after the Super Bowl, without a hangover, doing the same job I do every day. A 2014 survey from Salary.com found that 89% of workers admitted to wasting time at work. 31% waste 30 minutes a day. Another 31% waste an hour. 16% waste TWO HOURS each day. How are they wasting time? Well, Bitly found that traffic on Twitter peaks between 9 am and 3 pm, Monday through Thursday, and that Facebook spikes between 1 pm and 3 pm midweek. Those are curious times, aren’t they? It’s almost like people in cubicles are not really working that much. Usage drops off at 4 pm, when all those hard working business people go home.

Teachers don’t get to waste time. We don’t have the luxury of buying crap online while students are watching our every move. We can’t check Facebook six times a day to see how many people liked our cat photo from last night. We’re not getting into Twitter arguments at 2 pm. In fact, if you’re a teacher who tweets you know that educator chats always occur at night. #edchat runs from 7-8 pm on Tuesdays. #edtechchat from 8-9 pm on Mondays. #tlap is scheduled at Monday at 9 pm. When do Twitter chats for marketing professionals take place? #ContentChat is Monday at 3 pm. #BufferChat is at noon on Wednesdays. #BizHeroes is at 2 pm on Tuesdays. Must be nice to have tweeting considered “work.” If teachers waste time at school, it simply means we have more work to take home. Other professionals might work more hours than teachers, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing more work.

Stop Apologizing

Teachers, let’s just be honest: Summer vacation is perk. No one else apologizes for their work perks. Why should we?

I’ll start feeling bad for enjoying my three months off when business people start feeling bad about their hour-long leisurely lunches at restaurants (that some write off as business expenses), their corporate junkets to Aspen, free tickets to sporting events, paid air travel and hotel stays that allow them to see the country on their company’s dime, high salaries, the ability to take a week off in October to vacation during non-peak times, workdays that permit (even encourage) dicking off on social media, paid water cooler conversations about last night’s episode of “The Bachelor,” and lots of other perks I don’t get as a teacher.

But since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, I’ll just enjoy my three months off.

Every glorious, sun-filled, relaxing day of it.