The Fears Teachers Have: Part 2) Have Well-Educated Adults Lost Their Ability To Have a Backbone?

Posted
3/22/2019
Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher
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This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Teacher Fears, and in it we will explore what's really ruminating in the hearts and minds of the people in this profession. This exploration will consider the things that teachers are often hesitant to discuss or write about for fear of rocking the boat. I guess I should be concerned, too. Instead, I find myself more concerned for my peers and colleagues. I posted a simple question on social media to get some responses about the things that weigh most heavily on the minds of teachers. What I got in return was a much more complicated answer than I'd ever imagined I'd receive….

Are we so afraid of a potential outcome that we won't stand up for ourselves or for what is right?

Is our profession unique in generating these fears and concerns?

Have we lost our nerve?

Are we tired for standing up for the right things because we're tired of being given so much grief?

Do we avoid wearing the clothing we like because our neighbors down the hall mock us for our fashion (or lack there of) choices?

Is this high school or is this a career?

Shake It Out Like a Dirty Rug

Taking a deeper dive into the respondents' answers, it seems they can be shaken down into two simple categories:

  1. Issues created BY us
  2. Issues created FOR us

Bullying: Teacher-To-Teacher

Why are we so mean to each other? WHY are women so much quicker to give a high heel to the head instead of a hand up to those who are in need of support in the workplace?

When did people lose their ability to mentor those around them? When did people become too busy to invest time and energy into a colleague? How many of us veteran Teachers are in need of an honest conversation with ourselves? Are we helping the new ones in our midst or are we giving way to the gossip and pre-supposed "problems" of peers new in to our building?

When did it become out-of-fashion to get to know people without the clouds of gossip hazing our view?

Is no one smart enough to realize that by spending time with someone in need of guidance and support, they're actually going to spend less net time in the future?

Don't they realize that by frontloading the information, the person can be well equipped enough to go off and do things right and well independently?

Perhaps Teachers who are struggling-and secretly KNOW it-are intimidated by the new team members, often full of energy and enthusiasm. The new Teachers are on display for all the world to see--because people are watching them.

Teachers who've become lackadaisical or even a bit complacent in their efforts perhaps feel the pressure of innately knowing they need to step up their game but publicly rolling their eyes at the new kid on the block.

"She'll be burned out by Christmas at that pace." If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times.

A former Teacher intern of mine calls me frequently to share her stories of administration's attempt to, in the mind of my former intern, get her to quit.

This second year Teacher's energy level is unparalleled.

Not only is her passion for teaching Kindergarten effervescent but by the physiological fact that she has Attention Deficit Disorder is evident.

So yeah, she can pretty much run circles around her peers. Literally.

Taylor's enthusiasm for her little guys is contagious. Her sparkle and quest for fun keeps her young ones thoroughly engaged and eager to come to school each day.

Her kids are meeting their goals.

So why was she being hassled by her peers?

Big question, why did her administrator put her on a plan?

Bigger question, why did she have to involve a lawyer?

Biggest question, why did the attorney's request for all documentation regarding observations, affirmations of negative interactions, copies of alleged letters and emails from parents, and affidavits from "harmed" staff people go unanswered?

Big answer: because there WERE none.

Probable answer? Their own deficit areas of Taylor's colleagues would, over time, be highlighted for all the world to see, shaming or jarring them into taking corrective action.

But we've all seen it before: if a Teacher is a couple years away from retiring, often there ain't nothing gonna change.

Instead of embracing the challenge to up their games late in their careers, Teachers across our country display the same types of bullying behaviors we try to convince our students to NOT commit.

REALLY?

So instead of using the energy of new Teachers and enthusiastic Teachers to self-motivate or inspire, it makes more sense to drag them down…?

Remember, the Golden Rule does NOT say, "Do unto others as they do unto you."

It very clearly states, "Do unto others as you would HAVE done to you."

Treat people the way YOU want to be treated….not the way you believe they DESERVE to be treated.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

My Mom and I were chatting this morning and as she usually does, she asked how work and writing were going.

I shared about my week thus far. Then I decided to share with her the topic of this very blog post.

After it plopped in her proverbial lap, I asked why she was so quiet.

She said, "I'm just so shocked. I don't remember our world being such a hateful place. It's awful to me that my kids and grandkids reside in a world where we're always hearing about how rough it is to work, to do what you went to school to do…what you love to do. I worry about you working in a school. If I'm going to be honest, I pray every single day that I don't watch the news and see there's been a school shooting in your district or building."

Holy smokes. I didn't realize Mom worried like that.

After continuing our conversation, Dad jumped on the line. I needed to more fully develop their thought process.

My Builder Generation parents are quintessential members of this tribe of 80-somethings. These people worked all of their lives for what they had, commonly paying cash to accrue one necessary item at a time.

They saved for necessities as well as for fun.

They worked inside and outside of their homes.

The homes of my mother's friends were much like ours-you could eat off every surface.

Home-cooked meals, one vehicle, well-groomed and well-behaved children (publicly, anyway), cash-and-carry, salt-of-the-earth, God-and-family, Greater-Good-minded people who not only took care of their own but they also watched out for others.

I spent time sharing the concerns noted by my colleagues on social media. We slowly vetted the ins and outs of each fear and concern these people bravely shared.

My parents were, quite simply, gob-smacked.

"When I was young, these things MAY have been an issue in some workplaces, but really, things were so much different back then," stated my dad.

"It wasn't about making the other person look bad. It was about doing the best job possible and getting the work done, and doing it together. We won World War II that way. If you weren't on the Front, you were on the home front. You were working in a plant. You were hauling coal. You were collecting rubber. You weren't HAPPY to use rations but you were happy to know that because you did, the boys overseas were getting what they needed. We planted Victory Gardens. There was a sense of being ‘in it together' which doesn't exist today."

Yep. Not like that quite as much anymore…

Piercing the Darkness

I really wish I had answers for my colleagues who, daily, are beleaguered by their work. Who are committed to helping better educate children but who stumble in the way of the mal-aligned, malicious, and malevolent agendas designed with a common theme: to make colleagues stand apart with intentions which are nefarious and odious.

But I don't.

Many of the respondents talk about having been "targeted" for an entire school year. They share tales of being verbally reprimanded for things when they weren't even present. They share about being ridiculed publicly, having their privacy violated and Human Resource departments unsupportive.

These people share about district level superiors candidly sharing that if the Teacher opted out of activity x, y, or z, they may as well begin searching for new employment.

They talk about peers who have had major surgeries but who were told that if they did not return within a two-week window, their job would be gone…even if their doctor advised a six week recovery.

They openly admit that even though they know they have done no wrong, the fear of losing their job while being a single parent drove them to accept blame for things they did not do.

There are stories about parents coming into classrooms, clearly agitated about their child's performance. The parents would verbally rage, insult, and threaten the Teacher, and in more than one case, parents over-turned desks and destroyed both personal and school property, yet no negative implication befell the offending parent.

There is a story about a parent learning that the Teacher called Child Protective Services regarding his son. The parent met the Teacher in the school parking lot, gun in-hand. No security was present. The parent threatened the Teacher verbally AND with the presence of a gun. In an effort to avoid a publicity "nightmare," the district chose to not press charges. Further, the Teacher was informed that if he/she did, their would be "problems needing to be addressed concerning the status of their employment."

There are too many to share.

They're all sad.

They make me angry.

They tick me off because I think about all the administrators I've known over the years who have been excellent at their jobs but who, quite simply, would not support me in a time of crisis such as these.

…and I've had more than one who said some pretty unseemly things…

My heart aches for those in our ranks who are single parents and who have no option but to "buck up, buttercup."

WHY DO WE EVEN HAVE TO TOLERATE THIS STUFF IN A PROFESSION WHERE WE PAY A FORTUNE FOR NOT ONLY AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE BUT TYPICALLY A MASTER'S DEGREE?

And why, on top of the insurmountable student loan debt we accrue, are we paying for supplies out of our own pockets?

Why are we constantly defending our decisions when we have mountains of documentation?

WHY DO PARENTS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS FEEL IT'S OKAY TO TELL US HOW TO DO OUR JOBS????

Do you go to your doctor's office and suggest they do things differently? How about your lawyer? An engineer? A firefighter?

No, of course not.

But in our country, the current belief is that it's okay to treat a Teacher disrespectfully and yet we keep coming to work because WE LOVE WHAT WE DO.

So, the Answer Is…?

There are no easy answers. It's going to require a shift in mindset. It's going to require a generational shift in paradigms. It's going to require Americans simply saying, "Enough."

Is that ever going to happen?

Beats me.

For now, I go to work. I smile and do my very best each day.

Am I flawed? Heck, yeah. Do I strive daily to be better today than I was yesterday? You bet. Do I love that the new Teacher down the hall and their joyful exhilaration. Yes, and I'm a bit jealous of their energy level, too.

Truth be told, I'll be staying put. I'm in it for the long-haul. I just wish our peers and community felt the same way.

 

Bookmark this page and check back in a few days for the final installment of this three-part series.

Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary McLaughlin

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