I feel so left out today. Our school is having a spirit week. Today’s theme was “Students Dress as Staff / Staff Dress as Students Day.” There were two popular teachers with a lot of students dressed up like them. The principal even announced it and invited students to their chosen teacher’s classroom to take photos. I knew no one dressed up like me, and it put me in an awkward position. One of my colleagues was kind enough to say we could “share” some students, but I declined. Then there was a social media post about today’s “fun” activity, even mentioning all the names of the staff that students dressed up as. Everyone was mentioned except me. I feel so hurt. I hope we don’t do this spirit day ever again. Should I say something? —On the Outside Looking In
Feeling left out can be so discouraging and isolating, and I’m sorry you experienced this. This experience serves as an important reminder about the unintended consequences of some activities. Students AND teachers are vulnerable to popularity contests and feeling left out.
Part of your demoralized feelings come from the dangers of comparison. All humans notice what’s similar and different from them. It’s normal for us to tend to compare. The Restoring Balance Counseling group describes how “comparison can be a trigger for negative thinking and foster a never-ending stream of negative self-beliefs.” Comparing yourself can feel like a roller-coaster ride. Your “self-worth being flung around by the opinion, words, and actions of others. Even when you do feel better than others, by comparison, the strength you gain is a temporary ego-boost.”
It seems like your disheartened feelings deepened with the added arrow of the social media post. We’ve all seen how social media can portray a situation in a more favorable way than it really was. This is a good example of that distortion. What was “fun” for some was cruel to others. The Jed Foundation emphasizes that “when we come to social media hoping to meet core human needs for connection that aren’t being met in offline life or to feel better about ourselves, we risk coming away from social media feeling even more lonely or self-critical than we started out.”
Yes, talk to your administrator. How else will they be able to advocate and adjust upcoming spirit days if you don’t? Your voice and perspective matter, and I’m sure you weren’t the only one who felt discomfort when spirit day turned into popularity contest. There are some small tweaks that can turn a spirit day from disaster to inclusive and fun. Instead of inviting the kids to dress like a teacher or staff, they could be encouraged to dress like a favorite character from a book. I hope you know you aren’t alone and that speaking up will help more than yourself.
It’s the end of the school year and I’m overwhelmed by deadlines. Every morning I wake up to a slew of emails with requests for accommodations and leniency. My to-do list just keeps getting longer. I teach high school, and I’m buried in grading and trying to give meaningful feedback. Something has got to give. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, and I’ve never had so many hiccups and setbacks personally and professionally. I know I need to ask for help, but I don’t want people to think I’m not good at my job. What advice do you have? —Drowning in Deadlines
The end of the year is riddled with so many details. Many of us educators see a light at the end of the tunnel during the last couple of weeks of school, but it can be dimmed by that long “to-do” list. And you are right—something has got to give. Follow your own advice on that. Take some time to journal, sit and think, or stroll and reflect on what you can let go of. Are you trying to please everyone? Find a way to create a little space for yourself. That spacious feeling might be short, but it will be sweet for certain.
I certainly can relate to your feelings of being hijacked and bombarded by new issues every time I open my emails. Once I open the message, I try to deal with it right away if I can. If I need more time, I quickly write that I received their email and will be in touch as soon as possible. People are complex and life is multidimensional. Often when students are reaching out, it means they trust you and are counting on your support. I find myself giving my college students extra time for assignments, and it means so much to them. I typically sent a brief email saying, “I realize life is happening and you are in the thick of it right now. How about a few more days for the assignment? I’m here to talk if that will help.”
Can we talk about grading? It’s such a grind. Sometimes it can feel demanding, tedious, and redundant. And there are just so many things to grade. It’s clear you are responsive and personal and desire meaningful feedback over numbers. You know that’s more relevant and significant to your students. Your worthwhile feedback can take a lot of time that you don’t have right now with the end-of-the-year push. So, consider choosing one aspect of your students’ work and highlighting it. Go for depth in a dimension over breadth.
I want to address the insecurity that you feel when you ask for help. The truth is that asking for help does not mean you are weak or incompetent. It means that you value collaboration. Poet Maggie Smith says, “There’s no merit badge for pretending everything is fine. Today’s goal: Be brave enough to ask for help when you need it. There is no merit badge for Doing All the Hard Things Alone. Reach out. Keep moving.”
Live in the present as best you can. Seek inspiration by filling up your cup with experiences that fulfill your core desired feelings. Take the walk, watch the sunset, play Wordle, eke in time for fun. That to-do list will always be there, but now you can tackle it with a more positive frame of mind.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected].
I teach high school art and every year we collaborate as a department team to choose the senior who is most deserving not just by grades, but by talent, attitude, perseverance, and growth. One of my students joined the Advanced Placement Art class with very little experience. He worked hard to catch up and surpass students who had been enrolled in many art classes prior. I told him to be sure to attend the awards assembly wink wink, but when I met him there he said he didn’t see his name on the program. I quickly learned that our new counselor changed many award recipients last-minute without talking to the teachers. And this counselor used a computer report and focused on G.P.A. I talked to my student and he took things in stride, but I feel terrible. Please tell me if you think this is wrong, too!
Want more advice columns? Visit our Ask WeAreTeachers hub.