How in the world can teachers say, “I don’t like kids?” Recently, during a staff meeting at our middle school, a teacher blurted this out, and so many staff members laughed. This sentiment makes me feel so disillusioned! I was kind of stunned. When the comment was made, our principal just ignored the comment. I feel like I can’t just stay silent on this. I mean, why would people study to be teachers and spend most of their waking day WITH kids if they don’t like them? —The Kids Are Everything
You aren’t the first educator to bring up how disturbing it is to hear teachers say negative things about kids and families. Our language reveals our beliefs, and our beliefs impact learning conditions. Blurting out deficit comments is toxic! I mean, would you want your child in a classroom with a teacher who says that? I wouldn’t.
It sounds like the teacher who said, “I don’t like kids,” is unhappy at work. Unfortunately, this type of energy creates classroom conditions that negatively impact student learning. So why do people stay in jobs that don’t suit them? Maybe they have become jaded over time. Or maybe they feel paralyzed to make a change. Possibly a boss is making life so challenging that their overall well-being and attitude are suffering. The bottom line is, good relationships with leadership and other colleagues make a big difference.
Educator and famous TedTalk speaker Rita Pierson has something to say to this teacher: “A colleague said to me one time, ‘They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson. I should teach it. They should learn it. Case closed.’ Well, I said to her, ‘You know kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.’ She said, ‘That’s just a bunch of hooey.’ And I said to her, ‘Well your year is going to be long and arduous, dear.’”
I’d encourage you to talk to your administrator. Maybe you can say something to the effect of, “I’ve been thinking about the last staff meeting when one of our colleagues yelled out that she doesn’t like kids. This comment made me uncomfortable. I feel even more discouraged that many teachers just laughed it off and that the comment wasn’t addressed publicly. What are your thoughts? How can we address this issue?” Teaching is hard enough, and adding toxicity makes it exponentially harder. I hope you can keep your head up and seek out other teachers that carry themselves with grace and a positive mindset.
As a principal of an elementary school, I’m stretched in new ways each day. Lately, people have been taking shelter close to my school. I walk by them, say hello, and talk a bit every day. They are friendly and mostly keep to themselves. A few parents have been pressuring me to push the “homeless problem” out of the area. They want me to “take care of it.” I feel so torn because the people seeking shelter have not been problematic. Maybe it just depends on the homeless people, but I want to teach my community to live together and not “other” this marginalized group of society. Of course, safety is one of my top priorities, but honestly, the parents’ crazy driving during drop-off is way more of a problem than the people living outside. Thanks for passing along your ideas. —People Are People
Our children are watching how we carry ourselves as educators. They notice whether you acknowledge others with a smile or turn away with disgust. Thank you for being a leader who models respect toward your community. It shows integrity to have an alignment with your actions and your beliefs. Knowing that you say hello and talk to people who lead a more transient lifestyle shows that compassion is a core value to you. You aren’t consumed by fear. And your actions demonstrate your belief in common humanity, empathy, and the importance of building community. The parents are asking you to “take care of” the problem. What a great idea. Let’s reframe this and really take care of each other.
As you engage with parents, of course, you will listen to their concerns and reassure them that you have the safety of every child as a priority. Remind them that you are in communication with law enforcement about safety at your site and in your community. You can have a deeper impact by helping to unearth the conscious and unconscious biases toward unsheltered people. Have the courage to let the parents know that you will not be a part of dehumanizing people. Often, people experiencing homelessness are bombarded with verbal insults, nonverbal grimaces, and physical distancing. Stay strong and stay away from criminalizing people based on how they look or where they live. Continue being an example to others by not tolerating the judgment of people by appearance.
It’s also important to recognize that your district likely has students and families who do not have stable housing. The National Center for Homeless Education reported the following U.S. data during the 2019-20 school year: “Public schools identified 1,280,886 students who experienced homelessness. This represents 2.5% of all students enrolled in public schools.”
Irregular living conditions often impact basic needs, including access to food, laundry facilities, bathrooms, and electricity. For example, charging a cell phone can be a major challenge for someone experiencing homelessness, and it’s something that most of us do without a second thought. Let’s build school spaces that promote more inclusion, tolerance, acceptance, and compassion. Maybe there can be charging stations, internet access, clothing swaps, food pantries, exercise classes, and opportunities to play games together. Reinforce and model that it’s beneficial for us all to be exposed to people with different backgrounds and lifestyles.
Cities all over our country have ordinances about habitation, sanitation, public safety, and preventing visual blight. Unfortunately, these city ordinances are often selectively enforced, creating a continuous cycle of displacement, intimidation, dehumanization, and trauma for people experiencing homelessness. Fortunately, we have champions like San Diego-based attorney Coleen Cusack, who works pro bono to defend those that can’t defend themselves. She reminds us to not force people into the shadows. Change takes intention and time, and Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
As a fifth-grade teacher, I face a wide range of behavior issues and family concerns. When I get home, I often vent to my husband about my challenges throughout the day. I’ve always just used my students’ real names. It never really occurred to me that this could be problematic, but my co-worker recently told me she shares details with her partner without using names. Should I be doing that? My husband is a teacher, too, so he gets it, but he’s not in my building, and likely won’t meet my students. —Name Or No Names
We all face challenges in our personal and work contexts, and expressing our thoughts and emotions can feel like a release. Our current reality in schools right now is full of intense issues. So many students are requiring more individual and personal support with behavior and family issues. Teachers are feeling stretched really thin and, in some cases, zapped of energy. So what do we do? We often come home and vent.
Confidentiality is a deeply important issue. “The principle of confidentiality means not passing on personal information about the families, children, or colleagues that staff work with. It also means a set of rules or a promise that limits the access or places restrictions on certain types of information. Confidentiality means not sharing information about people without their knowledge and agreement, and ensuring that written and electronic information cannot be accessed or read by people who have no reason to see it.”
While sharing about our workday, it’s likely that there are specific students you will want to discuss. When you talk about your learners’ challenges and successes, it’s best to get into the habit of saying “a student or a child” to keep confidentiality and avoid any unintended consequences. It’s a good practice to put intentionality into our communication. Our lack of awareness or sloppy communication can put students and families in unsafe situations, break a trusting relationship, and make others self-conscious and uncomfortable.
The Greater Good Magazine reveals some benefits of relaying our heavy load with others. “That’s because sharing our emotions reduces our stress while making us feel closer to others we share with and providing a sense of belonging. When we open up our inner selves and people respond with sympathy, we feel seen, understood, and supported.” I’m certain almost all of us agree that it feels good to be heard and understood. So, keep nurturing your circle of support with trusting relationships.
With that said, life can be murky sometimes. For example, my family members and colleagues often visit and volunteer in my classroom spaces and know my students by name and may realize who I’m discussing. In cases like this, you can be overt and ask people to keep things confidential. This explicit request helps to curtail future problems.
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I was so excited to finally welcome parent volunteers back into my third-grade classroom after such a long time. This one mom has been asking to help all year, and she just had her first day in the classroom. I gave her a bunch of tasks, like making copies and stuffing Friday Folders. She did a great job. The problem is, I caught her taking a peek at my grade book. Whoa! I was super surprised she crossed that line. I’m newer to teaching, but I know this is inappropriate. I don’t know how to talk to her about it. Can you help?
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Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson