I’ve been teaching for 12 years now. For the last six, I’ve been in a job share with another teacher. She works Mondays and Tuesdays, and I work Wednesdays and Thursdays. We trade off Fridays. She is an excellent teacher, and it’s been such a wonderful partnership. We know we can count on each other. It was so great when we were both having babies and could cover each other for maternity leave. But now that my kids are a little older, I’m itching to go back full-time. I “own” the job, so it’s my call, but I don’t want to hurt my partner’s feelings. How do I break it to her without ruining our friendship? —Hard To Say Goodbye
What a gift to have this type of productive, positive partnership! Building trust takes time, courage, and vulnerability. It sounds like you both really showed up for each other. Reciprocity is a beautiful thing. I bet you both appreciated the flexibility and support that comes with a shared contract. And it’s great to hear that your district approved this option because sometimes they don’t. I’m sure you are grateful to each other and that your collaboration had a positive effect on your classroom culture. Happy teachers change the world!
The first thing that comes to mind about navigating this transition is to communicate early, honestly, and frequently with your team partner. Let her know that this is a tough decision and your family needs to change the work arrangement. There is no need to defend your decision to take care of your family. On the contrary, you are not making a rash decision but thinking about your future for yourself and your family. Like most difficult situations, the longer you wait, the harder it will be. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Just keep reminding yourself that you can’t control how your team partner will react, but you can control how you respond.
Often we hear the phrase “holding space,” so let’s dig a little deeper. Margeaux House writes, “The definition of space holding is to be present with someone, without judgment. It means you donate your ears and heart without wanting anything in return. It involves practicing empathy and compassion.” So, be present with your full body. Let her know you really care by giving high-quality attention with your body language. Listen and then listen some more. This change may bring up a great deal of uncertainty and a possible surprise for your friend/colleague. You need to be prepared to be grounded, calm, and compassionate. She may cry or show anger or sadness. You might feel awful, but stay on track to listen intently to her concerns and show her you care deeply.
I’m sure you will remember to infuse your conversation with gratitude and your sincere desire to stay connected as friends. Say it even if you think she knows how much your care about her. Expressing gratitude is more than saying thank you. Gratefulness.org says that “by definition, the practice of gratitude involves a focus on the present moment, on appreciating your life as it is today and what has made it so.” Take a few minutes to jot down your gratitude ideas before your conversation. Maybe even write a handwritten note to give to her. The type of personal touch involved in a handwritten letter communicates your time investment, intention, and appreciation. So, set up a time to talk in person and let it unfold.
I’m a breadwinner and as much as I want to take a break for summer, I need to work. I’ve picked up another part-time job and I’m teaching summer school. I’m also in the middle of a separation and have two kids. I feel like I’m always hustling. I’m dreading a busy summer, and I’m not sure how I can fill my cup and feel fresh for the new year. I want to feel inspired but don’t even know where to start. What ideas do you have to help me get through this? —Crushed by the Hustle
It’s totally understandable that you feel crushed by all that weight you are carrying. Any single one of these life circumstances you shared has major challenges and heaviness. But all at once is hard. REALLY HARD. Hopefully, you can find the time to work with a therapist. It really helps to have someone more objective to support you and notice and name your progress. It’s going to be hard juggling the co-/single-parenting world. Hang in there and be sure to let your friends and family help you. You would do the same for someone you care about, right?
From moment to moment, you are building your resilience. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” There are factors that influence how well we adapt to life’s bumpiness. Some attributes that are at the forefront of resilience include how we see the world, our social resources, and our coping strategies. Fortunately for us, greater resilience can be cultivated.
It might be hard to find time for self-care, but you can fold moments into your daily routines. Take food and sleep seriously. Preparing at least one decent meal for the day as well as some snacks is an investment in yourself and gives you the strength to show up for the various roles you have in life. Is your sleep being affected? Having a playlist of songs I love helps me get through the nights with more ease. Little things like taking deep breaths at stoplights and finding small moments of gratitude can help at the end of the day when your head hits the pillow. Maybe you aren’t getting a massage or taking a vacation, but these micro self-care moments are small yet mighty.
Do you have someone you trust at school that you can connect with? Once I told a few people I work with about my life, I learned I wasn’t alone with big relationship changes as a working parent. When I authentically revealed myself, I felt immediate relief. Secrets can really fester rumination, doubt, and isolation. So, let someone know what’s going on in your life. Also, your children may be having all sorts of reactions to the separation. My daughters are older and our talks about our family’s current reality have really helped. I focus on how their dad and I are doing the best we can be co-parents and that they are our priority. It was hard for me to let them have their own relationship with him and without me. What has been the hardest for you?
One way I build perspective is with poetry. I turn to poet Maggie Smith and her gem of a book, Keep Moving. Smith writes, “I’m getting to know myself as an adult, and I who is no longer half of a we, and I am enjoying my old good company. A silver lining of being alone is being with someone you can trust, someone you respect and understand. You can let your guard down when you are by yourself. You can give yourself permission to live your authentic life, without apology. You can love yourself in a way that no one else can. … I’ve begun filling a space that loss created around me. I can color the space around me however I want—finally—because now there is finally room.”
I’m a 4th-grade teacher and we are building our classes for next year. This is always such a tense process. My team usually works really well together, but this process brings out the worst in a couple of teachers. My body actually cringes when they talk so negatively about the children. The labels are being thrown around like confetti, and I’m finding it hard to speak up and disrupt this toxicity. “This kid is super low and doesn’t care.” “The gifted kids need more.” “I have the low class.” “Please split up the hyper boys.” “Those kids don’t have parent support.” These types of comments go on and on. How do I speak up without alienating my team? —Letting Go of Limiting Beliefs
Thanks for highlighting the power of language in creating learning conditions for our students and one another. It can be so hard to speak up! I imagine that we all can relate to how fear constricts our communication. So many of us cycle through feelings of disillusionment during our teaching experiences. And building classes for next year can trigger these feelings.
Former principal and current author Peter DeWitt describes that “teachers have so many differently able students in their classrooms and the labels of students in front of them. The labels that those students carry are supposed to work as beacons to help adults understand those students have special needs that may take ‘out of the box’ thinking. Labeling may be necessary for some students and provide them with the interventions they need from professionals who help them best. Yet these labels have other effects, too.”
Let’s turn to educator and author Peter Johnston, who has been a major influence in my professional and personal life. His book Choice Words is a treasure and helps me to shape conversations through my intentional language choices. He emphasizes how exemplary and magical teachers deeply understand that language influences community, learning, and independence in and out of classrooms. Johnston focuses on “those things teachers say and don’t say whose combined effect changes the literate lives of their students.” Language is pivotal in orchestrating a positive learning community. Your visceral reactions make sense when you find yourself advocating for every child every day. Would teachers want others to talk about their own children this way?
The first thing to do is to be an exquisite model of intentional and strengths-based language when discussing students. Over and over again. When you muster up the courage, you can disrupt the dynamics at play with your grade-level team and focus on equity. Consider saying something like “Lately, I’ve been realizing how connected my language and beliefs are. I’m working on how the language I use helps to create the best learning environment I can for every child every day. I know we all work really hard and have good intentions and I’d like to propose we pause more and reflect on how our words affect our kids.” Children need to believe in their potential, and teachers cultivate the conditions for them to do just that.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected]
Every day, I hear my second grade students talking about what they see on the news. Often it’s about violence. Between the Buffalo supermarket shooting and the school shooting in Texas, I’m at a loss. They seem so disillusioned and almost numb to another mass shooting. I don’t feel super-confident facilitating hard conversations, so I usually jump right into teaching my content. Lately, I feel like I could do a better job of building relationships with my kids, and maybe engaging about current events is one way to do that. What advice do you have on talking about hard things?
Want more advice columns? Visit our Ask WeAreTeachers hub.