Dear We Are Teachers,
I’m a high school librarian. A week ago, I turned on the lights in a partitioned area of the library and was shocked to see my coworker and a 9th-grade student stand up from behind a bookshelf. (The library was supposed to be closed for testing.) I didn’t see anything, and my coworker said they were looking for a book, but I had a gross feeling about it. I told my principal immediately, and unfortunately it now looks like my instincts were correct.
Yesterday, my principal asked me to lie for her. She told investigators that I spoke to her in her office at 2 p.m. instead of when I really did (at 11:30 a.m.), and asked if I would corroborate this story if I’m interviewed as a witness, so it looks like she reported it earlier. I felt pressured in the moment, so I said yes. But now I feel sick about potentially having to lie to investigators. What do I do?
—Sick AT HEART
It might feel unfair that your principal’s timing is being called into question when your coworker is the ethical dumpster by comparison. Regardless, don’t lie to investigators.
If you lie to police, you will likely have to tell that same lie again under oath in court, which is perjury and punishable by a fine, jail time, or both. There are all kinds of ways to prove that you were in her office at 11:30 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. Cameras. Computer activity. Geotracking on phones. Eyewitnesses. And if a defense attorney can prove you and your principal were in cahoots to lie, it would be easy to have a jury believe your story is also unreliable. And the culpable teacher may get off scot-free.
Plus, if you tell investigators you talked to your principal at 2 o’clock and they determine the teacher and student left the library at 11:30, who’s to say you weren’t the one who delayed reporting?
I understand that you respect your principal, and it seems she may have made an honest mistake while trying to put out other fires. But she shouldn’t be asking you to lie. Instead of admitting to something that puts just her job at risk, she’s now asking you to put your job in jeopardy too. That’s not fair.
Meet with her and say, “I understand why you want me to do this for you. But after weighing the risks, I just can’t agree to lie about something that could potentially weaken the case against [teacher], put my job at risk, or land me in jail.”
Remember: The biggest thing at stake here is not your principal’s employment. It’s the student’s safety—and the safety of other students if this teacher gets to return to campus unscathed.
Dear We Are Teachers,
Several weeks ago, two coworkers approached me at lunch and asked if I was struggling to manage the behavior of a particular 7th grader that I have for P.E. and for science. I said no, and we met to talk about strategies or approaches they could learn from me. In short, I learned these teachers were way more organized, patient, and forgiving than I’ve ever been! We put it together that this student is hostile and defiant to all his female teachers, but practically jumps to do what I and his other male teachers say. We have a behavior meeting coming up with both parents, the student, and all seven teachers. Is it appropriate for me to point out this sexist behavior?
—NOt ALL MALE TEACHERS
Don’t point it out. Ask them to find the pattern.
“Let’s see if we can figure out why your teachers are reporting totally different behavior from you. Would you say you behave the same toward all your teachers?”
“Which teachers do you find easier to respect? What about last year’s teachers?”
Make a T-chart on the board or a big Post-it.
“OK, let’s look at this. You find it easy to respect Mr. Harris, Mr. Patel, and Mr. Zang. You find it harder to respect Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Castillo, Ms. Perez, and Ms. Le. Why do you think that is? What do you think this group could do to be more like this group? Is there something they could do differently?”
Be ready to hear other thoughts the student might have. He will likely provide a few statements that don’t quite pan out at first (“Well, those teachers just don’t like me” or “I respect the teachers who respect me.”). Let these thoughts have their space, but challenge black-white statements.
I wouldn’t be shocked if the parents or student admitted aloud that it’s about gender, but trust me—they’ll receive your message loud and clear. Once the student realizes all his teachers know the jig is up, I have a feeling he’ll be a lot more agreeable (or at the very least, neutral).
Dear We Are Teachers,
One of my high school students has been coming in before school to talk about her relationship with her boyfriend. I never told her what to do or made any judgments about her boyfriend’s behavior, and she decided independently to break up with him. Apparently during the very ugly and drawn-out breakup, my student mentioned, “Even Mrs. Taylor thinks you’re toxic.” Well, now the mom of the boyfriend and my principal are both furious with me, even after I explained my approach and even after my student verified that I never actually said it. I don’t get it—the expectations are always changing. Are we supposed to be a listening ear for our students or shut them down when the conversation goes outside of school? What do you think?
—The expectation goalposts keep moving
I recommend taking this one on the chin. Reiterate that you didn’t offer prescriptive or evaluative guidance. Clarify that your intentions were to provide a listening ear. Apologize and move on.
It sounds like you and the rest of the faculty could use some clarity on teacher expectations for being a safe person to talk to. With all the conversations about domestic violence, relationship safety, mental health, and other SEL topics that teachers are literally asked to facilitate with their students, are teachers also expected to cut their students off when they sense a question coming that’s not about academics?
Before you meet, decide what you want to ask. Here are some good starter questions.
- Should we tell students that they can talk to us about things that are weighing on them? What are the caveats?
- At what point should teachers turn a conversation over to an expert—and who is that person on our campus?
- If teachers aren’t a trusted resource for students, do all students know where to turn instead?
Depending on how comfortable you are with spicy questions, you may want to ask in writing whether this plan has been vetted by a mental health professional. 🔥 You can tell them I sent you.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear We Are Teachers,
I have perhaps the most irritating student I’ve had in my 10-year career. When I emailed his parents that he was being disrespectful and disruptive in class, the father emailed back asking what exactly he said and how exactly he was being disruptive. Eventually this escalated to a heated parent conference that my principal sat in on. Halfway through, the student’s mom said, “Do you even like [student]?” I was so caught off-guard, I didn’t know what to say. Later, my principal said I should have said yes—that I’m supposed to like all my students. I enjoy almost all of my students, but I think this expectation is absurd. Who’s right?
—You can’t make me