I love and believe in giving back. But it seems like every other day at my school, we’re asked to pay $5 for a jeans pass, chip in for refreshments at the dance, pay fees to join the PTO (my principal wants 100% teacher participation), donate a gift card to one of our families in need, etc. I know I sound like Scrooge, but when I only make $32K a year, these things add up! Will it reflect poorly on me if I opt out? —Scrooge in Room 201
UGH. I hate so many things about this. First, I hate that your school—that any school!—is in the position of not being adequately funded. I hate that teachers’ goodness and kindness often gets taken advantage of to close gaps that aren’t their responsibility. And I simmer with rage when I think about the idea of buying a pass to wear jeans.
First, I separate school fundraising from donating directly to families in need or chipping in to improve the student experience. Fundraising and joining PTO you can skip right over. Here are some things you’re already doing to support your school even if they don’t get a dime from you with their fundraisers:
- Your showing up to teach is a radical act of kindness, service, and generosity. Period.
- The money you already spend on your students each year. When you add up what you spend on school supplies, hygiene products, things you have to replace yourself, heated blankets for when the furnace is broken, etc., that’s more than enough “donation.”
- Your time. Your contract hours alone are a huge commitment, on top of which is the time you spend outside of your contract going to students’ games, attending professional development, grading, and doing other things that benefit them.
Direct donations to help families in need, as I mentioned, is a different ball game for me personally. But helping students doesn’t always have to be monetary. Here are some other ways you can support your students and their families:
- Offer to help in the process of organizing, collecting, and distributing donations. This is a huge task and often overwhelming for the people who head up the campaign.
- Help connect students’ families with organizations that do have resources. When Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston, many affected families had no idea where to start. Teachers and school personnel helped connect families with charities, church groups, and volunteer organizations that were eager to help.
- Offer your skills instead of (or in addition to) your money. If you’re a killer party planner, offer to organize the school dance. If you’ve got a thriving TikTok platform, use it to share the wish list of a family in need. If you’re a semi-professional schmoozer, visit grocery stores or other businesses in the area to see what they’re willing to donate.
Should your principal be aware that their teachers are feeling a little bled dry from the constant requests for money? Yeah. But I wouldn’t venture into that conversation unless they open it up. There’s not a whole lot you can personally offer in terms of a solution, and it may put how your principal perceives you at risk (even though it shouldn’t).
A teacher in my department lost her husband of 17 years a few weeks ago. We want to do something for her when she returns, but we have no idea what’s appropriate or how to show her we love her without making her return more painful than it already is. Do you have any ideas? —Tiptoeing With Tenderness
Good on your department for anticipating her feelings and grief as she returns to school.
My first thought is that whatever you decide to do, it might be best to let her know about it before she gets to school. That way she can anticipate and plan on whether she might need to arrive early to sit with big feelings. A simple heads-up text would work. “Hey, we wanted to make sure you feel the love of everyone in the science department when you come back. There’s a little something for you in your room. If you’d prefer, I can bring it to your house this weekend instead. Love, Amy”
As far as what to “do” for her, everyone is different, especially as they’re grieving. Whoever knows this teacher best should head up planning what makes the most sense for her comfort, needs, and personality. Some people would love a meal train; others can’t imagine eating. Where one person might love a basket of cozy things: a blanket, candles, bath goodies; another might love a tree or endangered animal sponsored in their loved one’s name. Some might just want space; some take comfort in company. It depends.
Something I organized once was having all the students of that teacher select a small picture of something from a magazine that made them think of their teacher. It could be a color, a word, a “vibe”—anything. Then I arranged the collage pieces in a pretty way on the front of a sturdy piece of card stock and explained the project on the back. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but something about a combined effort toward a beautiful project really makes people feel loved, I think.
I teach middle school in a small town. I’m one of nine teachers whose contract is up for renewal at the end of the year and currently funded by COVID relief funds. My teacher bestie has reminded me that even if I’m let go, I’ll probably get a great recommendation from my principal, but I’m still paralyzed by the thought of being on the chopping block. Is there anything I can do to stop worrying? —Mired in “Fired?”
I know what it’s like to feel unable to turn your mind off a particular topic. It can feel maddening.
You have a few advantages right now (even if it’s hard to see them). Having a position funded by COVID money is probably the clearest situation possible that if you do end up being let go, it’s strictly a money issue, not any kind of statement about your worth. Even if you’re the best teacher in the world, a school can’t magically make a salary appear where it doesn’t have one.
The fact that you’ll get a great recommendation from your principal is a great sign. Clearly you’re already valuable to your principal and school, and that will make it easy for your principal to put a good word in for you somewhere else. Principals are very connected with other principals, both in their districts and in surrounding districts. If they want to find a place for a teacher who did a great job for them, they will.
Plus, we’re in a big-time teacher shortage. I’ll go ahead and take the bet that it won’t take long for you to get snatched up.
I think it might be smart to talk to your principal yourself. Explain that you love your school and would stay in a heartbeat, but you understand the constraints they’re under with the COVID funds. Clarify that you’re not looking for an answer from them, but just want to be prepared for whatever outcome might happen. Ask simply for their professional advice on whether to go ahead and put feelers out at other schools, to go ahead and fully apply, or to wait on doing any of that.
It may feel like a scary conversation, but that’s probably the best way to get rid of the anxiety of the unknown. Hugs to you in the waiting.
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At Thanksgiving, I told my family that I was leaving teaching at the end of the semester to work in HR. I thought they would be sensitive to what a terrible time I’ve had, but they were shocked and critical that I would give up my “cushy” job to work a 9-5 for less pay. I’m still so mad about it. What do I say when they inevitably bring it up again during the holidays? —Hush With the “Cush” Already