Send Doughnuts

I had a wonderful time working with a roomful of teachers over two days at my Grassroots Workshops last week. During a morning break, I talked with a teacher who was concerned about not being able to reach all her kids, that there was a handful of students who were failing the course, and that she’d tried everything. I said, “But you are reaching the other 25 or 30 kids in your class.” She said, “Please tell my principal that.”

So,

Dear Principal,

Your teachers are working really really hard at this thing called teaching. The role of a teacher is not unlike that of a parent. And if you’re not a parent, then think of being a neurosurgeon or an astrophysicist, being a parent is way harder than that.

It’s practically guaranteed that your teachers have not reached all their students today. But, there is tomorrow and the day after that. Please remember that Teacher A in room 23 may not have reached all her students in the academic sense, but she smiled and said hello to Melissa, gave Joey a granola bar and Jake a sharpened pencil, laughed at Amanda’s joke.

Your teachers need your implicit trust and continued support to thrive. Show them you have their back and give them feedback frequently, but wrap each feedback in kindness, empathy, and humor. This makes all the difference in whether or not they want to show up for work tomorrow.

Some years ago, I had a principal who asked me the same question more than once, like he forgot or didn’t hear my answer the first time. He asked, “Fawn, how do you motivate kids?” I replied, “I don’t know. If I knew the answer, I’d write a book and make millions and quit teaching.” Now that I think about this, clearly he thought I’d given him the wrong answer, therefore he had to ask me again in hoping that I’d learned something over the course of two weeks.

Before I became a parent, I judged all parents. You’re a horrible parent because your child is a brat and disrespectful. It’s your fault that your spoiled kid is ungrateful and entitled. What a loser of a parent you are that your kid fails half of her classes and makes all sorts of excuses while doing so. You must be a bigger asshole than the little asshole you’re raising.

Then, I gave birth to three kids. At one time or another, honestly, more like an extended period of where’s-the-goddamn-light-at-the-end-of-this-tunnel, my own flesh and blood were disrespectful, ungrateful, entitled, jerks, assholes, whiny, rude, arrogant, mean, neurotic.

But, if you had said any of these things about my kids to my face, I’d probably stab you with a fork. I’m equally defensive as I’m protective. Until you walk in my shoes, you have no right to judge me. I’ve been a teacher longer than I’ve been a parent. One role blended into the other.

When an administrator makes a statement or asks a question to imply that his teachers are not working hard enough, it unravels the trust like pulling on a loose thread of yarn. Sure, there’s ineffective hard work, but it’s hard work nonetheless. Teachers want pretty much anything and everything to help us do a better job, but this advice or suggestion cannot come at a cost of making us feel any smaller and more unappreciated.

So,

Dear Principal,

Please stop being evaluative, start being helpful and send doughnuts.

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