Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m a middle school teacher, and my principal is mediocre at best. I get the feeling he’s just phoning it in. At the same time, he has high expectations for us teachers. So he’s not my favorite, but now he’s bringing his dog to school every day, and it’s driving me crazy. It’s not even trained. It’s so badly behaved, and he lets the dog walk around the office off-leash once the students are gone. This is not a service dog, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have permission. How is this OK? Why are there different sets of rules for principals and teachers?—Having A Hard Time with Hypocrisy

Dear H.A.H.T.W.H.,

I hear you about being repelled by hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is described as the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs but one’s own behavior does not conform. Having pretenses such as having different sets of rules for people in positional authority can really erode trust and a positive school community. Even though you aren’t inspired by this administrator, this sounds figureoutable. So let’s imagine having a conversation about your concerns.

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The first thing to do is set up a time to meet one on one with your administrator, versus just crossing paths in the hallway. This communicates that you have an issue that requires some attention and thought. Arrive at the meeting with calm energy. When I’m feeling hot with emotion, jotting down some notes helps me gain clarity with my ideas and maintain focus. A walk and fresh air always help me to show up to a conversation with a more productive approach.

Consider starting the meeting by expressing that you have concerns about having a dog on campus. It’s worth acknowledging that you know your principal’s dog is part of his family and that you have nothing against his four-legged buddy, but that some people do not feel comfortable going into the office after school when the dog is loose. Some people are legit scared of dogs! It’s not unreasonable to ask him to keep the dog at home.

There are strong arguments for having therapy and service dogs on campus. Just the act of petting a dog has beneficial physical effects on most of us humans. The sweet affection you express to dogs actually lowers your own blood pressure and heart rate while at the same time increasing the mood booster oxytocin. Having a dog present in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. It can also lower feelings of anxiety and depression, which in turn enables learners to focus on learning.

But this is not a therapy or service dog. It’s a pet and a poorly behaved one at that. It doesn’t belong on campus. As much as I love my sweetheart dogs, Clementine and Lola, I wouldn’t bring them to work. That would feel inconsiderate and demonstrate a lack of situational awareness on my part.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m a newer third-grade teacher, and I love it. I’ve had very minimal issues with my students, and they have impeccable behavior in my class. I’m stern with my expectations, don’t yell, and have a great bond with my students. They respond very well to my easygoing yet consistent approach. Most drama any of them have happens at lunch, which is often due to lack of adequate supervision, or at home on social media. While it has been another great year, I have come across my first serious allegation by a new student about being cruel. My school team is not having it. My co-teachers and admin have no doubt that the accusations are bogus.

This student has only been here for a week and has a history of “bullying” by teachers at their previous school. One day, she sat in the wrong place at lunch. When my other students asked her to move, she lashed out. Things quickly spiraled out of control. Now I’m dealing with allegations against ME, including an accused remark about not liking her mom, who I’ve never met. The child also said I threw her paper on the floor and stomped on it while calling her “raggedy” (I’ve never used that word in my life). Now I have to respond to this incident in a written statement requested by the admin. I’m so distressed and feel like this issue is going to plague me throughout my wedding and honeymoon. Any advice? —Tell The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Dear T.T.W.T.A.N.B.T.T.,

Oh, this is heavy! I’m sorry you are in the thick of this circumstance. When you pour time and energy into teaching and then are unjustifiably treated with malice, it’s hard to stay positive. It’s easy for me to say, but try not to ruminate on this situation and enjoy the abundant blessings in your stage of life.

What a relief that you have support from your leadership team and colleagues. This is huge! So many educators face challenging problem-solving situations, and they do so without the support of a team. And yes, you need to complete the documentation. It is a time-consuming pain, but it needs to be done. Just remember that you did nothing wrong. It’s part of the process. Ask to sit down with your administrator so that you can complete the form together. While you are at it, consider expressing your gratitude for their support.

It’s easy for me to say that all behavior has meaning, but it sounds as though we don’t really know what’s going on in this student’s life. Enlisting the support of a counselor will be helpful. Also, always invite a colleague to take part in any parent communication you have. Find out as much information as you can. Use “I” statements and express how you have felt throughout this upsetting time.

Even though you may have intense feelings about the havoc this student instigated in your life, it’s important to also give the student a fresh start. It’ll help to have some time with this student, preferably with the counselor present. Having a mediator helps to keep a sense of calm. Let the student know that what they DID was a problem, but that THEY are not a problem. Share how you felt, and be sure to reinforce the classroom community expectations.

Be proud that your reputation and positive rapport with staff members, students, and families are serving you well. You will get through this bumpy time! Keep your head up with a professional demeanor, take a deep breath, and know that your hard work of being a well-prepared teacher is paying off for sure.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
Well, the book banning hit our district. I’m a 6th grade teacher, and I’m really struggling with this issue. Parents are showing up to our school complaining about texts that are available in our library, such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Poet X, and more.  I even had a parent upset that there was a queer character in a text that we are studying. I talked to my principal, and he is wavering. He even said, “It’s only about 10 titles that they are upset about, so let’s just deescalate their anger and pull the books off the shelves.” One parent told me they will be speaking at the board meeting soon. Any ideas of how to handle this situation?—More Than Bummed About Banned Books

Dear M.T.B.A.B.B.,

Thank you for bringing up the issue of banned books in schools. It’s understandable that you are struggling with people wanting to ban books. You care and realize that book banning promotes othering, lessens compassion, and silences stories across culture, gender, class, language, and more. Unfortunately, your administrator’s approach isn’t all that surprising. There is so much pressure to avoid conflict at their sites and in board meetings. It sounds like your principal is taking the easy way out by quickly removing the books and hoping the drama and intensity will fade.

Let’s start with our First Amendment, which guarantees our freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. We have the right to read. Everyone has the right to their opinions about books, but they don’t have the right to limit access to information. As public school educators, the First Amendment is our guide. As private school educators, there may be a more controlled approach. Fortunately, there are abundant resources to build knowledge around book censorship. The American Library Association has revealed that book censorship has increased. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director for the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, shared that the number of challenges to books in 2021 was “unprecedented.” She goes on to say, “In my 20 years with ALA, I can’t recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.”

So, why is this an issue that ALL educators and families should be concerned about? A 2014 study of elementary and high school students in Europe discovered what so many of us educators already know. “Children became more empathetic toward LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, and refugees after reading Harry Potter, a story of a child who is different than his peers. As human beings, we develop fear and anxiety around the things we don’t know or understand,” says Elanna Yalow, Ph.D., educational psychologist and Chief Academic Officer at KinderCare Education. “By the time children are two years old, they will naturally gravitate toward people who are familiar to them and can be hesitant around people who don’t look like someone they know.” Books are portals for cultivating acceptance, empathy, understanding, and connection with others.

People who support book banning often state that the titles they want out of school are “pornographic.” What has been found is that most banned books deal with LGBTQ+ topics and people of color. Vera Eidelmanm, an ACLU attorney with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling, which states, “Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” The murky thing is that schools can limit access to books for reasons beyond just disagreeing with the perspective. For example, a school can say that a book is too profane or vulgar. Eidelman explains the dangers when she says, “The problem is just that often our definitions, for example, of vulgarity or age-appropriateness, are, for lack of a better word, mushy, and they can also hide or be used as a pretext for viewpoint-based decisions by the government.”

I know this response has just scratched the surface, but hopefully, you can have a talk as a staff. Read articles together so that the discussion is not just based on reactivity and personal opinions but instead provides some shared background knowledge to launch a meaningful discussion. Consider offering literature circles in your class where students and families have a choice about what to read. This will lessen the comments and feelings about indoctrination and will increase motivation because of the choice involved. Keep book options open and help families, staff, and students experience that books are windows and mirrors to our inner and outer landscapes.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at askweareteachers@weareteachers.com.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I need help setting boundaries with work. My workday is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. almost every weekday. I work for at least a few hours each weekend on top of that. As a result, I feel like I have almost no personal life and struggle to get even basic things done around the house. As a 28-year-old single woman, that really sucks. Unfortunately, there are no other teachers on my team who will step up and share the workload. I teach high school chemistry and have different classes to prep. I’ve thought about switching schools, but the boundaries issue is still me. A new school will be the same story, just a different setting. When is something “good enough”? Literally, anything that will help me be a more efficient, healthy, and well-balanced human being?

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 Illustration: Jennifer Jamieson

Help! My Principal Brings His Out-of-Control Dog to School and I Hate It