Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m a 24-year-old high school teacher. Today, one of my 18-year-old female students stopped me after class, waited until everyone left, and said, “I think I have a crush on you.” I played it cool and asked her to continue coming to my class (she immediately said she was too embarrassed to do so). In a way, I dismissed her comment completely. The only reason I felt bad is that she was shaking and nervous. Do you agree that her comment is wildly inappropriate? Should I have discussed it with her or reported it to someone? —Caught By Surprise

Dear C.B.S.,

You are bringing up a sensitive issue that needs some careful navigation but is also fairly common in middle and high school settings. Yes, you are close in age, but crushes happen with wider age gaps, too. Many students keep their crushes private, but since yours revealed her feelings, be mindful of a few things. Let’s be sure to stay away from shaming your student, making her feel like she did something wrong, or trivializing her emotions. So, I guess I wouldn’t say your student made an “inappropriate” comment. She just shared her feelings with you and now you know and can respond in a professional and compassionate manner.

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It’ll be important to message that there is a clear boundary that teachers and students do not have romantic relationships. It would be absolutely inappropriate for you to send any mixed messages by flirting or acting on the comment. When you do talk to your student, communicate that the attraction is not shared. Remind the student that she did nothing wrong. Maybe you can help her use this circumstance to identify qualities that she appreciates in people.

You can also get some guidance from someone in your leadership team, maybe a counselor, to help shape the conversation with your student. So, yes, bring it up, and don’t try to manage this on your own. When you meet privately, be sure to include another colleague to have another pair of eyes and ears to support this situation. Be sure to leave your door open. Also, consider refraining from texting/calling your student just in case she believes the fantasy is turning into reality. And finally, don’t ignore or avoid this student. Your communication and clarity can help to fortify the healthy boundary between teachers and students.

As a newer teacher handling a difficult situation, it’s important to remember that you need substantive supportive relationships to manage the day-to-day complex challenges of being a teacher. Jennifer Gonzalez, the host and writer of Cult of Pedagogy, suggests this simple and profound advice for new teachers: “By finding the positive, supportive, energetic teachers in your school and sticking close to them, you can improve your job satisfaction more than with any other strategy. And your chances of excelling in this field will skyrocket. Just like a young seedling growing in a garden, thriving in your first year depends largely on who you plant yourself next to.”

Dear WeAreTeachers:
My team went out to eat today for lunch. I’m sticking to a strict budget as I’m pregnant and saving where I can, so I ordered the least expensive thing on the menu and water. The rest of my team ordered drinks and food that were $15 to $20+ more than mine. When the bill came, they just told the waitress to split evenly amongst the table. I respectfully said I’d prefer to just pay by item since there were only four of us. Plus, I offered to cover the appetizer (which I didn’t order).  I eventually yielded and split the bill because they made me feel like I was being cheap. And now my colleagues are  giving me the cold shoulder for bringing it up in the first place . It feels like there’s tension, and I’m not sure how to proceed. —Cheapskate Shamed

Dear C.S.,

You are sharing awkward group dynamics that we can all relate to. Even though your courage to speak up did not yield the respect and result that you desired, it’s still a great beginning to being true to yourself and taking up space. Hopefully, this experience won’t make you decline future social outings because I’m guessing you still want to connect with your colleagues. I think most of us agree that it’s rewarding to work with a team that knows and cares about one another. It’s also common for us all to be in different life stages and economic situations. So, let’s consider some ways to persevere and feel good about your boundaries. You aren’t a cheapskate!

Next time you go out, ask the server for your own bill. If you don’t want to request your own bill in front of your colleagues, head to the bathroom, find your server, and take care of it yourself. Consider bringing cash and paying quickly before all the negotiation happens. Stay firm about your own spending boundary! You don’t need to defend yourself or explain to others. Just take care of yourself. Be prepared with what you will say if you cannot get your own bill: “I’m only able to pay for my meal and tip today. I’m on a tight budget and grateful for your support.”

It sounds like you may be experiencing some “people-pleasing” tendencies. “For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked.” It’s normal to want to be liked and have strong relationships with your team. But feeling uncomfortable when people disagree or having trouble speaking up and holding your ground can be extra challenging for people pleasers. You have various roles and as an expectant mom, it sounds like you are planning ahead and being conscientious about your growing family. You also want to be accepted and authentically connected to your team. These tensions are normal and tricky to navigate. When trying to please everyone else, you will be left with little for yourself. And as a pregnant mama, you need to conserve your energy.

My advice is to pick up your journal and do a bit of reflective writing. Become who you want to be. How does it feel when you prioritize yourself and your family? Imagine speaking up to your colleagues in a calm way. What will you say? Are you keeping your boundaries? Do you have any areas that need tending to? Now identify some actionable steps. It sounds like you want to save money. Can you set aside a specific bank account to help you see your progress and feel empowered? Even $30 a week really adds up.

You can’t change other people, but you can control what you will accept and how you respond to these life circumstances. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes, “The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”

Dear WeAreTeachers:
Last weekend, I took a getaway in the mountains and actually stayed in a tree house. It was so amazing! I felt super privileged to be able to do something like this. The spaciousness was relaxing, and being immersed in nature was inspiring: the exquisite air, the pillars of trees, the meandering hikes, the birds chirping. I felt like myself. Now, I’m struggling to get back in the swing of things in my classroom. I just want to run away from real life. What ideas do you have to help me? —Take Me Back To The Trees

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

How cool to be up in a tree house! American Poet Shel Silverstein has something to say about that, too.

A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house.
A street house,
a neat house,
Be sure and wipe your feet house
Is not my kind of house at all—
Let’s go live in a tree house.

What a gift to be able to immerse yourself in nature and fill your cup! Teaching is such a dynamic, complex, and demanding job. The physical and emotional intensity can really take a toll and so many of us educators are straddling feelings of burnout. It’s paramount to find ways to feel more yourself, so it’s super inspirational to hear that you are discovering what makes you come alive. Good for you!

Life in and out of school can feel messy and chaotic at times. You are reminding all of us about the importance of building up our emotional resilience to get through the day-to-day bumpiness. Education leader Elena Aguilar says, “Simply put, resilience is how we weather the storms in our lives and rebound after something difficult.” She goes on to say that resilience is also “what enables us to thrive, not just survive.” Aguilar nests her 12-month approach to building habits that cultivate emotional resilience in neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology, and more. Some of the big ideas include being here now, taking care of yourself, building community, understanding emotions, and telling empowering stories.

Even though it’s hard to transition from vacation to your more compressed lifestyle, I’m sure you can find gratitude that you had these amazing experiences. It’s truly beneficial that you were able to deposit such meaningful experiences into your life bank account. Consider keeping the “awe walks” as a vibrant part of your transition back to work and in your everyday life. These transitions can be hard for most of us. Finding a handful of minutes where you stroll and notice, really notice, your surroundings can bring back those feelings of spaciousness and wonder that you experienced in the forest.

To add on, often some of the best moments of our lives are not the relaxing times. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi posits that our most happy times occur when we are stretching to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. He describes this “flow” as “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play, and work.” So, yes, rest, be in spaces that you think are beautiful, and nurture your inner and outer sense of awareness. But also, find ways to consciously seek out a sense of “flow” that taps into your curiosities, especially when you are adjusting back to work and life responsibilities. Take a few moments to reflect on what makes you lose your sense of time. For me, it’s when I’m reading, writing, and talking about poetry. Hours go by when I’m listening to music, making art, strolling at the beach, and baking chocolate chip cookies.

Remember that your work enables you to do some of the things that fill you up and make you feel buoyant. So, plan another trip if that makes you feel excited and motivated! Meanwhile, living your life with intention and attention a day at a time and sometimes even moment to moment is the place to begin.

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

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m a middle school math teacher, and my building does not have discipline support. All behavior issues, serious or otherwise, are my responsibility. If I send a student out, it’s inevitable they will return just a few minutes later, lollipop in hand. It’s beyond irritating when these same kids were just starting physical fights and even breaking furniture and supplies. I get that my principal wants to build positive relationships—that’s what I want, too. But I feel like I’m at a breaking point. Am I wrong, or are my administrators slackers?

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Help! My Student Has a Crush on Me and I'm Freaking Out