I’m in my 12th year of teaching third grade. I love my school and have a fabulous team. But I keep feeling like my strengths get taken advantage of! My principal discovered I make really cool bulletin boards, so now I’m in charge of all the main hallway bulletin boards (there are eight). I’m a very strong teacher, so now I get all the classroom transfers of students who struggle with behavior. I also have a student teacher almost every year. It just feels like every time someone identifies that I’m good at something, I get loaded down with responsibilities I didn’t ask for. I feel like I’m being punished for being good at teaching. Is this something I just have to accept?—Strongly Considering Incompetence
Ah, the curse of competence. For me, it always boiled down to this question: “Why not train or raise expectations for the less capable people instead of punishing the capable ones?” Reflecting on that question over and over led me to some major resentment, and, funny enough, did not reverse the curse.
The good news is you don’t have to accept this.
The not-so-good news is that it requires setting boundaries through a conversation with your administrator. Boundary setting can be uncomfortable for anyone, but especially teachers who often have the tough combination of perfectionistic and people-pleasing traits (“You need me to do this thing I don’t want to do? Sure! Let me spend hours of my time and energy making sure it’s flawless!”).
Before you meet with your administrator, plan out what you’re still willing to do as a part of your job duties, what you’re willing to do with compensation (either in terms of money or time in the form of an extra planning period, no afternoon duty, or other negotiation), and what you’re not willing to do anymore. Then have a conversation where you lay out your current situation, what you hope to get out of this conversation, and why.
“Thanks for meeting with me today. I love working here, and I want to be honest with you about something: I’m overwhelmed. I’m realizing I don’t have the bandwidth for a lot of the things I’ve committed to, so I’ve been thinking a lot about adjusting what I’ve committed to take on. Can I tell you some ideas I have for rotating, delegating, and redistributing some of the roles I currently have?”
Maybe your administrator had no idea what an unfair share you’re carrying. But if they don’t understand—or if they respond with some insulting “just suck it up” point about how everybody, even Do-Nothing Kevin, has strengths they bring to the table that justify your overcommitments—you may want to think about whether it’s worth staying at a school that doesn’t respect boundaries.
I left my last school because of a terrible assistant principal, and have now discovered on our back-to-school email that this same AP transferred to my new school! He was rude to students and faculty and was so condescending to me that I would have panic attacks before I had to meet with him. Should I tell my new principal I can’t work with him? —Living in My Nightmare
I’ve heard of this happening in a range of workplaces. It makes me cringe so hard my skin hurts every time.
While any of us can envision the horror-movie scene of walking into a new job and seeing a monster from our past (cue the “REEE! REEE! REEE!” of violin strings screeching), I don’t think it’s a good idea to say anything to your principal right now for several reasons.
- It could backfire and make you look like you’re hard to work with.
- I always think it’s a better idea to let people form opinions on their own. Personally, I’m always wary of someone who tells me how I should think about someone before I’ve had a chance to really know them. The same could be true for your principal who is under the impression they hired a great new AP. People will always show you who they are. Which leads me to my next point:
- Perhaps your AP went through a miraculous summer turnaround! (We support big dreams here.) You won’t know until you give him a chance.
- If your assistant principal supervises a subject or grade level other than yours, it’s likely you’ll have very little interaction with him.
In the meantime, please protect yourself. Document any untoward conduct. Limit interaction with him to email when possible. Do not meet with him in person without another colleague present. But let’s all keep our fingers crossed for the “miraculous summer turnaround.”
I’ve started this school year at what feels like my absolute lowest point as a professional. I personally have no motivation. Usually I can kind of borrow energy and positivity by “osmosis” from the people around me, but morale at my school seems nonexistent. Plus, my two best teacher friends left last year in the big teacher exodus. Should I just quit now, or see if this year gets better? —Solo and So Low
It breaks my heart to hear how low morale is for teachers this year. I wish I could scoop you all up, tuck a blanket around you on my couch, and give you a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie while you either tell me all your troubles or we laugh at Derry Girls instead.
There is no quick fix for the absolute train wreck that is education lately. But there are some ways of making small improvements to your own experience. This completely depends on your personality, though, and what you find soothing, helpful, or encouraging. Here are some articles I’ve rounded up that can meet you where you are if you:
Are inspired by rebellion: Teachers Are Joining “The Resistance” This Year—Are You In?
Feel strong when you exercise: Tips for Making Teacher Workouts Actually Work
Want to talk it out with a professional: 27+ Free Counseling Options for Teachers
Find validating your trauma as a shared experience is helpful: We Haven’t Addressed Teachers’ COVID Trauma
Want a distraction: Teachers Share the Hobbies Keeping Them Sane Right Now, The Best Summer Reading Books for Teachers
Need a laugh: 14 Hilarious Teachers on TikTok
But if you’ve already reached the point where it feels like nothing can mitigate your unhappiness, I think it would be wise to explore other options, ideally with a therapist’s guidance. Make sure you have all the information about how quitting mid-contract could affect you professionally and financially so you’re making an informed decision that’s best for you.