Back to basics

Want To Help Your Kids' Overworked Teacher? Don't Be A Jerk

by Stephanie Malia Krauss
Originally Published: 
teacher in classroom, struggling, how to help
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Our children’s teachers are not OK. They’re exhausted and burning out. Many have run out of paid time off. They go to work afraid of getting sick or being the reason why others get sick. Many worry about doing the wrong thing and ending up as the target of a Facebook rant. All this, on top of being historically overworked and underpaid.

It goes beyond Covid, too. Schools are ground zero for our nation’s brutal divides, and our children’s teachers have taken on pandemic teaching, along with increased censorship and criticism about how and what they teach. This can be destructive and dangerous. I’m in touch with several teachers and administrators who have received death threats. Two educator colleagues now get escorted to public meetings by armed police officers.

Two years of pandemic living have pushed many parents to the brink. A group of moms recently met at a local high school to let out a primal scream together. A California mom had her Twitter post go viral when she said: “Introducing Care Game! It’s like Wordle, but it’s how many days of full childcare you had that week.” The comments on the post make it clear that too many of us continue piecemealing school and childcare together each week. But things will get much worse if our children’s teachers burn out and leave. For everyone’s sake, we need do more to support the people charged with our children’s learning—many of whom are fellow parents and therefore carrying a double load.

We do this by going back to the basics. Here are three: Be kind. Practice patience. Have a plan.

Be Kind

A few days after winter break, our school principal called to tell me my son tested positive for Covid. It was a late-night conversation, and while it was new for me, it has become her nightly routine. When I shared my plan to reach out to my son’s teacher, her advice was clear: “Be kind. Be sure she knows it’s not her fault.”

Teachers have borne the brunt of many, many parents’ frustrations. While your outburst or complaint may have only happened once or been mild, there is a compounding effect. Also, some parents are being straight-up mean and hateful. Teachers are not customer service representatives you’ll never talk to again. They are the humans in charge of your kids at school. Often they spend more awake time with your kids than you do.

The next time you get frustrated, stop and ask yourself: “Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said right now?” The next time you are impressed, say something. Reach out, write a note, send a text message. If you have extra time, handwrite a thank you card. Many teachers tell me they’re giving everything they’ve got, but they rarely get positive feedback or thanks from parents. It’s quick and easy to say, “I see you and how hard you’re working. Thank you for showing up and caring about my kid. We’ll get through this together.”

Practice Patience

Everything is taking longer right now. Our schools are facing their own supply-and-demand issues, just like grocery stores. More kids who need attention, accommodations, and extra support. Problem behaviors have been going up all year, and America’s pediatricians have declared youth mental health a national emergency.

This is a tough issue without a short-term solution. It scratches at a more significant problem to solve—we don’t have enough behavioral and mental health supports for our children, and recent graduates don’t want to go into education because of what they’ve seen. The teacher shortages we are seeing will continue and might get worse.

We can practice patience by harnessing the wisdom of the serenity prayer. Change what you can. Accept what you can’t. Seek to know the difference. Parents can’t solve supply-and-demand issues or staff shortages. We can control our reactions when they happen to us and our children. Practice patience, for your sanity and theirs. Most schools are doing the best they can in extraordinary times. When they interact with teachers in person, by email, or by app, be kind.

Have a Plan

Inevitably, teacher stress and burnout will reach you and your child’s classroom. It probably already has. A teacher will go on leave or seem to stop caring or communicating. Compassion or Covid fatigue will be to blame. You will hear that the teacher you wanted your child to have next year has decided to retire early or stay home after having a baby.

When something like this happens, you and your child will have an easier time if there’s a plan in place. Now is the time to figure out what your child will need if his teacher leaves mid-year. This is especially important if you have a child with special needs, who receives individualized support and services.

In some ways, the exhaustion of 2022 feels more complex than ever. Let’s not make things worse by taking it out on people who are quite possibly more stressed than you but still showing up to teach and love your kids. Remember, most of them are in the parenting trenches with us. Simple acts of kindness and patience can make profound differences when people feel unappreciated and ready to give up.

To get through this time, we have to stick together. This is about encouraging one another during a part of the marathon where we feel like we can’t go on. Let’s hope that means we are finally in transition, that turning point in the race, where we’ve finally reached the final stretch.

Stephanie Malia Krauss is a mom, educator, and social worker. She is the founder of First Quarter Strategies and the author of Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. Her next book, Whole Child, Whole Life: 10 Ways to Help Kids Thrive Now and in the Future will be released in 2023. Find her on Twitter @stephanie_malia.

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