My first year at my school, the other newbies and I formed a group chat to compare experiences, ask questions, and bond. But somewhere in the last couple of years, the group chat turned toxic. It’s gossipy (not venting but just mean) and puts me in a terrible mood. Plus, I feel like there’s this expectation to validate whoever is complaining, whether or not there’s a perfectly reasonable solution to their problem. I feel like simply leaving the group will be perceived as dramatic or spiteful when it’s really just to not feel so annoyed all the time. What do I do? —Group Chat? More Like Poop Chat
First of all, magnificent sign-off. 👏
You’re right to recognize when a group chat has turned sour. To be honest, I think there’s a lot happening in the first few years of teaching that would make anyone jaded, bitter, and angry. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people, but it also doesn’t mean you have to be dragged down either.
First, I would recommend seeing if you can help steer the ship around. When things get dark, try just changing the subject. Maybe organize a time to hang out outside of the toxic chat bubble. Share positive or funny things that happen at school and see if it catches on.
If this doesn’t help and you still want to jump ship, I would just gradually stop responding. If the group asks why you’re so quiet, say you recently discovered “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone to limit notifications and your productivity has skyrocketed.
Although honest-but-tough conversations are my usual route to recommend, I don’t think it would be a good idea to lay out what’s bothering you in this case. The teachers in your group chat are having a rough time—so rough it’s overpowered their ability to think critically. No matter how you word a “This group chat is toxic” talk, I suspect it will feel like rubbing salt in the wound to people already suffering.
Continue to be kind, but set a boundary that protects your state of mind.
A team member at my former school in charge of technology inventory is convinced I stole one of our iPad chargers before leaving on our last day. She claims she counted the chargers before and after our last day of in-service, and on the second count she was missing one. On the last of six (!) emails she sent to my personal email this summer, she cc’ed my former principal and said, “I’m sorry I had to get Mr. Steele involved, but you left me no choice.” I had just planned to ignore her paranoia, but now I’m afraid one of them is going to reach out to my new principal and say I’m a thief! How should I respond? —I Have an Android
At this point, part of me is hoping you actually stole the iPad charger. Good grief.
As tempting as it would be to “reply all” with, “Wow, did you get any sleep this summer worrying about the iPad charger?” I think it’s best to follow the advice of one of my former principals: Write emails like they’re going to be on the front page of the newspaper the next day.
Reply all with something so polite and professional that even a screenshot removed from its context couldn’t muddy.
“Hi, ___. I’m sorry to hear you still haven’t found the missing iPad charger. As I have said before, I didn’t take it, but I am happy to help in any way I can. Mr. Steele, how would you recommend I assist ____ with this?”
This will force both of them to finally acknowledge that even if you did steal it, there’s nothing they can do about it at this point. If they email the principal of the school you transferred to, they will look unbelievably silly accusing you of this with no proof.
I can see why you transferred schools! 😳
This year, I want to be more firm with my seventh graders when they’re rude to each other or say disparaging things about other students. Last year, I didn’t quite know how to respond. They weren’t being disrespectful to me. They weren’t saying anything that warranted a write-up. It was just ugly. And my timid “Please be kind, y’all”s got me nowhere. What do you recommend? —Cut the Crass Crap
I don’t think you need to be more firm. I think there needs to be clearer baseline expectations for the way your students treat each other.
This year, at the beginning of the year, lay the foundation for a culture of respect. You could have students help you write norms for how to treat each other, or you could write your own and invite students to “workshop” your list, adding their thoughts or rewording things they don’t understand. But however you decide to structure your community norm–building, make sure everyone knows the expectations for:
- How should we talk to other students in the classroom?
- How should we talk about other students in the school?
- Can non-verbal communication be considered disrespectful?
- Where is the line between joking and cruel?
- How will we handle it when people cross the line? What if they keep crossing it?
Make a very large poster for your room with these norms simplified on it as a reminder for when they forget (because they will). This way, when a squirrelly seventh grader slips up and says something cutting, you can say, “Hey, can we chat for a second?” Then, with the norms in view, you can guide your student to identify for themselves which norm they violated and how they can make it right.
To be clear, though, if your student(s) ignore your rules, you may want to get a counselor or parent/guardian involved. Just because the situation doesn’t warrant a write-up doesn’t mean they have a free pass to ignore your rules.
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All teachers in our district just got a letter explaining that from now on, any kind of crowd-funded classroom donations (e.g., wish lists) must have prior district approval. I checked it out. It’s pages and pages of paperwork and multiple sign-offs for approval. Any and all donated items are district property. This is crazy. I’m thinking of going ahead with my DonorsChoose without going through their rigmarole. Am I better off arguing with the district or going the ask-for-forgiveness-instead-of-permission route? —You Really Want to Keep My Binder Reinforcement Stickers?