Help! I Got Catfished by a Student

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Long story, but here’s the short version. I put some patio furniture for sale on a social media marketplace. A guy reached out wanting to buy it, but we entered into this really frustrating weeklong back-and-forth on pricing. He then accused me of being stingy (using colorful language), and I used equally colorful language back for him wasting my time. Then I get this message: “Omg Mrs. E! It’s Liam. I got you so bad!” It was one of my former students who is a grade older now but still at our school as an eighth grader. I’m panicking at the potential for this to be used against me. What should I do? —Wrought Iron Regret

Dear WIR,

Aren’t teenagers lovely? (I actually do love them, but boy, can they raise hell.)

Here’s your to-do list:

  1. Don’t say anything else to the patio-buyer-turned-student.
  2. Tell an administrator what happened ASAP, whether by text or email. Explain that the student was pretending to be a buyer when the interaction took place. Clarify that you wanted to make sure your administrator was aware of the issue first and ask whether you need to take any action.
  3. Talk to the student (or have your administrator do it) about their digital footprint and about the many examples of how much online trolling and pranks have cost students later in life.

I want to be clear that this was not your fault and that teachers—human beings, as the world likes to forget—are entitled to emotions like anger. As long as your colorful language didn’t include hate speech, this should be a non-issue. But to protect yourself in the future from digital teenage hell-raising, you may want to consider adjusting your privacy settings or searchability online.

I will end with a final point one of my favorite former principals here in Houston used to tell us: “Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Chronicle.” She wasn’t telling us we couldn’t ever utter anything that’s less than professional. She was warning us of the permanence of what we type online in the digital age and how easily it can be used against us. That goes for anyone nowadays, not just teachers.

Now excuse me while I check to make sure my high school Xanga remains deleted.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Now that we’re entering cold and flu season, I’m seeing more and more kids coming to school who are clearly miserable. Obviously I’m not a doctor, but when they can barely keep their head up off the desk or don’t want to go to recess, they should have stayed home, right? I feel sorry for them, but I’m also frustrated that I know they could be infecting the rest of the class or me. How do I talk to parents about this without sounding like I’m telling them how to parent? —The Cesspool Lifeguard

Dear TCL,

Those points are so valid. Additionally, here are some other angles to this complicated issue:

  • We don’t have reliable or affordable childcare in this country. So in families where the guardian(s) work full-time, it’s not always a possibility for kids to stay home.
  • So many schools still give out awards for perfect attendance, creating pressure for kids and parents to come to school even when they’re sick.
  • Many parents don’t want their kids to miss instruction. My own students would tell me sometimes they were at school because they didn’t want to get behind, or that they’d planned to take an important test and then go home after that.
  • COVID has wreaked havoc on our normal illness seasons, as anyone in the classroom can tell you.

Luckily, as teachers, we don’t have to evaluate whether children are sick. That’s the nurse’s job. What you can do as a teacher is reach out to the parents to let them know your observations (but no diagnoses/medical advice!).

“Hi Ms. Anderson. Just wanted to let you know that Davey seems not quite himself today. Our nurse said his temp is normal, but he’s been pretty lethargic and says his head is hurting. Just wanted to keep you posted so you can monitor any developments this evening.”

“Hi Mr. Martinez, I wanted to send a quick update on Liliana. She’s been having several sneeze attacks today, and each time she gets pretty frustrated. It might help to send her to school with her own tissues if you’re able. You can also call the nurse at (555) 555-555 for other tips—she’s got a whole career’s worth of sneeze attack tips. Thanks!”

It’s hard as a teacher to watch students feel miserable and to feel like a ticking illness bomb yourself. But try to remember there are multiple perspectives here. That doesn’t make your perspective less valid, but it can sometimes make it easier to understand a situation.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m a first-year teacher struggling with … well, everything. But far more frustrating than my classroom challenges is the fact that my assistant principal won’t offer me any kind of support. When I ask how to improve my classroom management, she says, “That’s for you to figure out.” When we were going over a walk-through evaluation, she rated me low in my check for understanding. I asked her if she could tell me how to improve or what a good check for understanding looked like, she sighed like she was annoyed and said, “I’ll remind you again that I’m not the classroom teacher here.” I’m beyond insulted. Isn’t it her job to support me? —Floundering in First Grade

Dear FIFG,

Have you ever seen clips of Dikembe Mutombo, the NBA player who would wag his finger like “No, no, no” after blocking a shot? That’s how I feel reading this exchange. No, no, no, unhelpful AP. Not in my house. (My “house” being this advice column, I guess.)

Look, I get that administrators have their work cut out for them. They, too, are weighed down with bureaucratic nonsense and staff shortages that cut into their ability to do what their job should be, which is supporting teachers. But these responses are the equivalent of a shrug. They’re insulting, dismissive, and unhelpful.

First, make sure you document these interactions in case you end up with a negative formal evaluation later. You may need to prove that you asked for support and were routinely denied it.

Then, the next time you get dinged on an evaluation, ask her for specifics. What books does she recommend for this specific issue? Where can you go for professional development training on this topic? Can she arrange time for you to observe teachers in the building who have mastered this skill? If she can’t connect with you help, is there someone in the building or district who can point you in that direction?

After these softball questions, if she still can’t support you, it’s time to go up the chain of command. When your AP won’t point you toward how to improve, don’t make your students wait any longer than they need to.

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

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I know this probably sounds mean, but I’m done buying pencils. I’m done with the principle of it, I’m done with spending my own money, and I’m extra done with students telling me, “You’re out of pencils” like the pencils are straws at a restaurant. I know it’s a silly hill to die on, but I struggle with conflicting messages like “Don’t spend your own money as a teacher!” and “Do what’s best for kids.” Isn’t what’s best for kids learning responsibility too? —Pencil-Pincher

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