After a big storm in June, an electrical outage and roof leak left four classrooms full of black mold. We were notified back in June and were assured that the rooms would be cleaned before we returned, but it looks like there was just a surface-level scrubbing at best. There are still spots on walls, floors, and desks, but our administration insists that it’s been “inspected by specialists.” I don’t even want to be there for in-service, let alone a school year.
—My principal is a fungi with questionable morels
Yikes. Whatever you do, don’t teach in that classroom until there’s been some outside testing.
If you’re in a union, I would ask your union rep what to do. If you’re not in a union, I would join immediately for this reason alone. A representative can guide you on your district’s and state’s guidelines when it comes to student and teacher safety. They will also know how OSHA factors in and whether or not you should file a complaint.
If for some reason you don’t get answers from a union rep, I would do several things:
- Be sure you document all stages of this investigation in writing. If you talk to your principal in person, email them a follow-up of notes.
- Get a consultation session with an employment lawyer. They can help you understand what you can legally demand as it relates to a safe workplace.
- Don’t teach in that room. Email (respectfully and cordially) your concern for your safety due to the evidence of remaining mold in the classroom. Express your commitment to fulfill your contractual obligations in an alternate space, such as the library, cafeteria, auditorium, or other available classroom until you feel safe.
You may feel silly if an outside report comes back that your classroom is good to go. But the possibility of you and your students’ health being at serious risk isn’t worth gambling.
I’m a high school teacher ten years into a journey transitioning to be female. I think I’m finally ready for the last steps—changing my pronouns, hair, and clothes—to be female-presenting. I feel ready to make this change now, but school starts in three weeks. Everyone thinks “Mr. Hall” is returning in the fall. We are a “blue bubble” city in a red state, but I’m confident my administration will be supportive. However, I know there will be critical families, and I want to give my principal time to prepare. Will rushing this process by my administrators and coworkers be to my detriment? Should I wait until next summer?
—MS. hall by fall?
First, I just want to say that I—along with a thousand stadiums full of other teachers in spirit—am cheering you on. Whenever you go to have these conversations, whenever you feel those little moments of joy about being yourself, whenever you’re caught in a moment of hardship, just remember us waving our flags, screaming your name, and saying awful things about the ref (just kidding about that last one).
I want to give the mic to a queer teacher for this one. Here’s what Ari R., a teacher in Maryland, had to say:
“I’ve become more relentlessly and very obviously gay in the past few years of my teaching, though I’ve been out as a teacher almost my whole career. I was closeted the first year because I was told during my student teaching that I shouldn’t be out with students. This was bad advice. Being an obviously gay teacher means that so many queer students have a place to go and someone to turn to for hope because middle school can be scary and oppressive.
“I don’t think this teacher should wait. They are in a strong place of having support already. There will always be a few people, probably families, in the community who aren’t supportive, who are homophobic, transphobic, but that isn’t going to change in a year. It feels good and authentic to show your true self with kids, and most will respect you more for it.
“It can feel scary and vulnerable, especially in this political climate. Lean on your admin and other teacher colleagues and go for it.
“One more thing—I also want to say that the school will be so lucky to have this teacher and that their presence as a trans teacher and role model is a gift to all students, whether they are LGBTQ+ or not. As I told a student who was preparing a speech for our pride-flag-raising ceremony last June, the fact that you exist is a triumph.”
You’ve got this, Ms. Hall. ❤️
After our last in-service session yesterday, I was commiserating with a group of teachers in the hallway. I was halfway through a story about the icebreaker that “made me cringe so hard my soul left my body” when I saw my coworkers’ eyes widen. I’ve never been great with social cues, so I continued with my story until I heard, “Surely it wasn’t that bad!” When I turned around, you guessed it: My NEW principal—so new I haven’t even spoken to him yet—was there. He winked, told us all to get some rest before next week, and left. I feel awful and childish. I’m worried that he thinks I don’t respect him (I do! I just hate icebreakers!) or that he might call my character into question. What do I do?
—eternally internally screaming
The bad news: It happened.
The good news: If this man has been a principal for more than five minutes, he’s heard a lot worse.
The GREAT news: Your principal seems to have a sense of humor!
As soon as possible, swallow your pride and talk to your principal. Depending on how busy you anticipate him being right now, either swing by his office or send an email. You don’t have to fall on your knees begging for forgiveness, but make it clear that you feel like a doofus and want to fix it.
“I’m still horrified that I managed to fumble such an important first impression, but I wanted to personally reassure you I’m not the hallway goblin I appeared to be yesterday. I’d love to come by your office when you have a chance and have you meet the real me.”
And I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway: Find a more private grievance location! 😜
Do you have a burning question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve made it virtually impossible to fail my class. Over the summer, I pre-recorded all my lessons and put them on my class website with all of my materials, resources, reviews, and notes. Our online gradebook notifies parents and students when an assignment is missing and which assignment it is. Because of this, I refuse to participate in the manhunt of tracking down and begging kids to submit missing assignments—something I have wasted probably hundreds of hours on in the past several years. When I told my principal about this setup, she said, “Well, we can’t just let kids fail.” I almost flipped my lid. Do I stand my ground? —Unable to Enable