Career advice

4 Tips for Working in a Negative School Environment

2. Do nice stuff for students.

Four kids in my first period had birthdays last week. One of them is a girl who’s really struggling—issues at home, parents who don’t bring her to school on time, and she’s failing all her classes. Nobody was going to celebrate this kid at home, so a colleague and I went all out. Under the auspices of celebrating “class birthdays,” we brought in breakfast, organized gifts, and threw a lunchtime birthday dance party. And that was enough to keep me going for the rest of the week.

Another good, cheap hack is to write notes to kids who do something exceptional or who need a little extra encouragement. It helps the kids feel seen and loved but, more importantly, it reminds me how much I love them and what a privilege it is to work with them.

3. Localize your own whining.

This one is tricky, but it’s essential for the final tip, which is the most effective one. Pick one person—your work bestie, if you have one—to whom you will complain about work. That is the only person you can go to when you’re feeling stressed about the negative school environment. Even when your planning gets taken for the third time in a week by a meeting with admin about your students’ behavior during the fire drill, hold in your rage until you find your designated complaint receptacle and then let it all out. Because now you’re ready for tip four …

4. Be a ray of freakin’ sunshine.

This is my favorite. Refuse to participate in negative talk, especially about kids. When your colleague comes in, flops into a seat, sighs heavily and groans, “God, is it only Tuesday?” … don’t commiserate. Make your response as over the top as you can. “I know! I’m so excited about the assembly tomorrow!” “Right? We’re already halfway through Tuesday … this week is flying by!”

Will this increase the overall positive energy in the building? Probably not. But it will certainly help you because everyone will stop complaining to you (except your bitching-buddy from tip number three). The first few interactions like this might feel awkward. Take heart; the awkwardness means you’re doing it right. It only takes a few incredibly lopsided interactions for people to realize that you are not the person they want to complain to. They’ll find a new venue, and you can head to Starbucks to finish correcting those essays.

Power through. You got this.

We’d love to hear your tips for surviving in a negative school environment. Come and share in our teacherfy HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, how to recognize a toxic school culture before you get the job.

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