D ear Amy: I am an inner-city high school teacher. The high poverty rate makes the job very challenging and stressful. We are all working long hours.
This year I am dealing with a colleague in her early 40s, single, who readily admits her life outside of work is dull. She has half the number of students I do.
For Christmas she gave all her students a small gift bag with treats. She has nicknames for all of them. She has driven them to practice when they missed the bus. She feeds them breakfast and gives them snacks for having a good day in class.
When speaking with a parent, it is always positive — even if the student is failing multiple classes or has disruptive behavior.
The students love her and call her “Mom.”
Students have asked why I don’t buy or give them things. These are 14-year-olds. Even though I recognize their developmental stage, it is difficult now to enjoy my work when I am always being compared to “Mom.”
How should I deal with this?
— Stressed Teacher
Regardless of this teacher’s qualities — or how she is perceived by students — you need to dig down and show the maturity they lack.
All you need ever say to your students is, “I’m doing my very best. And that’s what I expect of you, too.”
1. M never stated that she and her boyfriend had made a commitment to be in an exclusive relationship. Why is this automatically assumed?
2. M was not “cheating.” She was following her natural instincts and doing what first-year college-age people (men and women) should be doing.
3. We are capable of loving more than one person if we can overcome the jealousies and the possessiveness that we have become conditioned to accept as justified normal responses. Men and women need to be more honest with each other.
4. You should have told M to tell her boyfriend that he too should see other women and that their loving relationship should continue.
5. You owe her an apology. You essentially called her a cheater and a flunky. You were way too harsh and misguided.
I disagree with your assertion of what men and women in their first year of university ”should” be doing. The period of late adolescence is definitely an appropriate time to experiment with sex and relationships, but part of the process is learning that there are natural consequences — relational and personal — to this experimentation.
We human beings are definitely capable of loving more than one person, but it seems to go more smoothly if we don’t love more than one person at a time.
As I reflected in my answer to “M,” she is immature, and this painful episode should be an important part of her learning. I hope the lesson also accompanied an apology to the boyfriend who feels betrayed.