“Why didn’t you attend our daughter’s musical?” the parents asked.
Teaching is an amazing and rewarding space to work in.
It can also be utterly exhausting. As Washington teacher Tyler Rablin reminded us, it’s emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding work.
In the third term of last year, I was asked to attend three different performances involving my students. These were personal events completely unrelated to school. They included gymnastics, a choir performance, and a musical. They were scheduled on evenings and weekends.
I declined all of them.
You know these students mean well. In fact, it’s touching — humbling, even — that they wanted me there at those events, in the seats, cheering them on and bearing witness to the product of their dedicated preparation.
So I don’t blame them or their parents for wanting me there.
But as a part-time vice-principal, I get a little feisty when teacher wellness is put at risk unnecessarily. School-sanctioned evening events are already a big ask and take a big toll on teachers: I’m thinking here of Meet the Teacher Night, parent conferences, band concerts, and the like.
Keep in mind that many teachers are also parents, meaning they’re pulling double or triple duty for these evening events.
One night they’re supervising a band concert at their own school, the next night they’re wearing their parent hat and attending their child’s concert at another school. One night they’re hosting parent conferences, the next night they’re attending them.
This on top of all the other countless demands that teachers must stay on top of outside of class time: lesson planning, feedback, IEP communication, email, and endless administrivia.
The parent and partner guilt that most teachers live under
Speaking of family life, many teachers operate under a continuous cloud of guilt. They may not admit it on the surface, but talk to them for any length of time and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.
They wish they could be more emotionally available for their partners.
They wish they could have more energy for their own children.
They wish they could have more time to cultivate real relationships outside of work.
Now take the weight of this guilt and imagine them sitting through a 2-hour musical on a Wednesday night. It’s not good.
They’re tired. Their partner or children are at home. Lessons are waiting to be planned. Assignments are waiting for feedback.
It would be a touching gesture on the part of a generous teacher to show such support, but in my mind it just doesn’t add up.
The problem of precedent that parents must keep in mind
There’s another important reason why teachers are wise to decline these kinds of out-of-school student performances, and well-meaning parents may not recognize it at first.
If Miss Robinson says yes and attends Jackie’s figure skating championship, that only raises the pressure on her to also attend Jenny’s violin recital, Eddie’s swim meet, and Twila’s musical.
Even worse, it raises the pressure on her colleagues to do the same. It becomes a lot harder for teachers to decline all student performances when a colleague is somehow out in the community attending one of these performances after another.
Why didn’t you attend our daughter’s performance?
Last year I sat (in my role as part-time vice-principal) with a teacher while her parents asked her point blank: “Can we just ask why you didn’t attend our daughter’s performance?”
The implication was clear. You should have been there.
I didn’t like the question at all, but I was silent and allowed my colleague to respond.
It was a difficult moment. In my 22 years as an educator, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that question before.
If put in that situation again, I’d like to jump in. “Because we encourage our teachers and colleagues to say no to student performances happening outside of school,” I’d say flatly.
Teacher health and wellness requires a recognition that our time and energy are limited. Limitations require careful budgeting, and budgeting requires discrimination based on priorities.
None of us are wealthy enough to distribute money indiscriminately. That’s just common sense.
The same goes for time and energy. These are finite resources. And in the teacher life, they’re incredibly valuable.
In defense of teachers: parents, please don’t ask this of them
Parents, we love you dearly. It is such an honor and a privilege — truly, it is an incredible joy — to serve your beautiful children each day.
Help us be our best selves.
Help us keep the joy in our work and the fire in our eyes.
Help us protect the emotional bandwidth we need for the dozens of little people we interact with each day.
When it comes to your child’s performances, you’re welcome to send teachers a YouTube link to their wonderful work. If we have time, we just may watch a minute or two and leave a comment.
But please don’t ask a teacher to attend your child’s performance in person.