Help! Our Principal Spends Her Discretionary Budget on Junk



Dear We Are Teachers,

I’ve been teaching 6th grade science at a Title I middle school for three years now. From what I understand, schools in our district get a thousand dollars every year to spend on their school/students “as they see fit.” What does our principal use it for? 1) Renting a snow machine in December (as you can imagine, this is a nightmare), 2) a pumpkin patch in October (less of a nightmare, just more confusing for kids), and 3) an end-of-standardized testing season party in May with snow cones and bouncy houses (also a nightmare). Other teachers are frustrated by this spending, but they said she has railed against anyone who criticizes her. I think I have a pretty good relationship with this principal, and I think getting her to use the budget for things we really need—an updated math curriculum, for example—would go a long way. Should I chance a convo with her? 

—I love a snow cone, too, but …

Dear I.L.A.S.C.T.B.

Eek. If the teachers who really know the ropes (and your principal) aren’t choosing to fight this battle, I probably wouldn’t either. It sounds like she doesn’t take criticism well, which is a really hard leadership style to work for. 

But if you decide this is a conversation you want to have, I’d recommend two things:

  1. Start with gratitude. I actually don’t think fun is the worst thing a principal could spend discretionary spending on. Acknowledge first that you see and appreciate the fun experiences she’s trying to cultivate for students at your school. It sounds like it’s a lot of work.
  2. Come ready with prices. Be prepared for your conversation with how much the math curriculum costs or other swaps you’d recommend. Maybe she can still save some of her fun activities and make purchases kids need too.

If this doesn’t work, the best way to get the needle moving on any school issue is unhappy parents. They might love that their kids get these special opportunities, but they might love it less if they find out it comes at the cost of their learning.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I learned recently that my students—high school sophomores—are gambling. When I expressed surprise, they all pulled out their phones and showed me their current bets, past money they’d won, etc. One student admitted to losing $500 during the Super Bowl. Should I tell someone? Should I let their parents know? Or am I just being supremely un-fun?

—every party has a pooper

Dear E.P.H.A.P.,

“A pool table? Right here in River City?!”

(I made a stunning 7th grade debut in our town’s community theater production of The Music Man in 1998.)

You’re not being un-fun to have noticed that your students are gambling, but I don’t think you have to alert the presses, necessarily, either. Frankly, I’m more worried about other things they’re doing on their phones.

Put it on your principal’s radar and make sure students know gambling is illegal if you’re under 21. I don’t love knowing that younger kids are flirting with yet another addictive activity, but let’s save our energy for things like Zyns.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach at a relatively small high school with about 35 teachers. I like to bake as a side hobby, so several times this year I’ve brought specially decorated cookies to put in the staff lounge. I bring enough for each teacher to have one (plus an extra dozen for our administrative and cleaning staff), but someone always takes more than their fair share. Every time I’ve brought them, several teachers tell me they missed out. This last time, all the cookies were gone an hour after I put them out.

I am fully aware this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it makes me sad. Sharing these brings me joy, and I feel like my only option is to stop doing it. What can I do apart from sending a grumpy mass email reminding people of basic decency?

—Cranky cookie monster

Dear C.C.M.,

You are a cookie angel and must be protected at all costs.

My first instict—because there is something seriously broken and aggressive with my sense of justice—is to set up a camera in the staff lounge to catch the perps. But please do not do this. It is childish and unprofessional. I’m sharing for entertainment purposes only.

The easiest option: Put the cookies in the front office under the eagle eye of one of the receptionists. Don’t have it block traffic or cause disruption—and definitely make sure students and visitors won’t mistake them for sampling. Just say, “I brought these for everyone. Is it OK if I leave them here? People tend to take more than one when I’ve put them in the teachers lounge!” In my experience with front office staff, they will either gladly take on the tasks of valiantly defending your treats or will let you know another good, highly visible spot to put them.

Another option: Put cookies in individual mailboxes in the mail room. Pretty sure a cookie thief will be less likely to commit mail fraud. (But I wouldn’t put it past them.)

The funnest option: Get your principal’s permission to go around the school with a cookie cart once a quarter during your planning period. I can’t even process how happy this would make me as a teacher.

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

Dear We Are Teachers,

I was interviewing for a new position this week, and the interviewer said over and over how their school is “like a family.” This phrase has always rubbed me the wrong way, and I told him so. Four hours later, I got a rejection email saying I’m “not a good culture fit.” What? Since when are we supposed to have the same intimacy level at work as we do in our own families?

—NOT YOUR FAM



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