Should teachers attend students’ after-school events?

Q: I’m a high school teacher. My principal wants us to attend students’ performances, plays, and games. He doesn’t force any of us to go, but he strongly encourages staff to attend. He acknowledges that it’s outside our duty day, but he believes that faculty should want to get involved in after-school events. I don’t mind attending things once in a while, but I think my principal should ease up on the pressure. Is this something I should be doing without being prodded? How should my principal be approaching us? For what it’s worth, this is a public school, so we already have a prescribed number of events we chaperone each year — it’s not like we don’t go to any activities.

A: I’m sympathetic and think your principal can tweak his approach, but I want to start by making a pitch for attending students’ extracurricular events. Your efficacy as a teacher is tied into your ability to connect with students. When you show interest in their lives and attend their games and concerts, they’ll know you care. As a result, they’ll be more invested in the learning process. Attending games makes you seem more approachable, and students may feel more comfortable approaching you for help.

It’s also a way to get to know students’ families in an informal and unpressured setting. This can pay dividends later if students hit a rough patch. It will be far easier to get a parent’s support if you already have a solid relationship.

That parent component, however, may be one reason why faculty are reluctant to attend after-school events. While some teachers are comfortable developing close relationships with students’ families, others prefer to set firmer boundaries. If this is what’s holding staff back, the principal can help. He can manage the messaging and make it clear to parents that games are not the time for complaints or impromptu conferences. The principal also can do some training in this area, reminding teachers that they set the boundaries, not the parents, and that their comfort level will increase with exposure.

If the staff is still reluctant, the principal can get creative, suggesting that teachers attend in pairs or groups. He also can organize fun events that specifically foster this type of interaction, such as a faculty vs. students basketball game. The principal can be a role model, showing up frequently at events and facilitating interactions between teachers and families. And if the parent piece is the biggest deterrent to attendance, perhaps he could even designate a faculty-only section.

There are many other reasons staff can’t or won’t attend events, including logistical barriers. They may want to be there but have second jobs or childcare demands. Or they may already feel overwhelmed by their workload. The principal may believe teachers should want to make this a priority, but he’ll need to do what he can to support their involvement. And he needs to recognize that people’s life demands shift. The same person who needs to pick up their baby from day care now may be a regular at games in a few years. He should make it clear that nonattendance won’t negatively affect performance reviews. Because of the power imbalance, even a simple ask from a supervisor can feel like pressure. He can, however, celebrate the involvement of those who do show up.

The principal also should make sure he isn’t regularly asking specific individuals. It can be tempting to ask the same easygoing, flexible people every time, but no one should feel unfairly burdened or coerced. That said, check your contract; it’s possible your principal has some leeway when it comes to making these types of requests. If so, remember the upside; this is an effective way to build trusting relationships, and it may even improve your students’ academic performance.

Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email to careerconfidential@pdkintl.org. All names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers. 

PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; phyllisfagell.com) is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog.

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