Whether you realize it or not, there are some whispers in the workplace that are giving millennials a bad reputation. Avoid the traps by following a few simple tips.

By Daphne Donaldson

There are so many articles, research papers and books regarding millennials that I worry I’m going to provide too much redundancy about this generation of workers. Unlike most of the researchers, I can say I’ve had the honor of teaching millennials in middle school and hiring them as teachers. I started and ended my classroom career molding them, so I take some of the blame for things that drive principals, supervisors and administrators crazy in the workplace.

Every day, I see more and more millennial educators coming into the Office of Human Resources. Unfortunately, these visits are not always about completing employment paperwork or updating certification; they are related to discipline issues that could have been avoided by a change in teachers’ decisions and behaviors. Here are some tips to guide you …

Most important, you need to know that this is a profession and not just a job.

Teaching is a profession, no matter what others may tell you. There are basic expectations, just as you would expect from your doctor or lawyer. Your attendance is important because the work is so pivotal to the future of the students you serve. If my doctor is not in, I can see the nurse practitioner. Sometimes I prefer to see the nurse practitioner anyway because I like her bedside manner. I can go to Office Depot for paperwork to complete a will, divorce or myriad legal situations, and all of this without needing to communicate with a lawyer. I know people tell you that the internet and distance learning are replacing the classroom teacher. Well, they are wrong. The brick-and-mortar school still reigns supreme for so many reasons. That being said, your professionalism, focus to the craft and dedication all matter. Missing too many days, job-hopping every nine weeks and quitting in the middle of the school year just because you don’t get your way can hurt your students. Children pay attention to everything you do at the school, so being professional in your focus and behavior sets an example for them. I would never tell you that I was a perfect teacher, but I am always amazed at the number of students I never taught in my classroom telling me how they respected my professionalism. So, know that they are paying attention.

Every battle is not a battle to fight, so choose your battles wisely.

I know that it has been said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. I believe that if you stand for everything, no one will notice when you fall. It may seem mean, but what you are fighting for and the methods you use matter. How you handle conflicts in the workplace matters. Reputation matters! So, think before you send that email or text message or post that message on Facebook. Respecting authority doesn’t make you a pushover, and fighting against authority doesn’t make you a hero. A couple of years ago, I had a new teacher tell me that her administrator could “Get it! Anyone can get it!” Yes, she was indicating that she would be willing to get into a physical altercation with the supervisor. I had to explain to her, “No … Anyone can’t get it. You are not 14.” I had to calm this teacher down and work with her on how to communicate with her supervisor. Temper tantrums are not professional; there is always a way to communicate concerns. You must learn to de-escalate situations with students, parents, co-workers and supervisors. You can’t control them, but you can control how you react to situations and conflicts in the workplace. Let’s blame all the reality shows that seem to show grown-ups fighting over anything and everything. Let’s blame the websites that are portals for every fight recorded daily around the country. There are more of those shows now, so imagine what we are going to see from Generation Z.

Your mama does not work here.

When I was teaching, one of my student’s mothers faxed his study guide to the front office. I found it in my box; interestingly enough, the mother had completed the study guide in her own handwriting. I knew it wasn’t his handwriting because I had graded his papers for 8 1/2 months. Fast-forward to today, and I could not count the number of parents who call Human Resources or come in to discuss their child’s application or work situation. I could use some interesting emoji to explain the look on my face in these instances. Your parents should not be completing your paperwork unless you are incapacitated. Mom can help, but I shouldn’t know about it as your employer. You do not need her for moral support when you come to get information about becoming a certified teacher. Maybe she is the one who drove you there, but she should definitely sit in the car or waiting area while we talk. Your parents will not be able to teach your lessons for you, even if you have them write the lesson plans.

Your students are not on your level, and children are not sexy.

Every day there are news reports about teachers having inappropriate communications and relationships with students. It blows my mind because they are children. Your students are not your friends. To be a great teacher, you don’t have to befriend your students; you need to just gain their respect. Respect will take you much further and build your reputation with your students. Children confide in adults they respect and trust. They have plenty of friends; they don’t need another one. Most districts and schools don’t make this statement the way I just did, but I think it needs to be said. Millennials should not be transporting, texting, instant- messaging, calling, Instagramming, Facebook friending or Snapchatting with children. I know you are probably asking, what about coaching? Use Remind 101 or some other type of messaging system. Trust me. Also, do not give your cellphone to students to use. Do you know how fast students could send themselves messages and pictures from your phone and delete that they did it from your phone before you even notice it? I know you probably think, Hey, I’m young … I’m a millennial. I was young once, too, but I can tell you that those Generation Zers are younger than you. I know you are probably saying it won’t happen to you because you trust your students. Wrong again. The only person you can control and trust is you. It happens too often, and I am not being cynical about this. After the news comes out with a story about alleged teacher misconduct, they never provide follow-up. Once your reputation is tarnished by this type of accusation, it is almost impossible to get it back.

Don’t share every aspect of your life on Facebook.

Really, please stop. Nothing is private on the internet. We’ve seen this numerous times, and still teachers post everything. You can’t put every emotion that you feel online. Use the simple rule of thumb: “Do I want this on the 5 or 10 o’clock news tonight?” When I go to speak with student teachers, I always tell them that it is generally your best friend who turns you in. Okay, maybe the person is more your frenemy, but still it is always someone connected to your page. This goes back to being a professional.

“‘Written’ is the most important and only consent that matters.”

Freedom of speech is really not free. There is always a cost to what we express and say, so make sure you are willing to pay the cost before putting it out there. Consequences can be swift and painful. Realistically, consequences are not handed out fairly. Never post information, pictures and video of children without written parental consent. “Written” is the most important and only consent that matters. Just because that child’s mom said it was okay when you saw her at Walmart, please know that if the parent doesn’t like the image, it will become your word against hers.

Have I scared you about teaching or about being a millennial in the workplace? Don’t be. This is a great profession. I am proud and excited to have you here with me. You are amazing, and the work that you are doing will have a great impact on the next generation. There will be rough days, but if you stay the course and remember some of these tips, you will make it through. Represent well.