There were so many wonderful responses to my previous reader response question that I'm throwing another one at you: What's the toughest thing about teaching, and how do you deal with it? Feel free to remain anonymous if that helps. My hope for this community-created post is that
- it helps fellow readers see that they are not alone, and
- it helps us all learn a thing or two about productively and proactively dealing with the difficulties this work can present us with.
I'll chime in with my answer in a day or so, but I'd rather not give it now so as not to skew the conversation. If you want to stay updated on the comments that come in, I think there is an option once you submit your own comment to subscribe to this particular string of comments. If you're using an email client like Gmail, all of the comment emails that come through to your inbox should remain in a single “conversation” — that ought to help with the inbox clutter.
Okay, that's it — fire away! What is the toughest thing about teaching, and how do you deal with it? For my administrative or instructional coach readers, I hope the list we create gives you insight as well.
The hardest thing is watching a kid (I teach 9-12th graders) on a path to certain destruction–drugs, absences, doing absolutely nothing in any class, making every wrong decisions–all the myriad things that kids can do to fail and no one is able to reach him/her. I teach with wonderful people and seeing nothing work for these kids is what wakes us up at 3 a.m., worrying about them. We have a boy right now that is probably going to end up in juvie by the end of next week and it hurts to think of his future, since this will be the third time and he is approaching 18.
I’ll bend the rules by mentioning that giving meaningful and timely feedback on student writing was a finalist. The toughest thing about teaching is coming to grips with the idea that it is entirely possible, if not likely, that I care more about the success of my students than they care about themselves. Taking a page out of Adam Grant’s book, my approach is to understand that this can be the reality, and to simply not accept it. Keep giving, and delivering, and exposing them to new possibilities.
The most difficult part about teaching for me is that I feel like I’m never doing enough.
Karyn Gloden says
Agree; this is one of the top items I would list as well. In year 31 of my career and still doubt myself some days and wonder how to do “better” and more. My life is consumed by teaching and yet…..
I agree with both FerraroOnAir and Anonymous….hanging in there when I care more than the students is tough. I also feel like I don’t have enough time to design lessons that truly challenge all students. It has been so ingrained in me to watch the struggling students that I often feel forced to abandon the high fliers. I’m a science teacher so it’s been tough to structure labs in such a way to keep everyone going at their own pace.
I find it hardest to instill personal responsibility in students. I can provide lots of opportunities, but sometimes, students have outside factors that keep them from trying their best or becoming interested in the subject matter. I wish I could make an IEP and individualize curriculum for each of my students, but I have too many students to get that done. 🙁
The hardest part of teaching is … All of it with very limited time. Teaching a subject well is incredibly difficult and takes an incredible amount of time. It seems every time we have a three day weekend I can finally get my weekly to-do list accomplished and I don’t have kids!! To meet my kids where they are with lessons that cater to them is something that takes so much time. Something falls by the way side during a regular week and that’s when I have two preps. With the three I have now with two new classes I’ve never taught, I’m just getting by and I can see it in my kids engagement. I’m not really getting by… I’m surviving from day to day and praying nothing knocks down my house of cards. Teaching can so easily consume my life… I get by with good enough lessons and know that someone is being left behind… It’s a constant struggle but one I keep fighting every day.
I think I do a good job at what I do — I love teaching. I love my students, I know my subject. Shortly after getting married and buying a house, I left a full time career to go back to college to get my degree and teaching certification. It was the best thing I had ever done for myself. All of that being said, the toughest part of my job is giving up my creativity in the classroom because of testing, curriculum, and district or school imposed mandates. I am not the teacher I was even five years ago. I’m all about getting better at what I do (I’ve always been that way) and about helping my students improve their understanding of math (above any test). Evidence of understanding does not happen on one or two days; it occurs through progress from beginning of a unit to end, from start of a marking period to end of the marking period. I already feel like I never do enough, that I’m not good enough, that I can’t make every kid the math success that they might be. I certainly don’t need others constantly reminding me of that through data collection pieces, reflections, unwarranted ratings or comments, or from seeing test scores from one or two days. Those testing days account for a little more than 1% of what happens during a school year. Someone else is basing my teaching skills and rapport on 1% of my job. The public and politicians have bought into this, as have many school officials. It’s very disheartening to be aware of this and for my creativity in how I deal with kids, how I teach my content, how I collect my data, and many other aspects of my job are affected by it. The feeling that I have on a daily basis, even when out of school, definitely gets carried into the classroom and how I relate to my students. I am more than 20 years in and it’s difficult to know I must endure this and most likely not be able to do anything about it. My creativity has been diminished and much of my love for what I do has been stifled.
Shar Blackwell says
“I already feel like I never do enough, that I’m not good enough, that I can’t make every kid the math success that they might be. I certainly don’t need others constantly reminding me of that …”
Great job so far — keep them going. If you’re just now coming to the page, be sure to read some fellow commenters. As I read some of these, I think, “Wait, you too?” That’s both frustrating and encouraging. I commend all of you who, like Overwhelmed, “keep fighting every day.”
Jennifer J Wagner says
I think this question is a sticky wicket because there are so many things about teaching that are tough: the structure of teaching, which does not allow one the time to actually prep and plan for all student success; lack of student/parent or even other teacher’s engagement; inability to inject personal, professional creativity and lack of the trust in professionalism to do these things. Etc. Etc. Etc. At the core of all these things is the misconception that to be a great teacher, which we all want desperately to be, one must sacrifice everything (time, personal relationships, money, sanity) in order to be all for students. Teachers buy into the Hollywood representation of it too, we have no choice, really. Robin Williams was a bachelor giving all to his class of 12 prep school boys. Freedom Writers teacher having inspirational jam/psychology sessions with her disadvantaged, poverty-stricken kids; even Whoopie Goldberg, teaching her kiddos one scale, thereby turning them all into amazing singers, who are now super-intersted in school. The reality of it all is only too apparent to those WITHIN the profession, but certainly not those WITHOUT. So, despite the belief in the general population about what teaching is because they have sat in a classroom for 12 years and they know what’s up, they really have little clue. The dichotomy between what they think and what IS, leads to tention between myself and my clients, occasionally. That leads me to the actual biggest problem, which is self-care. This year, that is the name of my tune. I am the teacher who sees kids in the hallway who I don’t have in class, and sit with them because they have been thrown out. I had a club for students who didn’t quite fit in to the school culture, so they would have a place to go. Etc. Often at the sacrifice of my own time management at school, would I do these things for others, instead of making sure I was prepped and as ready as I could be. I was going to leave the profession, despite the fact that I was born to do this. So, I joined a 40 hr work week class (behind on it, but it is helping), I have a THERAPIST (every teacher needs one), I get at least one massage a month, I have given up any extra responsibilities this year, and am focusing on using time wisely. I even started until 7 last night to plan for the week, make copies, include links and videos in there so I don’t have to search for them, and send emails to parents about missing work. My week goes much better by far when I am prepared for it. ‘Scuse the buzz word in here, but my mantra is: “proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” 😉 There’s still not enough time, but none is wasted. This is the best me I can give to students, and my bucket of compassion and gentle humor is at least half full on most days. And my weekends are free for my family, mostly. And I am getting better. Parents then show good faith too, because I appear like an organized, professional, which supposedly, flies in the face of what media, politicians and others have to say currently about public education and educators. (Don’t get me started. I know so many awesome educators.)
Dan O' Donnell says
I love teaching. There are many things that our students need to learn about in the classroom. The thing is that we don’t have enough time to teach our curriculum anymore. Interruptions disrupt us all the way from unannounced fire drills, assemblies, state testing, quarter performance testing, etc. I just try to plan around the interruptions and teach as much as I can.
Missouri teacher says
I love teaching. I love the kids. The parents are fine. But as I always tell people: it’s the adults I have to work with that drive me crazy. They will push me into retirement before the kids or parents.
Shar Blackwell says
Ten years in and I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to plan. I’m still learning how to use technology. I’m still working on DOK. But life long learning is what I like best about my career.
The hardest part for me is balancing academic growth and the social-emotional needs of my Second Graders. We know that relationships have a ginormous impact on school success. I enjoy creating a loving, caring, positive classroom climate (the resources I use include Teach like a champion, Tribes, The First 6 weeks of school, Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, among others ) . However, when I am told about the importance of relationships in one meeting and in the next I’m given the start and end days of my ReadyGEN (literacy) and Engage NY (math) units (get that unit assessment done!!!), cognitive dissonance occurs. It starts in the first month of school. My students and I go through a period of adjustment coming in on the first day and then after the first week and a half. The first adjustment is getting to know each other personally. The second is getting to know each other as learners. Once we enter that second phase, the balance is shaky. I ask myself:do I push through the material or do we take care of the relational aspect of our group? I think about the ways I can connect with one kid who wants to tell me about how his brother washes the dishes (true story!) and 24 others are waiting to do math. The resources I mentioned help me address the balance issue by creating routines that mark us as our own little community. When I see things are getting rough on the relationship level, we step back and regroup. We go back some of those community building activities and revisit and revise our agreements. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m doing it under an invisibility cloak, hoping that we have time before 3:30 to self evaluate our math learning target. That’s the balancingredients act. Eventually, we get back to who are we and who we want to be. It’s not prefect but I’m learning.
Another solution I wish for is that space is given during PLCs/staff meetings (or even where staff talk about learning issues with students–SST/Pre-referral) to talk about and plan around a vision of community, relationship building and social emotional growth.
I agree with Jennifer’s post about self care, because if we can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our students. That’s been one on my lessons the last two years. When I take care of me, then I’m able to build relationships with my students.
As an English teacher, I think the toughest part for me (though I agree a lot with the other ideas that are stated here) is giving timely feedback for such a large number of students. I know that I don’t need to comment on everything they are writing, but for larger/summative papers, I do need to give them feedback throughout the process, and that’s hard with over 140 kids. I’ve tried to balance multiple activities at one time, so they are working on something else over two or three days so I can give feedback, but even then there’s not enough time in the day, so I’m sitting next to my husband after our kids go to bed and I’m reading graphic organizers, paragraphs or papers to give feedback. I know that what I do is important, and I try to give myself some slack – and be reasonable in my expectations – but it can be hard. I’m hoping to work more conferencing into my classes and move even more to a workshop model to see how that helps, but there’s work for me to do. It would be nice if there was an easy solution.
Kristi, I teach middle school English, and I understand your frustration with being able to provide timely feedback. I wish I had a great solution to offer, but I’m still struggling with it myself. That said, I do utilize a workshop model, and rely a lot on writing conferences. I would be more than happy to chat with you about how it works. Feel free to e-mail me–firstname.lastname@example.org — and have an awesome school year!
Lynn Kameny says
Ageism. As a 30-year veteran teacher who chose this career purposefully, is passionate about it, always open to change and new ideas and is constantly self-reflective on my craft, the hardest thing about this job is feeling DISMISSED because of my age. I can go into any class, no matter how tough, and get learning to happen. I can change plans on a dime if the schedule changes or technology will not connect that hour. I just spearheaded a school-wide election project in which our high school students taught our middle schoolers about 16 California Propositions. But however, competent or continually inventive I am in my classroom, there is a certain way that age is talked about that is disparaging and dismissive, as if younger and newer is always better. Perhaps this is just the culture at my school, or perhaps it is pervasive everywhere… it would be interesting to know. I do not believe that 50 is seen as old and decrepit in the corporate world. I suspect that the majority of 50-60 year-old CEOs are highly regarded or at least respected in their workplace.
I do not want to sound whiny. Although an occasional acknowledgement for a job well-done, or a nod to the idea that experience can be increase a teacher’s value would be nice, I do not need adulation or to be put on a pedestal. I just would like to feel that our profession accords respect to people based on their performance and ability throughout their entire career.
I am curious to know if your other readers feel there is ageism in their workplace.
Heidi B. says
I’m so sad you feel that way. I’m lucky enough to work with a very senior staff (5 retirements of 30+ years at the end of this year). I have learned so much from them and am inheriting a well-oiled machine of consistency. I entered into teaching at age 35, so for me I feel like the maturing process of being in a professional workplace was done at my prior career–I made all sorts of mistakes and learned from them. So, now I can focus on watching and learning from those who have come before me. I’m sure there is someone looking up to you at your school and you are VALUABLE to those kids who walk into your room each day.
Lynn, I’m curious to know what is happening at your school to make you feel dismissed due to your age. Do you think its definitely age, or more years of experience, or both?
In the program I work in, turnover is very high due to the challenging nature of our work (mentally, emotionally, and physically–we work with severe disabilities) and the not-great pay (in comparison to other districts in the area). So the staff tend to be young.
Lynn Kameny says
There are just many references to older and younger teachers and disparaging comments if anyone tries to talk about past practices at our school. The comments are less from teachers and more from admin, although sometimes the newer teachers say things that let you know they see you as older and perhaps less relevant. I will weather the storm. It just makes me sad. I had great mentor teachers who made teaching their career. I have followed in their footsteps, but do not see as many teachers making the choice for teaching as their career, which is too bad. I think teaching is an excellent career choice.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I find it interesting, because I’m on the other end of the spectrum as the second youngest in my building and I also feel dismissed. I’m often frustrated by the expressions of surprise when others visit and I have tight routines and students aren’t losing their mind and out of control. It’s upsetting that my hard work is dismissed by my age. The feeling that I can’t possibly be ANY good at even a few things in teaching because I don’t have the years.
While I truly believe in experience as the best teacher, I also believe that there are some traits of a “good” teacher that are possessed naturally and age doesn’t matter (young or mature).
Lynn Kameny says
I totally agree with you about age being irrelevant to good teaching. Sorry to hear there is reverse ageism at your school. There are so many teachers who are new to the profession at our school who are awesome and accorded a lot of respect. I hope you hang in there and keep on being an outstanding teacher. Teaching is a great career!
Eileen S. Morris says
Lousy technology, no money or support from district/school, unrealistic, time wasting demands re testing, no money for TAs, outdated materials and lack of training/planning time re Common Core, too many new mandated programs forced on teachers all at once.
Eileen S. Morris says
Oh, and I attempt to handle it by working with my awesome 4th grade level colleagues–I could never survive without them!
Parents. I try to find a middle ground and understand they want the best for their child but I also see that they can impede their growth because they don’t want them to ‘fail’ at anything. Let them keep retesting until they pass, not until they understand the concept.
The toughest part of teaching is dealing with the disrespect of my students. I teach in a major urban city with high poverty. Add the disrespect with all the testing, data collecting, and micromanaging, you have a very stressed out teacher.
Yes. I was afraid to mention that myself — but the taunting which has been ongoing, coupled with higher-ups’ willingness to side with the students (without checking with me, and without regard to whether what the students are doing is illegal and/or just plain immoral), has impacted my quality of life to where I need to get out.
So true, it’s no longer respect the adult. It’s what did you say that might have provoked little Johnny. And students clearly breaking rules or violating policies, only to be sent back to class with little to nothing done. “I talked to him”
I Chatterjee says
I have been in this field for over thirty years. I used to be able to ‘go with the flow’
. Lately though, I have become very bitter about not having enough time to get everything done. From designing a unit to assessing for understanding, documenting progress, committee work, etc., etc. a teacher in the 21st Century has no time to breathe or reflect.
Eileen S. Morris says
I am so with you! This is my 19th year teaching, and all I really want is to do a good job and do what’s right by my students. Too many constraints and not enough support–I feel badly about the job I am doing. It’s not a good feeling. My personal life and health are suffering because I am trying so hard to do everything. I’m not the type to just say “whatever, not my fault.”
So true. I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t know what’s the priority because there’s not enough time.
Emma Tsai says
There are challenges, like classroom management or school culture or grading in a timely fashion. I think the number of distractions and sense of entitlement, and struggling for respect in a world where the boundary gets harder and harder to maintain.
Time. Maybe I’m just slow, but it takes me hours to lesson plan, and then I still don’t feel like I’ve done enough. I want to use more project based learning and blended learning in my classroom, but the resources for those ideas are varied and endless. That should be a good thing, but I have yet to find any site that puts this in some sort of scope and sequence order, so I find myself spending a lot of time deciding what we should do next, and how to go about it. I also agree with those who feel like they are always falling short. I finally wrote myself a list the other day of the 7 things I feel the kids are accomplishing so far this year. This helped some, but there’s always this little voice in the back of my head saying this isn’t enough. I am trying desperately not to look/feel incompetent, but that’s how I’m feeling right now.
You’re definitely not slow, JW! I spend so much time lesson planning, and I spend an equally long period of time trying not to feel that I am failing as a teacher. You are 100% not alone in that!
dog's life says
I was a business lawyer for 20 years and I’ve been teaching high school English for the last nine years. Dave, thank you for this “cosmic complaining” opportunity.
I can’t get it down to one thing. So here is my list:
1. The schedule– we just don’t have enough time in the day to plan well, reflect on our classes, grade work, take care of other school duties and, most importantly, meet with our department colleagues and talk about what worked and what didn’t. So for me, there is always a sense of feeling hurried, feeling rushed, flying by the seat of one’s pants– and rarely a sense of having a direction or a plan for improvement as a teacher.
2. Classroom management– if you have 20 kids in your class, there are always 2 or 3 students (sometimes more rarely less) who are difficult– meaning they won’t stop horsing around, are rude, are high maintenance, are unable to do the work, or are parented by jerks (you get the idea). These difficult kids wear on me, day in and day out. At the end of the day, it’s my interactions with these kids that are bouncing around in my brain, troubling my sleep.
3. Creativity– Being a lawyer, I was excited when the standards/competencies movement arrived. I read everything I could get my hands on, trying to come up with the ideal set of standards for high school English class. The result– I found that the standards and competencies did not really help me become a better teacher. For English, I found them to ultimately be an unhelpful distraction. Here are my “standards” now:
“In my class I help my students become great readers, great writers, and great speakers and listeners.” That’s it, and it’s the same for all my classes. With my department colleagues, I want to have the time to talk about what this looks like in their classrooms– what new and interesting things are they experimenting with to improve teaching and learning?
As to how I’m dealing with these difficulties, the answer is not very well. Again, thank you for this opportunity to share and to see what other teachers find to be difficult.
Anna Salazar says
There are many different areas in teaching that I find difficult but perhaps the most difficult is helping student love to learn and “teaching to the test”. Standardized tests are required by the state and by our school to even graduate. I often find that I am continuously asking myself, “How do I help students succeed in standardized testing while at the same time, pushing my students to find the joy in learning?”. There really isn’t any way to deal with this difficulty, but I do tend to differentiate instruction and move my students to find joy in what we do for most of the year. When the standardized testing months hit, I teach student strategies that will help them, which I incorporate in my lesson plans.
Ahh…I love the sounds of teachers in one of their few truly safe environments – surrounded by other teachers!
My biggest struggle has been learning proper time management, and a big part of good time management for me has involved, as Dave described it, learning to satisfice. As an in-recovery perfectionist, I find that if I feel like I do not have time to complete a task to my personal level of satisfaction, I procrastinate working on it (or work on something that is not a urgent) which leaves me even less actual time to accomplish said task. Which then causes to vicious cycle to repeat itself.
I started off the school year very well, but a week into the term, our second child was birn 2 weeks early. That put me in a tail spin that I havent quite recovered from.
Watching the Clock in WI says
The fact that we are all taking time out of our weekend to reply to this, I think, is the answer in itself. I agree with the majority of the posts (except that I love the people I work with). However, for me, time is the largest challenge. There isn’t enough time during the day to grade papers (high school English teacher with four different classes) and prep (designing and modifying lessons for four different classes) and assist my colleagues with reading and writing strategies (and interpreting data) and have time left for my family at the end of the day. At the end of every period, at the end of the day, I wonder what I could accomplish with 5 more minutes.
So true. I am constantly looking up things, writing new plans because we keep changing curriculum, changing time frame, piloting materials, reducing the amount of time for classes, etc.
For me, the biggest struggle of teaching middle school is not the students, nor the parents, nor the administration, but my teacher colleagues. This past week, I cried on three out of the five days of my school week because I’ve been made to feel unwelcome in the small middle school where I teach. One teacher in our small middle school is giving the “silent treatment” to all of the teachers who consort in any way with a fellow teacher whom he used to date. He won’t even hold the door open when he sees me walking into the same room a few feet behind him. Another example: recently, I asked our principal if I could turn one of our staff lounge bulletin boards into a “staff shoutouts” board; he liked the idea, but another teacher, who serves as our union representative, was annoyed because she thought I should have consulted her first. Instead of simply expressing this to me (at which point I would have taken down the bulletin board), she spoke angrily about me to many of our peer teachers, which resulted in another teacher ripping down the affirmative notes placed on the board and the angry teacher herself covering up the board with union flyers. I was appalled by the childishness of these actions. Even as I write this post, I feel like a complaining child, but honestly, I sometimes feel like I teach mature adults and work with immature middle schoolers rather than the other way around. What ever happened to collegiality and positive morale? I run a number of clubs at my school, including the Kindness Club, but I don’t know how to build a community of kindness among my colleagues. It’s extraordinarily disheartening.
I was told a few weeks ago in a dept. meeting that we MUST increase our test scores by the end of the year. I never dreamed this would happen to me. I thought it was some teaching urban legend. Now I feel like that’s all I focus on–what part of this lesson will help them pass the test with a higher score? Absurd. So, that’s one thing. Another thing is the feeling of helplessness that goes along with all the stuff dealt down to teachers from the governmental level, from those who haven’t set a foot in a classroom since they were students. The politics of it all is sad.
Kelly D says
The biggest challenge for me is finding the time to help readers and writers identify their individual strengths and weaknesses and help them develop paths to growth. With middle school classes in the 30s and a lack of motivation being a common weakness, it’s hard to fit in enough small group instruction and individual conferring to feel as if I’m making much of an impact. I try to deal with it by keeping the idea of growth being incremental–for kids and for me–at the forefront of my thinking and planning.
Janie G. says
The hardest part of teaching is shared by many others, I know, but it doesn’t make it easier to live with. I simply live in dreadful fear that I am not doing enough. Am I connecting with my students in spite of our generational differences?
I fear that in spite of the many missed moments with my own family and child, in spite of the endless hours of work done at school and at home, in spite of the sleepless nights, anxiety, and stress…that it’s all for not.
I teach in an area make up of second language learners who come from broken homes and extreme poverty. Their priority is not learning; it’s surviving.
Going on fifteen years of teaching, first as a 2nd and 4th grade teacher and now on a freshman only campus, I feel very disconnected to my students. The little ones did everything I asked with gusto and much love! Fifteen year olds are a fickle, egotistical bunch concerned mostly with socializing and social media.
I feel so out of touch with my students that I can’t help but question if I’m doing right by them. I read a lot of scholarly journals and professional development books to help me learn of strategies that may help me reach them in spite of our differences.
I have more good days with my 120 kiddos than not, and I hope that they can truly feel how much I care for them. I don’t feel our profession is truly student-centered even though that’s what is demanded of our instruction in the classroom.
I think I only have 3-5 years left in me. I can’t give of myself any more and still have any left for my husband, child, and family. And weenie dogs. My two weenie dogs don’t see enough of me either 🙂
Nancy Kwik says
Time. There is never enough time to research, refine, and rewrite lesson plans to engage the students in their learning. Each year administration is requiring more and more time with documentation, testing, and meetings that have no direct impact on student learning. I must use my evenings and weekends to grade and provide feedback. There is no time left. To be burned out in October is not a good sign.
Lynsay Mills Fabio says
There are two:
1. Making time for what’s most important, not just what’s urgent. How I deal: when I get a block of work time (30 minutes or more), I take 5 minutes to reflect in writing in my journal. I re-read my mission statement for the year, decide what has to be done first, and then go do that. Those 5 minutes have a way of centering me and are always worth the time.
2. Staying whole-hearted and optimistic despite failures, difficult students, or painful situations. How I deal: I have Dave’s “Jedi Mind Tricks” article bookmarked, and I reread it, and I write in bold: “I am not my job. I am a human and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a friend, and no matter what does or does not happen in this classroom, I’m a good person, and I will be just fine.” This intentional detachment opens up inner strength to see the lesson in failures, to truly forgive kids, and to be unapologetically myself in my classroom.
There are many things however today, this week, this year I would say:
1) That time management and maintaining focus and constantly reevaluating your time priorities remains a difficult challenge.
2) Secondly, as I enter my third decade of teaching I find it increasingly difficult to maintain enthusiasm.
Denise Ahlquist says
I am fortunate that in my role I have relatively few of the non-teaching challenges that can make teaching in most settings so hard (like large classes, constantly changing policy mandates, and the personalities of students and other adults).
There are however, some challenges that I do still deal with, and I think of these as intrinsic to many different kinds of teaching.
What are the most important objectives to focus on when they are so many competing priorities, and too much to teach in too little time?
How can I hold myself back to allow room for my students to make their own mistakes and develop their own insights?
What helps me really listen and observe my students so that I can truly link next steps to where they are at a given time and nurture their growth?
What I like about these kinds of challenges is that while they can sometimes feel like a mountain that I have to re-climb every day, they also present the very problems that I enjoy applying my creativity and teaching talents towards. If approached as opportunities to problem-solve, teaching can be a never-ending creative endeavor.
Kathryn Haugrud says
Two definitive answers for this one:
2) Just getting comfortable, experience, knowledgeable or even expert at something and then having everything change.
1. Without an administrator to support all teachers, whether they like them or not, it is very difficult to come to work ready to motivate anyone else. I have had administrators do such petty, mean-spirited things to teachers and it is a constant reminder that we are being demeaned and demoralized rather than lifted up. This job needs administrators who want their teachers to be as successful and happy as they can be. I also personally feel that the veteran teachers especially should be respected for their wide array of experience. I haven’t had an administrator like this in the last 15 years.
2. We’ve unpacked the standards, written ELO’s, spent years working on assessments to align with the Common Core standards, worked on developing the Common Core curriculum, we’ve changed our grading procedures, taken on standards based assessments, taught students how to lead their own conferences and now project-based learning is rearing it’s head. Often our administrators will jump on the latest bandwagon without doing enough research so that they can accurately answer questions the teachers have. It would be nice if once in awhile, for YEARS at a time, we were allowed to just get really good at something.
Laura Carbaugh says
Here I am on a beautiful Monday afternoon (holiday for me) because I am planning and grading. I am NOT a time-waster, nor am I a procrastinator, but there is just never enough time in the day to get everything finished. Standards are always changing; terminology is always changing; administrative mandates are always changing; the latest gurus are always changing buzz words and strategies; and I can’t keep up with all I need to do.
So, in answer to the “How do you deal with it?” question, I haven’t figured out how to get better, if that’s what you mean! 🙁
I need time, time, and then more time!
I had my answer in my head before I wrote this post, so despite what it may look like, I’m not being swayed by the overwhelming amount of people who have given the same answer. To me, the hardest thing is most definitely TIME. I’m to a point in my career where I feel like, given enough time, I could really dig into individual student difficulties, really develop each student through individualized, frequent feedback, and really push my craft forward through professional reading and research — if only I had more time! As I’ve written many times before, I’m not willing to sacrifice higher order priorities (my relationship with Crystal or my children) for the sake of my dearly loved students, but this comes at a cost. I’m constantly crunched for time. Time is the great pressure cooker of my brain, and my brain for too much of the school year is way past well-done.
I am surprised no one mentioned an international perspective. I have a friend who teaches in France. She has–get this–18 contact hours with students per week. The rest of the time, 17 hours due to France’s awesome work hours, is for planning, research, grading, etc.
I have heard similar things about teachers in other European nations. Does anyone have experience or knowledge of other nations/continents?
I honestly believe that if we want to keep good teachers in the profession, and MAKE good teachers out of those who would quit (rightfully, given the current demands everyone is posting about here), having a more balanced workday with time for collaboration, reflection, planning, and grading is the way forward. I’d take having an extra planning period–without commensurate time-wasting demands–over a step increase any day!
For me, its lack of time to handle the “moving target” initiatives going on in our district and state. Its tough because its purely political. In Maine the legislature controls decisions that in other states are the province of the DOE. For example … we have waited over ten years for new graduation standards. Each year different ideas are proposed and schools cautious move in a new direction, using limited staff time to begin to determine how to implement the new idea … only to have the next year’s legislature move in a different direction and often invalidate the previous year’s efforts. It has caused a number of really good teachers in our district to either move to community college teaching or quit the profession altogether. We can’t afford to lose our most experienced and brightest teachers to government dysfunction.
There are always parts of teaching that are exhausting (grading lab books) or emotionally traumatic (student funerals), but I think they come with the job. But government involvement in education was minimal when I started teaching in 1979, and has grown to be the major reason why local teachers no longer encourage their children to foillow their career and be teachers themselves.
Time came in second for me, but all are so entwined. My number one challenge right now is validating myself and the good work I know I do, surrounded by a miasma of negativity, either culturally (in the systematic de-valuing of teachers), politically (every year’s new mandates are choking the system), to locally (colleagues, “oh, you just teach AIS now, lucky you,” to parents and kids). Four years ago I became our middle school’s AIS-ELA teacher, having switched from teaching ELA 7/8 in our school for eight years. I wanted to use my experience in, and love of, reading and writing to help our struggling kiddos who were demoralized by our state assessment test. I’d never seen so many young writers just “shut down” in the classroom before. I’ve learned that mine is the class that kids (and their parents) don’t want to be in, and that gets draining. Add to that I have 10 of classes of grades 6-8 on a two day rotation; I’m to make them better readers, writers, thinkers, while getting new kids weekly, losing kids weekly (parents remove them), progress monitoring them and differentiating to the “Nth” degree, in what amounts to a 20 week course. I’m lucky I have a supportive admin, but I too have felt the sting of ageism since our new principal and asst principal joined us 1 and 1/2 years ago. What helps? Not to embarrass Dave, but his blog, and the links he provides to other like minded resources, started my “non-freaked out” approach to life and satisficing. Prayer helps, too. But that’s never listed on any performance rubric I’ve ever seen ; )
I don’t know if it’s the toughest thing about teaching, but I know the most difficult part of teaching for me is getting student to buy into assignments and being proactive when it comes to their education. If students “buy in” the teaching process becomes much less of a behavior management issue and allows me to focus my energy more on assessment and adjustment of lessons. I feel that if I focus more of my energy of creating purposeful lessons that are high interest, the students will buy in more. But… so much of buy-in depends on the student.
So essentially the toughest thing for me is not knowing how much of my energy I should focus on things that are beyond my control. This could just be because I’m only in my fourth year of teaching.
I am only in my third year of teaching, and I would say the hardest thing is planning a coherent curriculum, I teach in a very small school and so I am the 7-12 grade English teacher. I just don’t know how to seamlessly weave together 1) argument, 2) literature, 3) grammar, 4) speaking 5) vocabulary, 6) writing, 7) spelling, and 8) reading strategies. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Anyway, for 6 different grade levels, plus I teach Comp. I?
Of course, I can think of strategies, and I’m trying, and the “non-freaked-out” label is what drew me to the website in the first place, but still. And I’m in a low-pressure district.
I agree with all who said time or improving student buy-in and motivation, but those aren’t the toughest things for me. The toughest thing about teaching for me is the all-out psychological warfare teachers must constantly endure.
Modern society’s view of teaching is one of must-do, absolute sacrifice or you stink at your job. If we don’t want to burn ourselves alive by staying till 7 PM every night prepping and grading while our family awaits us at home, then we’re not dedicated teachers. A parent actually told me once that the good teachers are the ones who work 12 hour days. If we don’t think it’s right to be forced to tutor students who refuse meet us halfway by using the good intelligence they have by actually doing and turning in work on time or even at all, then we’re not concerned about them and their futures. This expectation for teachers to contort themselves into over-working and over-helping automatons at the expense of their own mental and physical well-beings is one not seen in any other profession. In what other profession is it said that people should do the job for fun even if they don’t get paid like teachers are told? No other one.
Here’s why I call it psychological warfare–this burden of unrealistic and downright inaccurate expectations heaped on us creates the feeling we’re never doing enough, we’re always behind, we’re not good enough. Then comes the guilt over our “inadequacies” that follows us home infecting our families, our sleep, our joy.
Dave, I appreciate your efforts to help us all maintain a work and life balance. You’re an oasis in the desert on this topic.
I forgot to add what I’m doing to deal with my toughest thing. I’ve been working on relieving stress through meditation, reading books I enjoy, listening to classical music, planning trips I want to take, etc. I’m dealing better now than ever before although it’s far from perfect.
Eileen S. Morris says
Oh, Michele, you really put this perfectly! It is exactly like I feel, and I really am killing myself to try to keep up with all the unrealistic expectations and trying to help the kids that no one helps at home, even when they don’t ever try to help themselves. Health and home definitely suffer. Thanks for your thoughtful, spot on reflection. It helps to know we’re not alone. And thanks to Dave for all of his insights–I really appreciate his expertise and humanity.
Lynn Kameny says
I agree with what you say. It is ironic too that the vast majority of us enter teaching already primed to be helpers and givers. So in order to increase our longevity in the teaching profession, the emphasis should be on a work-life balance rather than on creating an environment in which we feel guilty if we are not devoting our life solely to the classroom and our students.