Seven Reasons You Probably Don't Suck (For Teachers)
Well, it’s that time of year. Spring Break has passed – the last landmark of rebootage and rejuvenation.
Many of us are returning without much idea what we’ll be doing in class this week. Maybe you feel behind again, and have big plans for getting things ‘back on track.’ Or maybe all that stuff you were gonna do better this year has already kinda fizzled, and you’re just hanging on until term ends. Some of you are excited about seeing your kids again – which is weird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you… but it’s still seriously weird.
So maybe you’re optimistic, or maybe you’re sad break is over, or maybe…
Maybe you don’t actually know anymore. Maybe you had the best intentions ever, but when it’s quiet and you’re alone, you wonder…
Oh god, do I suck at this? Maybe I’m not cut out to be a teacher. I mean, I like it sometimes… often, really. I just thought I’d be better at it. It’s like I can’t quite… they just aren’t… I wish… *sigh*.
I get it. Whatever variation taunts you, I hear you. I don’t really do nurturing or warm fuzzies, but I am a fan of reality – so let’s be candid for a moment, shall we?
You don’t suck at this teaching thing.
I mean, it’s possible, I suppose. Some teachers do. But most of the ones who DO suck don’t realize or care that they suck. They certainly don’t read education blogs hoping for insight or inspiration. So it’s very, very unlikely that you suck.
Statistics say, in fact, that you’re probably pretty good. Once you control for poverty and upbringing and factors well-beyond your control, the reality is that most American public school teachers are at least adequate, and many are quite impressive much of the time. If this is your first year, you’re probably not as good as you will be in two more; if this is your twentieth, it’s possible you’ve lost some of the passion of your first fifteen. But overall, I suspect you’re a miracle worker every day and simply don’t see it.
Ridiculous – you’d know if you were any good, right? You’d feel it. You’d… you’d be happier, wouldn’t you?
Maybe. But not necessarily. I’d like to respectfully suggest seven reasons good teachers feel like failures – especially this time of year. Feel free to add your own thoughts below.
1. Your elected leaders despise you.
If you live in Oklahoma, or somewhere similarly enraptured by Social Darwinism and state-subsidized elitism, you’ve already endured years of passive-aggressive chipping away at all you hold dear. Teachers are lazy. Teachers aren’t accountable. Schools are failing. Kids are trapped. Public education is wasteful. It’s atheistic and immoral and corrupting and Socialist. Teachers are incompetent pedophiles and whiney welfare queens.
It’s tiring. You tell yourself it’s just politics, but over time it leaves you feeling a bit marginalized. That’s not you, honey – that’s them.
2. Your values are under assault.
Those principalities and powers don’t just target you, of course. They despise your students for being different colors, coming from different cultures, speaking different languages, having different faiths, or sexualities, or even just different interests and abilities. You decide every day to treat your kids as if their value is innate. You carry on as if all of them deserve opportunity, challenge, enlightenment, and basic dignity – no matter how straight, white, boring, or Protestant you yourself may be. That makes you a problem.
Statistically, the folks next door probably voted against you and your kids. So did most of the people in your small group at church. Most of your students’ parents voted against you and the skills and the knowledge you’re trying to instill in their child so they can function in a diverse and challenging world. It offsets a whole lotta Starbucks gift cards if you let yourself think about it too long.
These are tough times to be a believer in public education. Or the equal value of all men. Or common decency.
But here’s the thing, sweets – the majority is wrong. They’ve let fear and resentment trump the better angels of their nature. Like their forebears a century-and-a-half ago, they think they’ll find strength and clarity in pulling away from what America can and should be. They’ve idealized a past that never existed for most, and at the moment they’re twisting and blaming and striking and rationalizing while you stand there stuck on all-men-are-created-equal and the-pursuit-of-individual-happiness and such. It sets up a glaring national cognitive dissonance, and they resent you for it.
The majority may find their way back, or they may not, but their blindness and thinly-veiled desperation doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad teacher. It makes you a holdout – a rebel, even. It makes you Neville Longbottom, Mal Reynolds, or Piggy insisting on holding the conch shell. It makes you a bringer of light in a fallen world.
They are not the arbiters of suck, I assure you.
3. Kids can be a pain in the @$$.
We’re so often our students’ primary defenders that it leaves us little opportunity to express legitimate frustrations with the little turds when they’re being idiots.
Of course I love my kids and of course I’ll fight for their right to exist and flourish in this murky world. That doesn’t mean they don’t wear me out. That doesn’t mean they’re not complete dillweeds from time to time.
18% failed their common assessment; what can YOU do differently? Absenteeism is up; what can YOU do better? Some demographics are being disciplined out of proportion to others; what are YOU doing wrong? How can YOU reach more kids? How can YOU solve more problems? How can YOU meet more needs? What are YOU doing to modernize or personalize or gamify your curriculum? Why did YOU give little Bobo that ‘F’? How can YOU get more parents involved? What are YOU doing about global warming? Nuclear disarmament? World hunger? Transgender issues? That one computer mouse that keeps getting stuck? WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED IT ALL YET?!?!
Sometimes your kids suck. Sometimes their parents suck. Sometimes your administration sucks, your state sucks, or the universe sucks, and it makes your day suck.
Obviously, once we’ve acknowledged the things that are OUT of our control, we have a professional and ethical responsibility to consider everything IN our control we could try differently. It’s never OK to just blame the kid, or the parent, or the system, and call it a day.
But that’s different than taking it all on yourself as your fault and your responsibility. If you’re doing all you can reasonably do, then you don’t suck, whatever the outcome.
4. School is stupid.
The setup under which most of us work is antiquated and not at all conducive to individualized learning or going above and beyond pedagogically. Most of you receive students in blocks of time throughout the day with limited resources and no control over who is or isn’t in which clump or what their individual priorities or interests might be.
You keep finding ways to make it work. You keep finding ways to reach as many as you can. When you can’t, it’s not because you suck – it’s because the system simply isn’t set up in a way that benefits most kids individually – it’s set up in the cheapest way possible that still kinda teaches kids in bulk.
5. No one understands what you actually do.
Single people think they know how marriage should work, but they don’t. They can’t; it’s just not possible. And just because I’m married doesn’t mean I understand your marriage. There are too many variables. Too many factors.
People without kids often think they know how they’d handle this or that child in whatever situation, but they don’t. Spawn rarely work the way you think they should, and you can’t return them, so you’re stuck. Being a parent doesn’t make me an expert on your family dynamics or how to best raise your kids; I'm sure you’d have been at a loss what to do with mine.
Teaching is the same way. Everyone thinks they know how it works, or what it’s like, and they don’t. Even other teachers are quick to project their experiences as the universal guide to what everyone else is doing wrong. You can end up feeling very alone if you’re not careful.
6. Teacher Movies.
Movies are pretend. Idealized versions of one slice of reality. Those based on real people are particularly dangerous, as they tend to leave out how badly those folks’ lives crashed and burned as a result of doing whatever it was that made them interesting enough to be in the movies.
Be inspired by pretend teachers all you like, but don’t judge yourself by them. They’re not real. You are, thankfully.
7. Maybe you do actually suck.
I know, I know – I said earlier that you didn’t. But maybe you’ve started to recently. Maybe you’ve gotten tired or frustrated or lazy due to any or all of the things listed above, or any number of other reasons. It happens.
But you don’t have to suck – not going forward. You’ve had the training, you have (or had) the ideals, you know kinda how it’s supposed to work. So fix it. Try something different. Consult trustworthy peers in your building and ask what’s working for them. Find that administrator who’s not a jerk and let them know you’re looking for ways to improve – they LOVE that stuff.
If you’re not going to get better, then get out – go get a real job. It’s not like this one is going to make you rich and fulfilled anytime soon. But if there’s still a spark… well, at the risk of being hokey, these kids need you. Society needs you. The educators around you could probably use a boost as well.
You’re doing the Lord’s work, friend – literally, if that’s your thing, or colloquially if it’s not. Either way, truth has a certain ‘setting people free’ element which is in short supply recently. Knowledge is power, and skills are potential, and you can matter so much if you only decide to.
Lots of things suck about this fallen world, but you don’t have to. And you probably don’t.
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