This is the time of year when we question whether or not we can continue teaching. Reflection is important. It’s how we grow, but maybe you’re feeling like a failing teacher.
It doesn’t matter that we have years of experience behind us and the school year is finished, but there’s just something about this time of year that puts us in a funk. Add a pandemic into the mix and there’s even more confusion.
Even more, new teachers really start to question whether or not they can cut it as a teacher. This is the time of year when we tend to field questions from our new-to-school teachers and over and over we hear the same issues.
Maybe some of these sound like you, so before you throw in the towel and quit everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve, please keep reading.
Why did you become a teacher?
When I was nine I accosted my sister’s seventh birthday party ordering the guests to do a math drill. They did. That’s when my parents knew I was destined to be a teacher. I didn’t know until I completed an expensive degree of completely unrelated crap I still don’t use.
There are a lot of things teacher college or your education degree didn’t prepare you for. Your professors did their best to tell you it would be difficult, but you weren’t in a place where you were ready to take that in. You were still in your “I’m going to be a teacher! I can’t wait to decorate my classroom!” phase. Let’s face it. You probably made lesson plans before you even had a job.
Because that’s the best part! The teaching and figuring out what to teach! You want to design your classroom space and dream about meeting your students who will idolize you because you’re full of the latest and greatest teaching strategies and information.
Sometimes the magic fades. Don’t worry! We’ll help you find it again.
What They Don’t Teach You
Truth Bomb: Teaching is lonely
Yes, you might have teacher friends, but they aren’t inside your classroom all day long. Maybe you’re lucky enough to see other adults during your work day if you get a lunch break or have adults in your classroom. Generally, you are the only adult you’ll talk to for the majority of the day.
The people in your life who aren’t teachers don’t tend to understand why you need to spend so much time working. This was an actual question from my mother-in-law: “Why aren’t you getting all this marking and planning done during the school day? What do you do all day?”
Teach. That’s what I’m doing. There is no time for any other part of the job during the day. You know that, so I won’t go on.
The people in your life who are teachers won’t have time for you because they are just as busy as you.
Maybe this is why so many teachers have turned to online communities to talk, share, vent, and feel not so alone.
Our advice: Reach out to people you trust. Even if it’s just one person who you talk to each day to help you feel like a human. If you don’t have a person in your corner, reach out to us. We are here for you. You can find all our contact information at the bottom of the page.
Truth Bomb: Some teachers are mean
Yup. We said it. Teachers are supposed to be held to these high standards and are expected to be helpful, but the truth is, not all teachers are going to be positive in your life.
Teachers are people. And the majority are women. While we believe firmly in women empowerment, there are still some women out there who operate from a place of jealousy, competition, and plain old (cover your ears) bitchiness.
Unfortunately, learning who these people are means sometimes you get stomped on.
Here is how I learned this in the real world. I had a brand new job (but I had already been a teacher for four months). The new job required me to fill out paperwork for a student, a task I had not needed to do previously. When I went to a coworker to ask for some assistance, I was told, “If you can’t do your own work, why would I help you?” He then berated me for a few minutes about how I shouldn’t have been given a job I wasn’t qualified to do.
I felt like a puppy that had just crapped on the floor.
That was the last time I asked anyone for help at that school. It made me change my career path. Now, I wish I’d had the guts to speak up and confront the person, but that’s not my personality. Instead, I’ll just hope the person reads this one day and gets that I’m passive aggressively telling them off.
Truth Bomb: Teaching is more than teaching
You’ve probably got the teaching part down pat. That’s the part you trained for, but by now you’ve realized that teaching is more than the actual teaching the children all the things part.
You will have endless paperwork. This is usually assigned by people who don’t teach (or have never taught) because they need data in order to prove that the things you’re doing in your classroom are worthwhile (translation = worth funding). Nevermind that you’re a professional and can tell anyone who asks which students are performing at, above, or below their programmed grade level. You have to write multiple reports, fill out surveys, fill out data sheets, and have meetings about that data to prove it.
There is no workaround with this, unfortunately. I mean, a bonfire seems like the logical choice, but that probably won’t keep you employed for long (but let’s put a pin in that one for later).
Our advice: Just do the paperwork as quickly and efficiently as possible. It sucks, so bring snacks.
You will also have “extra duties” where you might have coach teams, supervise activities, help set up things, or host events. This is part of the job and the things you enjoy can be good for you.
The problem is that our newest teachers who need the most support are often the ones who get all these extra things dropped on them because more senior teachers have “done their time.” I’ve been on both sides of this. Frankly, I had to start saying no because no one was stepping up.
Our Advice: If you can find someone to share the load with you, it can cut the work in half. Make sure it’s someone who isn’t going to create MORE work because they can’t get anything done. Try to pick the things that bring you joy and say no to the things that don’t interest you.
And then there are parents and guardians. They can use up a lot of your time and if they smell fear, they will eat you alive.
Our advice: We’ve only ever had a few times in our career where parents went into “attack” mode. There are some general rules we always tried to follow:
- Their child is the most important thing in this parent’s life, so start with something positive (even if that takes work).
- Talk about events as factually as possible. Be honest, but kind. Treat the parent with respect.
- Parents usually just want to be heard, so listen. Actually listen to what they’re saying (even if you don’t agree). Thank them for sharing.
- When you don’t know what to say, say “I’m going to think about this some more. Can I get back to you?” and then make a note to get back to them. This will help you think about your answer before you answer irrationally or say something you’ll regret.
As a parent and a teacher, I have been on both sides of the parent meeting (both the good and the bad). No teacher wants a parent telling them how to teach. Well, no parent wants to hear a teacher tell them how to parent. Approach parents like teammates and this will help.
But, that also means creating healthy boundaries. Set up office hours, communicate with parents regularly (maybe your newsletter, class website or daily agendas), and smile. Smiles go a long way!
If boundaries are a challenge for you, read our Teacher Tired Habits to Break post.
Truth Bomb: You might need therapy
Students come to school with all the things going on at home. You may hear stories about what your students struggle with at home. That can be overwhelming.
First, if it’s criminal, abusive, or neglectful, you do not need to prove or judge anything. You are obligated to contact resources in your area to report it. They will investigate. Your principal or union will have more information about the process for you. We recommend you understand this process before you ever need to access it. That way if something happens, you know the right way to proceed.
Second, sometimes it’s not a crime but just makes you sad. This is often the case in our classroom. We have many families that are refugees who have fled from Syria. Children will tell us about the most horrific things at the most seemingly random times. They share when they feel safe.
So, you might be on your way to music class when one of these students takes your hands and shares that you look like her aunt. Then she’ll go on to tell her about how she witnessed a bombing and saw that same aunt dead on the road.
So, you might need therapy. It’s ok to ask for help about how to process these emotions or how to help your students feel safe in your classroom.
We use a gratitude journal as one way to help us write down the good and the bad of the day. You can find a copy of the Teacher Gratitude Journal in our Resource Library or we can send a copy to your inbox when you sign up for our email list.
Truth Bomb: Everyone cries sometimes
I recently had a conversation with a first year teacher. I accidentally walked in on her crying in the washroom.
It had been a rough day. I gave her a hug and told her that everyone has bad days. Everyone cries.
She said, “Then how come no one ever talks about it?”
Good question! So, we’re talking about it. Everyone cries! Everyone has really bad days. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your first year or your thirtieth — teachers still cry.
Somehow, it’s become normalized to keep a stiff upper lip and hide your troubles. Our first-year teachers are embarrassed because they feel like they aren’t doing a good enough job.
Our advice: talk to someone who’s been there. Look for someone you can trust and can listen to your concerns.
Here’s the truth! It doesn’t get easier. You just get better.
You are doing the best you can. That’s all anyone can expect from you. It’s hard and people will tell you it gets easier. They lie!
You get better at handling it all. The amount of work won’t surprise you anymore. You know how to write report cards and you don’t have to learn everything from scratch. You sort of know what to expect. And you’ve learned from your mistakes.
And, just when you think you’ve got your footing, a worldwide pandemic will hit and change everything you have learned. Just kidding, that already happened. 🙂
We want to hear from you. Did we miss a truth bomb? Please leave us a comment below or send us an email. We really want to help our newer teachers. We don’t want anyone feeling alone out there in the teaching world.
And if you want to come do a math drill at a birthday party…
We love you ninjas!