Seven Reasons You Probably Don't Suck (For Teachers)
Well, it’s that time of year. Spring Break has passed, and many of us are returning without much idea what we’ll be doing in class this week. Maybe you feel behind, 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 surviving day to day. 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.
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…
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 at least very unlikely that you suck.
Statistics say 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. If this is your first year, you’re probably not as good as you will be; if this is your twentieth, it’s possible you’ve lost a few steps along the way. But overall, I suspect you’re a miracle worker every day and simply don’t see it.
So why don’t you feel it? Wouldn’t you know?
Maybe. But not necessarily. I’d like to respectfully suggest seven reasons good teachers feel like failures – especially this time of year.
1. Your elected leaders despise you.
Depending on where you live, you’ve likely 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 corrupting and Socialist. Teachers are incompetent, 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 may personally 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. Even a majority of your students’ parents seem unable to connect their poor electoral decisions with the horrible treatment of public schools by these strange people who somehow ended up in office. 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 strength and clarity come only through trading away our foundational values. They’ve idealized a past that never existed for most, and they’re twisting and blaming and striking and rationalizing while you’ve dug in on “we hold these truths…” It sets up a glaring national cognitive dissonance, and they resent you for it.
Their blindness and ugly desperation doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad teacher. It makes you the Rebel Alliance. It makes you Neville Longbottom, Mal Reynolds, or Piggy clutching the conch shell. It makes you a bringer of light in a fallen world.
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.
I love my kids and I’ll fight for their right to exist and flourish in this murky world, but that doesn’t mean they don’t wear me out. That doesn’t mean they’re not complete dillweeds sometimes.
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; what are YOU doing wrong? How can YOU reach more kids? How can YOU meet more needs? 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? Why haven’t YOU fixed it all yet? ISN’T THAT WHAT SCHOOL IS FOR?!?
Sometimes your kids suck. Sometimes their parents suck. Sometimes your administration sucks, your state sucks, or the universe sucks. It’s not always you.
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 or your sole responsibility. If you’re doing all you can reasonably do, 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.
And yet, 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 shuffles kids through 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 parent, but they don’t. Spawn rarely turn out the way you think they should, and you can’t return them, so you’re stuck. Even parents are on shaky ground when they try to assess someone else’s family dynamics. There are a few general yays and nays, but… it’s complicated.
Everyone thinks they know teaching should work, or what it’s like, and they don’t. Even other teachers are too quick to project their own 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. Just like our kids, come to think of it.
Lots of things suck about this fallen world, but you don’t have to. And you probably don’t.