The Truth About Teaching
Teachers. They are a curious bunch. There are many types, shapes, sizes, and states of mind among them. Almost all teachers believe they are doing their very best. The majority are really good, heartfelt people who want to make a difference in their students’ lives. New teachers, until they’ve had their own classroom, will not realize how much of themselves they’ll give to their new way of life. Once they have been baptized by fire, they’ll realize that teaching is a soul baring vocation, in that one’s best and worst are displayed in the classroom for all to see. This is incredibly terrifying and exhilarating all at once. In order to truly reach students, teachers must allow themselves to be tender, open-hearted and willing to always work towards being a better person, as well as a more effective educator.

Teaching Is War
Some teachers embrace that crucible and allow the students to hold up a mirror for the teacher to see his successes and defeats. For a classroom is a battleground. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not teacher against student; it’s teachers and students against apathy. Every day the battle is lost and won. Every day, the teacher must reassemble his tools and weapons. Every day, he must go back to the same field, consciously forgetting the casualties of yesterday, because he has to start new, or else the battle is lost before he ever gets out there. In preparing the students, he can’t fight before them. He must fight by their sides. He must let them learn to thrive and fail by their own accord, showing only by example, the glories to be had through vigilance, discipline and true spirit. The teacher’s job is to help the students want and attain that glory for themselves, because he won’t always be there, and they have to learn to stand in their own desire to learn, if the war is to be won.

It’s mighty hard to go in, day in and day out to try to teach the adolescent animal, whose very nature causes her to mistrust, push back, withdraw, make excuses, hide behind false bravado, and fear failure and success. If she’s poor or disadvantaged in any way, then there is a Great Wall of China between her and her teacher, which he’ll have to climb over, before he can even start teaching. But he signs up for it every day, because he believes that he can reach her. He swears that if he ever gets tired of climbing that wall for more than a year, he’ll do something else.

When he uses these challenges as a launch pad to always getting better, his heart will not be defeated.

However, if he absorbs her negativity, listens and hears with his heart her answer, “No.” Then he will start to slow. His energy will begin to wane. All of a sudden, he rests and pretends not to notice the three in the back of the room with their heads down. There’s not enough to fight that battle. It’s their choice anyway, he tells himself. Because he’s becoming more and more removed from them, what used to just be mild irritation at their ways has now become a more solid dislike. How can he do this over and over? When is somebody going to do something about this? He didn’t go into teaching to babysit. In a few years more, his dislike will have calcified into bitterness. Anyone who comes along with a new idea or a possible solution is met with searing impatience. There is no desire to learn or to get better. Just to do the time. There is no judgement in this. All teachers flirt with this kind of disillusionment, especially teachers in schools of poverty. The turnover is unbelievable. It’s a difficult, often thankless job, and many argue why anyone would put themselves through such dysfunction. Anytime someone is that unhappy in their job, no one benefits. There’s someone else who will give it a try. It’s perfectly understandable to move on to a job that feeds him better and isn’t as hard on him day in and day out. Many don’t make it to five years. It’s almost like all of those tiny baby turtles rushing across the sand to the ocean. So many get picked off before they make it. But so many do.

This blog is for those of you who keep going out there day in and day out, fed by one child looking up at you with hope or the one more hand that went up more than yesterday. It is very possible to teach with joy for a lifetime, but you have to learn the deal. I hope this blog helps in your daily triumph. Please contact me below if you ever need anything. Let’s go.


The Most Important Thing

The most important thing that will save a teacher, time and time again, is laughter. Having a sense of humor about difficult things knocks them down to size. Teachers should never be afraid to laugh at themselves and with their students. Not taking one’s self too seriously is a great way to confront any type of stress that may creep up on you.

When students see teachers flat out belly laugh, they’re often a little thrown by it. They may watch curiously for a minute, but then they’ll join in. Happiness is strangely the one thing teachers sometimes struggle with in the classroom. Sharing joy through laughter is a universal experience that breaks down barriers and builds bridges. It’s okay to enjoy students. They won’t lose respect for you. Instead they’ll feel a hard-won connection.

In fact, being seen as truly human is half the teacher’s battle.  Allowing yourself to enjoy their quirks, their wonderful perceptions of life, their interests and passions creates a space for you all to be more authentic with one another. The more you share these things about yourself with them, the faster you will find them trusting you.

The more they trust you the more they’ll be willing to push through when they hear you say, “I know this is hard, but you can do this.” They know that you have their best interest because you guys have shared your lives with one another. You aren’t just another adult arbitrarily standing in front of them telling them what they “should” do. They know you’re on their team.

All because you laughed with them.


We grade. We explain. We create lessons that hopefully, not only provide the information, but inspire them to. We teach. We cajole. Stay up at night wondering if we’re making any headway. This cycle is, of course, necessary, but removes us from what we’re really doing here…being with our kids and interacting with them on a human level, rather than a teacher/student level. You are there and I am here. That separation makes us feel, well, separate, and keeps us from seeing the big picture…what’s good for us so we can be good for them.

Many teachers feel that they have to be stern and structured, and feel it’s inappropriate to have a relationship that’s anything other than I do this and you do that. That’s okay. There will always be teachers that are either on the touchy feely side or on the let’s get down to business side. Connection doesn’t require you to be someone you’re not. Modeling positive human behavior helps our kids to see that sometimes things don’t always go the way you want and that we all make mistakes.

For some reason we’ve gotten into the “we/them” frame of mind.

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a new teacher that still serves me today, is that I am the most valuable and important gift that I can give my students. On any given day, I might struggle with my curriculum and how to present it to them. Curriculum is indeed very important, but the most valuable thing I can model for them and teach them is how to be a kind, considerate, empathetic person, coworker and citizen.

 When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a lot of anxiety because we lived in a one bedroom apartment and we didn’t have the space for her to have her own room. With so many friends discussing paint schemes, patterns and furniture, I struggled to carve out a corner in our bedroom where a crib might go.

At my baby shower, a good friend spoke in the center of the storm. She said that the only thing that baby would need were my arms. I was instantly comforted. I could do that. She helped me to realize that everything else was secondary.

When working with new teachers, there’s a perpetual panic in their eyes, and rightly so. Well-meaning college professors, administrators, department heads, colleagues and parents all have an opinion on what the most important thing students need to learn and how they need to learn it. How many conversations have I had at four pm on Fridays with new teachers two months into the first quarter fraught with panic, tears, bruised confidence and outright fear because they have no idea how to balance all the spinning plates of creating lessons that are realistic and work, grading assignments, ever-changing schedules and meetings, duty and new teacher responsibilities. And thrown into the midst of this is the frustration and terror of not being able to manage a classroom and keep adolescents whose main job it is to get their way from running over the top of you.

And they’re supposed to have their own lives too, often with their own children, households and responsibilities. There just aren’t enough hours or energy to keep the plates from crashing to the ground. Unfortunately, it’s one of the great myths of our education system that you’re supposed o step out of Teacher College knowing how to do this. Veteran teachers shake their heads and chuckle. We know the answer to that. It’s called baptism by fire. And it may be the very reason over 50% of new teachers leave within 5 years.

So I hand them tissues and if appropriate, rub their backs and tell them that it’s impossible and some plates are going to smash. Then I say to them, that as a new teacher, the very best thing they can offer their students is them. That a big room, books, relevant curriculum and up-to-date technology are great, but if they don’t have a kid’s interest, if they’re not convinced that you believe in what you’re doing or that you don’t mean what you say and do, at best you have apathetic, “sit and get” receptacles that go through the motions and never hold on to that jazzy curriculum long enough for it to become a part of their molecular structure, and at worse, a classroom of kids that talk over you, challenge you, stubbornly defy you and could care less what you have to teach them.

A new teacher, and who they are as a person, is the foundation of who they are as a teacher. While we work on helping them to transfer the knowledge they possess into their students’ heads, they can start by being a role model for their students of how to be a good person, friend, colleague and citizen. Just so happens it’s a great way to build relationships with kids who have no reason to put their faith into you. Building relationships with students is the cornerstone of our success with students. It’s what students will remember for years to come, when all of the other lessons have faded. All they need is a teacher vulnerable enough to guide them.

Potty Mouth

As a teacher, the first weeks of summer are often accompanied by many trips to the restroom. A teacher’s internal clock is dictated by approximately 12 bells each day, five days a week, for 10 months out of the year. Most teachers will hold whatever needs to come out until there’s a split moment to let it out. This usually means that she will pee in the morning, at lunch, and usually when she gets home, because no one wants to stay later than need be, and after school is just as busy as during.

That, of course, leaves number two. When? Not in the three-minute break between classes. Not unless you’re an Olympic trained pooper, able to “move” through each action quickly and succinctly, with a clean dismount!  That’s what my uncle calls a “clean break.” No, I’ve never been such an athlete.  Most of the time it’s awkward and not very satisfying… a lot like a boy I used to go out with in college.

But the summer…ahhh. Summer. Unfettered hours, with Entertainment Weekly. My rear senses summer before I do.  My innards are at play like a newly potty trained child. “Now!” it yells with anticipated joy.  I scurry to find a bathroom downtown where all the signs say, “For Customers Only”. Now!? In the middle of the frozen section. Now!? On a bike ride. “How ’bout now!?!” Waiting in line at the bank. It isn’t until my body has proven to itself that it has its run of the farm, before I can start to enjoy any sense of normalcy. Usually, about a week before school starts. Shit.

Sticking It Out

It must be acknowledged that all teachers have feelings of defeat sometimes. New teachers are very sensitive to feeling like they aren’t making a difference. There are days and weeks, even, where a teacher cries on the way home, or in bed, thinking about the day. Teachers who have taught more than 5 years sometimes have whole years where they doubt their desire to continue their career. Some go back to school to get their administration degrees, some teach a community college class or two, some leave and come back because there’s a hole in them every time August comes by.

What we’re talking about here is not the teacher who struggles or is down for a while. We’re talking about the teacher who refuses to see that there has to be constant change in his career. The kids will ebb and flow, teacher’s schedules will change from day-to-day, year-to-year administrators will come and go, the school itself will get better, then worse, then better again, budgets will shrink and expand, and programs will come and go. It’s the very essence of teaching…change. Then why should he not expect that he must change as well…that there will always be celebrations of success and actions that will always need improving?

For all teachers, there will be days when you don’t feel like you’re teaching to your standard. These days have to happen, if teachers are going to save themselves from burnout. Even on mediocre days, the students have the benefit of just having their teacher around. Students need to know that even if he isn’t on his game, he’d still rather be with them than anywhere else.

For all of the difficulty in teaching, there are many, many joyous reasons to stick it out. Just when a teacher is ready to throw in the towel, some previously ornery child will pop up with a great question, provide an insightful answer, or say hello in the hall. That good feeling gets most teachers through another couple of weeks. There are other things she can do to keep balanced and have something to offer students the next day. When a teacher’s life is rich and full, she doesn’t lose herself in the minutiae and the challenges in her vocation. Teaching becomes just one more aspect of who she is. The broader her interests and the deeper she reads, the more of herself she brings to the table for her students to experience. She models what a full life looks like. She teaches the very best of herself, and she and her students benefit greatly from her wealth of life knowledge to complement her content knowledge.