Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Makes Teaching So Hard (or Easy)?

In my opinion, these things make teaching hard:

Kids are forced to go to school, and they don’t always want to be there or in my class.

In today’s relaxed disciplinary climate, I can’t count on parents, other teachers, or principals to make sure kids are submissive and cooperative in my classroom. I can only count on myself and my own skill at managing the classroom and engaging them in my material.

Too much of a teacher’s day is spent in front of students rather than preparing the lesson and regathering energy and focus. My ideal ratio would be 50/50. Smirk if you must, but teaching would be a completely different (and far more attractive) career if we taught for 3.5 hours and planned/collaborated/ regrouped for 3.5 hours a day. (I’d even go for 4 hours teaching, 3 hours planning/break.) We’d be more relaxed and creative in class, and you’d see less attrition in teaching. (The attrition numbers don’t lie. If this were a super-attractive career, people would be flocking to it, not away from it.)

Too much of a teacher’s day is spent on time-wasting, energy-sucking tasks like a) meetings that have no relative point or actual effect on anything; b) endless, redundant data entry (often into sub-par software programs that aren’t user friendly because they were created specifically for sale to school districts, who are often sold on fancy presentations and false promises. I could go on a major rant here, but I won’t. Not right now, anyway.) And c) sifting through unrelated emails and/or papers in my box at the front office.

And last, outside sources have various expectations of what I should be teaching, how I should teach it, and what the outcome should be for students. Those expectations may or may not line up with my own, and I often feel unnecessary pressure to meet others’ expectations.

So, what would make teaching easier?

Kids who want to be in my class and are engaged. They don’t automatically come that way, so this is up to me to create. (More on this in future posts.)

Classroom management strategies that I can actually make work for my particular teaching situation (this school/these students) and my personality. (More on this in future posts.)

Getting smarter about how I prepare so that prep work is at a relative minimum. A lot of this has to do with my organization strategies and literally where I store certain things in my room, to minimize unnecessary time/motion as I set up a lesson. (More on this in future posts.)

Saying no to unnecessary committees, meetings, and other time-wasters. In my opinion, one reason this remains such an “expectation” on teachers is that most of us try to accommodate and please our administrators in order to be seen as a team player, a valuable member of the staff, etc. I'm not a lazy person by a long shot, but I do have limited time and energy. I personally have chosen to focus my time and energy on my teaching in my own classroom, because the truth is, if I deliver the goods in terms of excellent teaching, happy students and parents, it doesn’t matter that I said no to the umpteen requests to join committees, cover others’ classes, etc., they’ll be reluctant to fire me (I say with rather brazen assurance.)
(**Okay, disclaimer about meetings: There are, of course, some meetings you should attend, like IEPs, RTIs, entire-staff meetings especially at the beginning of the year, etc. Also, if you are in your first year, my advice is be sure to attend everything that is expected of you but avoid taking on too many additional committees, clubs, etc. if possible.)

Coaching myself and my mentee(s) daily, if need be, that my true clients are my students/parents, not other teachers, the administration, the other high school, or anyone else. So the primary expectations I need to meet are those of my students/parents and of myself. (In my teaching situation, if the students are happy, the parents are happy, so that’s why I say “students/parents” as a unit.) 

If students are learning Spanish and enjoying it, my goals are met. If every student in my room makes progress on his or her own scale and feels good about taking Spanish, my goals are met. If 90-99% of them go on to take the next level of Spanish, my goals are met.

What would make teaching easier in your opinion?


  1. Jalen and all,
    I am so tired this evening from attending a Professional Learning Communities (PLC) seminar with educators from local districts, the second and final day is tomorrow. PLC to go with RTI and PBIS! That should be your next undertaking- take something from decades ago and create a more user-friendly, positive title that can be shortened to a catchy acronym .
    I think teaching would be easier and more enjoyable for me if all your ideas became reality. The reality is that more things are being added to our workload instead of being subtracted. It seems like the better the teacher you are, the greater the workload. For example, I end up with over 30 students per class because the kids know I try to make learning fun in a caring environment. I found your lessons, isn't that proof alone on how I try to reach the youth of today? Well, all this means students select my elective over ones taught by bellowing bullies. Compare my Spanish classrooms of 30+ students to agriculture classrooms of five. At least I am keeping the Spanish department alive.
    My thing always has been to have classrooms staffed with two teachers. I have dreamed of this sort of collaboration since I started this gig. For the first time ever, I had a student teacher in my English classroom and the best part was having a second set of eyes and ears and ideas.
    Truly, I think teaching might be easier for me if I had more creative outlets and focused on my own personal writing along with that of the students'. I am sure during my last hours of workshop tomorrow, I will look around the auditorium again and remind myself that I here to grow not only professionally, but personally. I know showing us You Tube videoclips of geese in V-formation is a nice comparison for how school teachers should act as the wind beneath each other's wings but come on, I was not born yesterday either, I know my colleagues are fighting to keep up too. If I fall out of formation, there's always fresh meat to replace me.

  2. the geese formation video. :-) Kari, you're hilarious. I don't know if you were trying to be funny, but your comments made my night. "Fresh meat to replace me." Yep, there's plenty of that since colleges' teacher prep programs are under big pressure to please crank out more teachers each year to make up for attrition, and oh by the way, could you somehow improve your programming so they'll be more successful and stay in the profession longer? Meanwhile, when they do get a job, we're going to run them through the ringer, milk them for all they're worth, and when they run fleeing for the hills, they'll be more "fresh meat to replace them." :-)
    OK, I'm getting on another rant. I promise this blog will not constantly be me ranting about the teaching profession. It's just...there's sooo much to rant about...
    Kari, will YOU be the wind beneath my wings??? BFF???

  3. Jalen, I love it! You are just the person I need because I have no one else in my building that teaches a world language! Yes, I meant to be funny about the video. At another segment that day, a video from the show House was shown to prompt the idea of working with colleagues because you know doctors do it all the time. Duh! When I work my masters paper on internship program to increase teacher retention, this comparison came up frequently. Oh well, the videoclip showed Dr. House along with a small group listening to the speculations of a young female doctor about the background of a patient. When she finished, he took the girl in his arms and blabbed out some clever putdowns and repeatedly said, "Baby steps."
    Really? Is this supposed to encourage me to want to open up to other staff members? All the other teachers and administrators were laughing at it, but all I could do was imagine myself being hugged by an ass on our staff while he was belittling my input to the group! Truly, I turned around and looked at the superintendent of our closest, biggest district in the area. The women was blowing big blue bubblegum bubbles! This world is getting so weird! An administrator engaging in juvenile pleasures.
    I cannot wait to respond to your next post. I have never read anyone put what I have been feeling lately in the classroom into words. Some of the things I used to do in the classroom, I cannot do these days. I thought I was going crazy! Why isn't this working?


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