Why Do Teachers Obsess That They’re Not Good Enough?

Every day, no matter what my current post, somewhere between around 2 and 20 readers click on a post I wrote several months ago called “Are You A Bad Teacher?” On some days it seems as if an infection of self-doubt has burst across the profession, causing as many as 75 readers in a single day to click on this months-old post buried in the internet. Of all the posts I’ve written, it’s the one that continues to generate the bulk of traffic on days when I don’t post anything new.

From my statistics page, I can see the readers’ search terms. In the last two days, they used terms like “I’m a horrible teacher” and “I’m a rubbish teacher” and “why am I a terrible teacher?”

Why are so many teachers agonizing over the possibility that they might be bad?

Is this agonized self-doubt found across most professions? Is there a dentist blogging out there whose most popular post is “Are You A Bad Dentist?” Are there neurosurgeons out there agonizing that they might be rubbish neurosurgeons? Do accountants lie sleepless at 2 am worrying that they are horrible accountants?

Maybe. (And in the case of some dentists, like the one I had when I was a child, they probably should start.) But I doubt it. I suspect that teachers’ obsession with whether they might be horrible or terrible or rubbish might have to do with a variety of external factors, and these factors are important because in our national education crisis—and it is a crisis—one of the things we need to do most urgently is attract and retain good teachers.

So if it’s safe to assume from the sampling of my readers that there are a lot of teachers out there agonizing that they are not good teachers, I think we can also assume that those teachers are unlikely to stay in the classroom because nobody is going to stay for too long in a job at which they feel incompetent. If in fact those teachers are right and they are bad, and yet they care enough about their jobs to be searching for answers in the middle of the night, what are we as an educational system doing to support those teachers so that they can become better?

Here are my thoughts on what’s causing this “bad teacher self-doubt” epidemic and what we might do to help:

1. Teacher training is pathetically inadequate. My own training was a hodgepodge of useless state-mandated courses; in two years, I took exactly one useful class. The rest of the classes were, to be blunt, bureaucratic bullshit along with some helpful hints about how to navigate the byzantine, mind-numbing credentialing system. It cost me thousands of dollars—it costs far more now, thanks to funding cuts—and left me totally unprepared to face a classroom of teenagers in a high-poverty community. The first thing teachers need to learn how to do is manage the classrooms in which they find themselves. T

New teachers need specific training and support depending on their community, the size of their classrooms and the age and proficiency level of their students. Nothing I ever learned in my training prepared me for dealing with large classes of students who were several years below grade level, many of whom had difficulty controlling their behavior in class. It took me two years to learn it on my own, every day a trial and error. Right now, our system pretty much makes teachers learn it on their own; the current “student teaching” system pairs a student teacher with a random assortment of whatever teacher is willing to host them, regardless of whether that teacher is any good or teaches in a community like the one that new teacher will soon face. Every new teacher should spend a year in the classroom of a master teacher in the community where he or she plans to teach.

2. Teachers get little or no support. Once you’re in the classroom, you’re pretty much on your own. You can beg a colleague to come observe you and comment, but colleagues are often so swamped themselves that they just don’t have time. Administrators are sometimes willing to help, but they’re also usually too busy—except when they’re evaluating you on the rubric of mandated standards, which may or may not be useful to you. It’s possible that some teachers feel “supported” when an administrator is going over a six-page standardized chart of numeric scores evaluating their every move. All I can say is that I have not met these teachers. But I’ve met a boatload of teachers who do not feel supported—who in fact, feel even worse. Teachers throughout their careers need a mentor who can remind them of why they’re teaching in the first place and help them work toward their dream.

3. Teachers do not have the resources to do a good job. And by “resources,” I do not mean state-of-the-art technology. I mean having enough space for the kids in your room—enough desks, enough books, a library so that they can read. If they need to use a computer, the computer needs to have keys. (I am not making this up—it happens a lot, alas.) If they need to use the internet, the school needs a functional wireless connection. If you are expected to grade your students regularly and those gradebooks are online, your online gradebook needs to work. In a high-poverty community where many kids are facing day-in-day-out trauma from chaotic living conditions, we need counselors and administrators who can help traumatized students who are acting out and not able to stay in class.

You need to have paper to make photocopies of all the books you can’t afford to buy, and time to make those photocopies. Let’s face it, if we cared at all about teachers’ work, we would have teaching assistants to do the mind-numbing hour or more of photocopying per day. “Would a lawyer put up with this shit?” a former teacher recently asked me, referring to the conditions that had caused him to quit after two years. We need to start by creating conditions in which it’s even possible to do a good job as a teacher. Isn’t it insane that this idea should be up for discussion at all?

Now, it’s possible that even after we solved all those issues, that a teacher might still feel inadequate. In fact, there very well may be teachers who, after a year or so, realize the job really is not for them. But right now our system doesn’t give teachers space to make a good decision about whether the career is for them; it gives them inadequate training, throws them into a classroom for which they are woefully unprepared, with minimal support and without many of the key elements they need to teach a class successfully—and then holds them to new, high standards and demands that they be excellent or deal with our national wrath.

Is it any wonder that so many teachers feel terrible? I recently visited a school where the 12th grade English teacher was the only teacher in all of the 11th and 12th grade who had been at the school for more than a year. She was the school veteran teacher. It was her second year. And she plans to quit at the end of this year because she can’t take it.

So yes, there are some bad teachers out there. I’ve met them.  I am upset about them. But we have created, by our underfunding and our denial of the realities of poverty, a system in which being a good teacher is nearly impossible, in which even good teachers—probably especially good teachers—feel terrible a lot of the time. So yes, let’s raise national standards for teachers. But let’s also ask ourselves, as a country: what can we do to create conditions in which teachers are able to do the good work that matters to them so much that even in the middle of the night, they agonize about how they could be better?



69 thoughts on “Why Do Teachers Obsess That They’re Not Good Enough?”

  1. yes. yes. yes. The other issue is that if education is disastrous right now and it can’t possibly because of the children, some teachers feel the need to take on the further responsibility for education. If they only worked harder, did more…..You and I figured out it wasn’t our work as educators that was failing education. The bureaucracy is a nightmare and until teachers shrug in mass quantities it will only continue.

    Teachers, it’s not you. You KNOW if you’re doing all you can (or not). You know the real reasons why education is in shambles. Yes, save the children, but don’t forget to save yourself too.

  2. But we have created, by our underfunding and our denial of the realities of poverty, a system in which being a good teacher is nearly impossible, in which even good teachers—probably especially good teachers—feel terrible a lot of the time.
    SO, so good. and so needed.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment. I, too, felt very alone–and I know that others feel the same. I hope that teachers can come together and restore the dignity and value of the profession in the eye of the public.

  3. I retired this year after 15 years. I have always struggled with management and would often ask for help and get it in the form of a book or a meaningless rubric. I loved my job but last year I had enough. At the beginning of the final year I asked thAt the head of my department and principal visit my room at least once a month. That was our agreement. Neither ever came into my room. In May I was called into the principals office. They were going to put me on probAtion based on the complaint of a disgruntled student who I had caught cheating on a test. The principal secretly asked him to do an observation. I had an official observation by a stAff member that was quite good but ignored by the principal. I was stunned. Neither the head of my department or the principal had stepped into my room for 5 years and they were going to put me on probation for classroom management issues based on the observation of a 16 year old. Madness!

    1. What a terrible way to leave a profession I’m sure you loved at one point. I am currently dealing with a few disgruntled 13 year olds who have decided, like your little cheater, that they will rid the school of my awfulness. Probation based on the biased observations of a 16 year old? Insanity.

    2. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. As a retired teacher I have seen exactly what you describe. To give credence to a 16 year old disgruntled student is so disrespectful. Of course the student should feel free to discuss issues that are keeping them from learning; but for the student to be asked to do a secret evaluation and have that evaluation be considered so highly in the final assessment of your abilities is just not right.

  4. Thank you for writing this. At least I don’t feel nuts for being insecure about the quality of my teaching, granted that I’m only halfway through my first year ever of teaching.

  5. I Taught ese/ebd my first two years. I am older and strong with a supportive spouse or I would not have made it. The second yr. I was ready and thank God my b.s. Is in psychology! We get one printer cartridge for all yr. mine is already gone so I have to print at home! I teach third reading and have all the ese kids..I only agonize over them excelling. My evaluation with a new boss gave me developing in chunking….wow,Mir I was not doing that then how r my lower kids gaining in grades??? Opinion only from one observation! I will not let anyone deter me from my dream….I’ve worked my way in in 14th yr. God and my spouse are my support only, not other staff…sad, but true?

  6. “The first thing teachers need to learn how to do is manage the classrooms in which they find themselves.” This is so important!!! Why, why, why are we not covering it in education classes? Why do we not have mentor teachers? I love everything about this post. Thank you so much for putting my thoughts into words.

    1. They do in the MST program at SUNY Potsdam. Many of the classes are created such that management is forefront. But then again Over half the staff has been or is in the classroom within the last ten years so…

    2. Thank you! If I could have a magic wand and just one wish for teachers, a year in the classroom of a true mentor teacher would be my wish! “Classroom management” is huge and so multi-faceted and systemic…I think it’s the main reason first year teachers leave!

  7. Thank you for writing this. After 20 years of teaching, I have so many doubts. They have been placed there by many of the situations that you list plus the calculated treatment by a peer and administrator. I love my kids and what I do. I love seeing them at their weddings, college graduations, and other activities. I would feel empty if I wasn’t teaching, but the lack of respect that we have as a profession destroys those who have the passion for this profession. Again, thanks.

  8. Get out of my head, it’s creepy.
    Also… Thank you! First year teacher here feeling ALL of this and then some. When I’m not worrying if I am doing all I can for my students then my heart is breaking for them in a million ways for all they struggle with each day both in and out of school. I am not enough. I accept this but that truth will not stop me from getting up each day and trying.

  9. I feel grateful to have trained and be working in Scotland after reading this. Although we struggle with workload, bureaucracy, policy changes and underresourcing, to name but a few of the challenges, we have a good training and mentoring system. I completed a 4 year Hons degree in Primary Education followed by my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year working in a primary school. This year is guaranteed following successful completion of your degree. Throughout this year I was assigned a mentor who regularly met with me to discuss all aspects of teaching and learning. I had regular observations and feedback from my mentor and my headteacher. I also had time out of my class each week for professional development. This included attending courses, shadowing other education professionals, observing other teachers, professional reading and professional discussions. My progress was assessed halfway through the year and at the end. Things aren’t easy and we face challenges but we have a good system to start us off. I feel proud!

  10. Another thought- We are often compared to professions like doctors and lawyers. That is a fair comparison. However teachers have no staff — no help. I make the phone calls. I copy papers. I record grades and update files. I design instruction. I attend meetings. I pay for and attend professional development. As data becomes more important these tasks take up huge amounts of my time and actual — teacher to student — instruction suffers.

    1. I agree–and that’s part of the low regard in which teachers are held, partly for budget reasons, partly I think because of teaching’s history as a “women’s” profession, which is held in less esteem. But if we’re going to hold teachers to professional standards, we need to provide professional working conditions, including assistance for the exhausting, endless outside tasks teachers perform.

  11. You have made some great points and confirm why when I’ve had student teachers, I don’t leave them alone. They will spend the rest of their career alone, so when they’re with me, I’m going to be their guide on the side every time they teach.

  12. With many professions, if you make a mistake, you see the result. As a teacher, it’s so difficult to see the consequences of your actions. You don’t know whether you are being firm enough, too firm, too soft… Should I spend more time reading at the expense of maths? Which way should I introduce a topic to the class? Do I do too much explicit teaching? Not enough group work? You are juggling so many little lives it is so difficult to evaluate what the actual effect is on each them. I don’t believe that it is any outside factor that gives teachers doubt, rather it is wanting to ensure that you are influencing children’s lives in the best possible way.

  13. I retired from teaching about two years ago but find myself regularly thinking of teachers today, reflecting on my own teaching
    and how tough it is out there. I get a lot of friends asking about schools in general and what to expect of their children at given classes, stages and ages.
    Over the years I also suffered the anxiety of whether I was meeting the students needs and how I was perceived as a teacher, I was disappointed not to be given feedback that I seemed to need. A student seemed to answer my dilema of feeling inadequate by asking why students who are badly behaved or don’t make a commitment to completing their work etc gets rewarded for what seems to be a half hearted effort; when others always do what is right, listens to the teacher and puts in 100% of effort all the time, seem to get passed over. It seems to me one parent, colleague or non teaching person can make a teacher question themselves with a poorly placed negative comment or misplaced, out of context opinion. For myself , over the years I was able to accept myself as a contributive and caring teacher from the feedback I received directly from the students.
    Disappointingly There were many times I wished I could just teach and and not have to be concerned with all the issues the students brought to school and seemed to need to be addressed before the student could begin learning and usually identified by poor behaviour that disrupted the whole class. The poor students behaviour is very debilitating to a teacher’s time contraints, line of thought and the general psyche of positive wellbeing towards themselves and the tone of the class.
    I agree also with the need for the resources to be 1; available and 2: more importantly, reliable. I was constantly frustrated with the lack of, or inadequacies of satisfactorily available and frequently lost considerable time trying to address the problem during class time. Eventually I found my self buying or providing for my own needs, knowing they would be reliable and functional.
    But sadly I believe the most frustrating problem is with peers and colleagues, It was fine if we were programming together or deciding activities for an event etc. However when seeking help or observation of classroom teaching practices etc I constantly felt too much emphasis was placed on a student who was not engaged or was misbehaving etc without the understanding of the history of the child or the normal practices of the student. For example I may have been very happy with the behaviour or work contribution as compared to regular or other occasions of class time. On one occasion The class was fully attentive and we had been discussing a mathematical concept. We went over our normal ” introduction ” time however when the students settled to work they were enthusiastic and cooperative and willing to help each other, completing their work within their allocated time. But regardless of extending the introduction it seemed the extra time was vital to the students development and understanding; regardless of the enthusiasm of the students and the accomplishment of the students work; the focus was on the time taken for the introduction.
    There doesn’t seem to be a place or acceptance for changing circumstances or flexibility within the class session based on interests, or individual needs, that may contribute to a teacher needing to change direction part way though a session. I believe many colleagues were unwilling to share feelings, ideas or thoughts due to the possibilities of being misjudged or misunderstood or from someone taking copying their ideas and ultimately making them look less adequate in oder to boost
    their own standing in the contributive of staff perception.
    There are many contributive issues that disrupt teachers performing at their best, including the staffroom wellbeing and attitudes to each other; the strength and contribution of the principal and the respect of the parents and local community to the school, staff and students. Ultimately the students need to feel confident in their ability to learn, parents and communities need to have faith in the achievement of the expectations of the student outcomes and teachers need to believe and feel supported from their Principal, colleagues colleagues and peers, students, parents and community members in general; for any cohesive satisfactorily feeling of adequacies of achievements and success as a teacher.
    Being a teacher is more than standing in front of a class imparting knowledge or know how to students.

  14. Just finished reading this. I am an 8th grade ELA teacher. I have students from the level of non-reader to college level. I have been teaching 17 years, have a Master’s and I’m Nationally Board Certified. I work an average of 20 hours over-time weekly-no pay of course. My boss says that certificates and degrees are just paper. He says he can tell a good teacher by seeing them once or twice a year. My state says they can tell I am good by my students’ test scores given at the end of the year. However, they announce to the students that they do not count against the students or for the students for that matter. Why try? The state says there is a formula to calculate the effectiveness of a teacher. However, we are not allowed to know the formula. I know I am effective but not one else does.
    Thanks, (it’s 12 :30 am and I need to sleep before school tomorrow).

  15. What about the parents continually sniping at you and behind your back about how bad a teacher you are based on their little angels version of events. I have kids come back and thank me for getting them ready for the real world but sadly there are parents out there who do not want that for their kids

  16. I have been teaching for over 20 years. New teachers come in and tell me it is all too overwhelming. I agree with them and tell them they are not bad teachers. Some of them leave anyway. I wish I could do more for them, but I am also overwhelmed. I know I am not a bad teacher, but I feel that way almost everyday because I am constantly asked to do too much with too little – time, resources, and support.

  17. 2 of your three reasons are legitimate–but the generic slam on teacher education programs plays right into the reformers’ agenda and is not helpful in addressing the real problems underlying the troubles in education today. I’m sorry that the teacher prep you attended did not meet your needs, but many if not most of these programs do a wonderful job preparing new teachers while struggling with the same lack of resources and respect you point out are problems in K12 education.

    Rather than pile on teacher ed programs, let’s focus on addressing the issues that impact us all, and examine the conditions that lead to challenges for schools and teachers. I also think that we as teachers are the kind of people that tend to look first at ourselves when problems arise–which is a trait I’d love to see displayed more often by business leaders and our elected officials.

  18. Time and resources. Time and resources. Time and resources.
    I felt very prepared by my graduate education program (The Ohio State University), buy in 18 years, having taught in both Title 1 and filthy rich schools (although the filthy rich time was very brief), I’ve never had the time nor the resources my students deserve.

  19. Time and resources. Time and resources. Time and resources. I felt very prepared by my graduate education program (The Ohio State University), but in my 18 years in the classroom, in schools at either end of the socioeconomic spectrum, (albeit my time in an affluent school was brief), I’ve always been frustrated at the expectations vs. the time and resources allocated to meet those expectations. I have become a master at guerrilla teaching. My students — OUR CHILDREN — deserve better.

  20. We were told that no one can be a distinguished teacher, we could live there for some qualities but never stay there, as for our evaluation. I just think the fact that they talk to us like that is amazing. And the other thing is, if our student gets a question wrong on a test they act like it was because the teacher never taught it to them rather than the fact they didn’t remember it or made a mistake! So frustrating…..

  21. I too have left education after fifteen years of ‘teaching’. As a male elementary school teacher, I continually had the students placed in my room and parents request to have their students in my room if they were unruly because that child “needs a male teacher.” Newsflash: I was the only male teacher in a school with over 650 students this past year, and I was the only male in my previous school with roughly 250 inner-city students. That puts all the tough ones together, and there is simply no classroom big enough to distance them. When I was able to teach, I had great scores and loved every day of teaching. Now, it seems like teaching has evolved into data analysis. I am sure that I am preaching to the choir for those taking a minute to read this, but how do you close gaps and teach to mastery when all you do is pretest, test, posttest, and retest without having time to add additional instruction? I don’t know what a degree in education with a masters in administration translates to outside of education, but it can’t be any less satisfying than what I had been experiencing in public education. Best of luck to those of you still in the classroom.

    1. Oh the Bain of my existence…testing! I know what they know, and what they don’t know. I know what they need to know too. No test will measure that as accurately as my observations, in class assessments, and assignments designed to figure that out. Why is it that testing has become the way to measure success in schools, when on the real world there are only life experiences!

    2. I agree that testing is totally out of control. I’m all for meaningful assessment, but we’re way past that. What’s distressing is that it’s become a deterrent to teachers like you.

  22. The freedom comes in accepting that you are not perfect and never will be. There are days that I do not teach well, it happens…I make mistakes. I’m in my second year teaching, I’m doing something totally different than last year and totally different from my student teaching, so I make mistakes all the time, and I just tell the kids, that if they want me to be patient with them as they struggle to learn math, then they can be patient with me as I learn to be good at teaching it. I do a good job most days, I work hard, but some days are just bad. Now, I’m lucky, this year I’m at a really good school with amazing support. Last year though, I had to tell myself daily, that I wasn’t a bad teacher, I was doing everything I could, and just wasn’t being supported. If you don’t like where you are, take a personal day on the day of your area’s teacher job fair, and try to find somewhere that’s a better fit.

    Good luck to everyone! Remember that we all have bad days, so focus on the good ones instead.

  23. I wish I could totally agree with this, but I can’t. The problem is not underfunding education. The problem is where the funding goes.

    It is the common complain of many teachers that they are underpaid for how much work they have to do. I heard that all the time when I was teaching. In a way, it’s true. Class sizes are too big, and this leads to much more workload.

    There’s a very easy way to remedy this problem. But few people would like it. First, if you cut administrative pay, you get a good start. Many administration make six digits. Why? Second, if you cut teacher’s pay, you can make a huge dent in the problem. I bet many teachers will think this is absolutely unfair. But I’ll bet many teachers would take a classroom of 20, and a slightly lower paycheck, over a class of 30. Finally, this is going to REALLY sound idealistic, but you need to change the mandate to educate all children..or at least change the way it is implemented. Administrators need to have greater ability to expel students who are a) constantly unruly, b) make no effort in class, and c) whose parents don’t follow up on performance and behavior issues.

    If you lower admin pay significantly, you lower teachers’ pay across the board slightly, and you beef up administration’s ability to expel students, you will change the system in a massively positive way. Until then…it will continue to be a frustrating job for many teachers.

    But I will say this, few teachers are as bad as they think they are. And few students who are unruly are as bad as they seem. Both frustrations are a part of a system controlled by unreasonable expectations from legislators, administration, and unions. These groups are virtually incapable of working together for the benefit of the learning environment.

    1. David, I have to disagree here strongly. What do we become as a country if we just “expel” students who are unruly or who don’t try in class? In my experience, these students often come from families living in chaotic circumstances that are often due to extreme poverty. What do we become as a nation if we just wash our hands of these students? Especially when our country has cut so many non-school programs serving these families in poverty? And even if we decided this was an ethical solution, what’s going to happen to these kids if we kick them out on the street? What’s the plan for them? We need better alternative programs and services to work with students in crisis, which is what these students are. But simply expelling them is not a solution, in my opinion .

  24. I have been teaching for 21 years and I still love it! I work in a Title 1 district where 95% of the students live in poverty! Classroom management is key in running a successful classroom! Over the years I have learned to build a relationship with students where respect, understanding, and caring is big! This, thanks to GOD, has allowed me to stay in the profession!! For those of you who truly love being an educator, don’t give up! Children need good teachers!!!

  25. Kids in the classroom that constantly disrupt, parents that won’t get kids to class on time, kids can say they did not get into a fight, they were slapping each other, administrators that don’t answer questions but want you to implement programs, kids that do not care about school because parents don’t care about school. No materials to do the job, no time to prep, disseggreate the data that more than half of the benchmark we did not teach….REALLY this is the best we can do? Our pay is not raised, our insurance is up. We are forced to educate students who should not be in class and I refuse to keep them in class, throwing stuff across the classroom, threatening other students, etc. Why am I staying? At the end of the year the plan is to be gone!

  26. What’s sad is that these are well-known facts. With only a few exceptions, most of the public have made statements like “I could not be a teacher” or “I couldn’t put up with what you have to on a daily basis.” However, nothing changes. In fact, it gets worse. How about the brilliant idea to tie certification to easily manipulated and arbitrary evaluations and test scores? I was once given a negative mark on my evaluation because I had to click on a folder to access a PowerPoint. “Loss of instructional time” was the reason given. Seriously? Another teacher was marked horribly on her student evals because she was challenging. It didn’t matter that students later thanked her because they said they could never have passed their college classes without the skills they learned. It didn’t matter than a challenging curriculum is one of the standards we’re graded on and encouraged to create. At that moment, with the mind of a typical child, they resented her because she made them work hard and just ran down the list, marking “disagree” on everything.

    This system isn’t just hurting us either. Students don’t feel safe at my school because there are so many behavioral issues, but discipline is discouraged because it makes the system look bad (which results in funding cuts), and we have no other system in place to deal with or counsel these disruptive students. We recently had seven fights in one day. Seven! Almost every single new hire this year will not be returning. Some have decided to quit the field entirely. If this continues, there will be a serious teacher shortage in the coming years, and those who jokingly repeat the adage of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” will eating their words as their child gets crammed into classes of 40. I’m already up to 36 in a room.

  27. Administrators need to have greater ability to expel students who are a) constantly unruly, b) make no effort in class, and c) whose parents don’t follow up on performance and behavior issues.

    If only this were true. In my area I already qualify for assistance, I don’t think lowering my pay will help. Expelling the ones who are just marking time until they can drop out might help. Honestly I have only so much in my bag of tricks to convince a student that learning is valuable. If he or she is determined to disregard that because they are inheriting a family business or they come from a long line of dropouts who make more than the teacher (this really happens if you are a lobster fisherman), nothing I say will alter that reality.

  28. I believe like most troubles in our country it starts in the home.Im sure the educational system for teachers and the support they get probably needs help.My wife is a teacher and ive observed many classrooms full and gyms full of children and also heard about the frustrations for a teacher from her. Yes she too doubts herself at times and she shouldnt because she gives it her all and truly cares. It seems to me that they are expected to raise many of these kids these days not teach them. The raising and support has to come from home. Many parents today protect their children to the point of hurting the child. Anyone can observe a room full or a gym full of elementary kids and its pretty easy to pick out the kids with home lives that support the child growing up knowing how to act and the ones that dont have that at home. In the 60s and 70s kids were disciplined at home and school and most parents supported the teacher and they worked together for the good of the child instead of battling the teacher for the child which hurts the child.Bottom line is that all our systems are based on’ needs of” instead of ‘needs to’.We are crippling our kids when we dont discipline them and we let them get by with wrong and we battle for them when they need to learn from their mistakes . The same as people we put on welfare and other goverment programs, there is a need and some people truly need it but when it becomes a way of life they no longer have the ability to take care of themselves. We are weakening our country instead of making strong people these days and for the kids it starts at home.iF the teacher can spend more time teaching instead of raising they would see better results and our kids would be better equipped for life.I know this got off into more then the question at hand but it is the same principle and way our country has evolved. Everything starts at home with the parents being together on raising , disciplining and teaching their child.

    1. Paul, I must disagree with you strongly here. I’m not sure what you mean when you say we “must discipline” students. What exactly does this mean? I taught at a school with an extremely strict, clear discipline policy that worked really well. That was great, and a strong place to start. But it didn’t mean kids came in reading at grade level; it didn’t mean they came in having eaten breakfast; it didn’t even mean they did their homework or the reading for school, and it definitely didn’t mean they were able to pass the tests, no matter how rigorously we applied the standards. It’s not productive for schools to tell parents how to raise their children or to become nostalgic about the 60’s and 70’s. As someone who grew up during that time, those were extremely chaotic times socially–and we had far, far more public supports for families in poverty than we have now, as well as significantly less poverty in general. The situation for children in poverty goes far deeper than just setting discipline codes. What’s our plan for kids who can’t or even won’t meet those codes? What’s our plan for kids who can’t meet standards? As a country, we’ve tried cutting off supports ever since the Reagan years. As a result, income inequality has become a vast chasm between the super-rich and the poor; the middle class is vanishing. Meanwhile, we have the second-highest child poverty rate in the developed world. Cutting people off and telling them to fend for themselves doesn’t work. What are we going to do–for real?

  29. Reblogged this on Parallel Universe and commented:
    I just really feel that this is relevant to my situation teaching English in Spain right now. No respect for my job at all makes it really hard to know when I’m doing it right.

  30. As a teacher for 36 years I would like to add a few points to the topic. One difficulty is the wide range of needs to be met. My last 2 years I taught SLD. The range is smaller there and there a fewer students. Also I felt powerless. Principals would decide we could not departmentalize, they would decide what grade I would teach, and which students I would get.

  31. One of the factors that make us feel as though we are not good enough, aside from what was previous mentioned, is that we are constantly being told we are inadequate. Standardized test scores from around the world are thrown around with the implication that it is teachers’ fault the U.S. is “lagging behind” – aka “we’re not good enough”; the current environment of school reform implies that “we’re not good enough” so things must change, the movement to eliminate tenure to get rid of so -called bad teachers implies “we’re not good enough”.

  32. I can’t agree with your attack on teacher education. You probably felt your courses were “a hodgepodge” because you were too occupied in college life and growing up to care about what you were learning. You probably came into your classes with inadequate prior knowledge but felt you already knew everything because you spent 12 years in schools. You probably failed to read you class texts well, if at all. You probably failed to ask good questions and meet your professors outside of class. You probably bought into the myth that you can learn everything about teaching from doing and that people who have a doctorate speciality in teacher education know nothing useful at all.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting and reading, Alan. I do have to point out that actually, when I enrolled in my teacher education program, I was 48 years old and had spent 20 years working as a writer-producer in television; I had also raised three children, so by most standards, I was already grown. I was also teaching at the same time and doing my education classes at night. I did not, however, despite being 48, feel that I knew everything; in fact, sadly, I felt completely ignorant and desperate to learn more. I asked so many questions that I felt like the class pest, which I probably was. My professors were extremely nice; most were retired teachers, but many had been out of the classroom for a long, long time and almost none had taught in a high-poverty situation. I am heartened to hear that you believe there are quality programs out there that really do give teachers a rich and useful education that prepares them strongly for classroom work. I can only say that mine did not–and almost all of my teacher friends say the same (unless they went to Stanford.)

      1. Hi Ellie, I’m very glad you chose teaching as a profession with your experience in writing and producing tv shows and raising kids! Your comment that most of your professors were retired teachers is revealing, suggesting that teaching others to teach well is not related to having a lot of teaching experience.

        I taught remedial reading courses in public school then entered a doctoral program in teacher education to study how to effectively help children improve their reading. I was a teacher educator for 28 years studying the same problem, publishing articles and research and teaching my students what I was learning. Being an effective teacher educator is just as difficult, if not more so, than being an effective k-12 school teacher. Not only that teacher educators receive more criticism in the media and among teachers than do k-12 teachers.

        I alluded in my first reply to a key problem in teacher education – most students are too young to study teaching and love to blame their teachers for not learning much.

        Overall, a lot of criticism about teacher educators is true. There are many awful practitioners who do not even use the methods they attempt to teach others. Still, there are many excellent teacher educators whose ideas and example guide young teachers for years.

        You might guess that I believe that reading instruction is the most important variable in teaching. When k-12 teachers can get their kids to closely read the class texts, classroom management problems disappear. I could trace 90% of problems in schools to the fact that few teachers know how to teach reading well and instead turn to oral round robin reading, a method in secondary schools that is a malpractice as much as physicians using blood-letting to cure illness.

  33. This is my 7th year in a high poverty school. We take standardized tests with keys missing on our laptops. I have no pencil sharpener in my room. Some of our children have to sit at tables because there are not enough desks and it is hard to find the right textbooks for all of my children. We don’t have what we need. I have no support. Society seems to deem all teachers as bad, especially those in high poverty. I never feel good enough. I never feel supported and sometimes I am embarrassed to tell people I’m a teacher because I feel like they will automatically assume that I’m a bad one. We need to change the way society feels about teachers and in order to do that we need to stop setting impossible standards.

  34. I have now worked in three different districts in two states and this is the first school in which I have felt supported and trusted as a professional. I remember my first year being told all of the things that I was doing wrong in my evaluation meeting and finally saying “I’ll work on that…but can I ask what I am doing right?” My second school was worse, with dangerous and violent behavior being blamed on the teachers. In my current school, a charter school, I am treated like I am a capable teacher, trusted as an educational professional to make decisions that I think are good for my kids, and I feel respected by my superiors. I am far more confident, more likely to take risks that may have a positive impact on my kids, and more likely to teach lessons that are outside of the box. Why?

    My administration spends more time working on solutions and developing strong teachers than writing up reports that fail to take into account inexperience, available tools (I was once written up for failing technology in a lesson when the administration was aware that my main technology source had been destroyed by a student), and extreme student behavior (chairs being thrown and tables overturned is apparently an issue of ‘lack of proper supervision’ and engagement…If I taught better, it wouldn’t happen).

    The reason teachers constantly doubt their abilities to be successful is because they are constantly being told that they aren’t good enough. Good teachers always want to improve at their craft…helping them figure out how to do so is a positive thing, but they also need to know that they doing something right. We want our kids to take risks, reach higher, seek out new learning, ask questions, and view shortcomings as opportunities for growth rather than impossible roadblocks. However, we discourage teachers from the very same (lie low, do what they tell you to do, don’t take too many risks, and certainly don’t shake things up and you will be fine). It is no wonder that so few teachers stay in the classroom beyond three years.

  35. Teaching is a second career for me. I was an RN for 16 years before I became an art teacher. This is year 15 for me, and I feel more unsure about my teaching abilities than I did 10 years ago. I don’t feel valued, and due to the SLO tests, and teacher evaluations, I hardly feel like I’m teaching art anymore. What I do now is “teach to the test”. Sadly, this mentality has spread to the students. They only want to be told what to do, what to think, how to do it, and what grade they’re “given”. Any ability to think on their own, problem-solve, make mistakes and learn from them, and work independently has gone by the wayside. They have no accountabity for their own learning, and are so used to their school-issued laptops and spell check, they can’t stand handling a box of pastels. It’s so disheartening. I used to love every minute of my job. I still have enjoyable moments, but things sure have changed, and very fast, I might add. So glad to know it’s not just me who has a knot in my gut all day. I hang in there because I know that I do reach some of the kids, and have former students all over the country who have become successful in art-related fields. Ironically, they make a lot more money than I do!

  36. Being successful in getting children to learn is difficult. There are other things in life that are also difficult. Hitting a baseball against good pitching is difficult. A great baseball player gets a hit in about 30% of his at bats. Great baseball players rarely lose sleep because they make outs more than twice as often as they get hits.

    So, what are the reasons that we teachers tend to be so dissatisfied with our performance?

    First, because children’s futures are more important than hits and strikeouts in baseball. Second, because people (administrators, politicians, parents, we teachers ourselves) pretend that the average intelligent, dedicated teacher should hit more than .300. But there is no evidence for this.

    Given the students we are given, we convince ourselves that there must be SOMETHING that would allow us to successfully teach 90% of them. If I only had decent textbooks, a copy machine that actually works, support from above, a better me, I should be able to be successful almost all of the time. What on Earth makes us believe this?

  37. I’ve taught high school for 23 years. I’m retiring after next year. I’ve taught in a variety of schools … large (1500 students in the high school) and small (40 students in the high school), rich and poor, good and bad. The one thing that they all have in common is that they all SAY they have all the students best interests at a heart, but they all DO something very different. Invariably, the most important (and highest paid) teachers are the coaches. The schools revolve around and make decisions based on what’s going to work best for the athletic programs.

    Second after athletics is the social calendar … prom, homecoming, etc.

    Despite the lip service given to academics, the reality is in most schools the majority of the time, focus, and resources are given to NON-academic agenda items.

    A student signs a scholarship to a division 1 athletic program? A news conference and a full page in the yearbook and maybe even an athletic facility named after him. A student gets accepted into MIT or Stanford on an academic scholarship? A mention during senior night and a line in the yearbook.

    We get the schools we deserve. It’s our society and culture.

    1. for the record I’ve worked as an athletic coach for 15 of those 23 years … coaching football basketball and baseball. So I don’t hate athletics or athletes.

  38. Like so many others, your article speaks to my heart. Teaching is my second career and I’ve been doing it for 4 years now. I’m exhausted all the time. I consistently live under the realization that I’m not reaching all of my students. I deliver standardized tests in math and science that I have no input in creating and I never get to see the content of the tests before administering them because they are given to me minutes prior to the kids taking them. I’m burnt out and I feel like I’ve had enough. Thanks for your words.

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