Teaching is a difficult job. In every class, I face a wide range of learning levels, personalities, and skills to engage. Every week is different based on how life might be going at that time…for the students and for myself. It’s perfectly normal, then, that there are times when I feel I’m just not doing enough, saying enough, planning enough, etc.
That feeling has hit me quite recently. I look through other teachers’ lesson plans and wonder why I have trouble being as creative, or I show impatience with a misbehaving student and wonder why I can’t shower my students with love and laughter more. Of course, we all have bad days and days when there’s so much that needs to be done that we don’t have time to address things in the way we would like, but I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself for not having more patience or more creativity or more whatever else I think an ideal teacher would have.
Google-ing these feelings helped me find that I am definitely not the only one who feels this way from time to time. From first year teachers to 8-year veteran teachers, we all have moments when we know we just kind of suck. I found various threads and forums on proteacher.net, atozteacherstuff.com, and reddit.com that showed the many, many educators who feel inadequate and that they should just leave the profession because they’re not good enough.
Then, an article from The Guardian written by “The Secret Teacher” caught my eye. A teacher spilled his/her secret feelings on feeling like a failure and how it helped him/her understand that the reason teachers feel this way is that we care – we care enough to try to do a good job and feel bad when we can’t. I suppose this teacher found the silver lining to this feeling that we all come across. The article also clearly explained how this feeling is what motivates so many educators to continue improving themselves and getting better for their students every day and every year they work in a school.
That concept of continuous improvement struck me as particularly meaningful because one of my core beliefs as a teacher is lifelong learning and the idea that a teacher must be a student all the time. I live this belief in my work every week and am constantly trying to make myself better…and much of this comes from the sense of not being quite good enough yet.
More explicit was an article from the Washington Post, which referenced a blog by Ellie Herman who asked 5 questions to determine if one is a really bad teacher. Herman asked the following:
- Do you dislike children? (I was immediately reminded of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda…I am definitely not like her)
- Do you find your subject matter dull? (Nope)
- Do you know what you’re talking about? (most of the time, yes)
- Do you ignore a large subset of your students most of the time? (it happens every once in a while)
- Are you totally disengaged? (I always bounce back somehow…)
I figure these blunt questions show that I’m not really a bad teacher, I just sometimes feel like it. As Herman states,
Because if you’ve read this far, you care. You may not be great (yet). The inspirational movie of your life may be set several years hence. It may be that you have a tremendous amount still to learn. But you’re not a bad teacher. Because the overriding quality of truly bad teachers, as Azucena Gonzales observed, is that they have given up. And you haven’t.
Similarly, The Secret Teacher observed,
Bad days do not define us, they are an opportunity to grow. We feel our bads so innately because we take pride in what we do – that is the mark of a great teacher who is making a difference. Even if it does not feel like it that day.
I don’t immediately read the perspectives of these teachers and feel 100% better about my skills as an educator. But, it does make me feel less alone and more confident in my ability, at least, to continue to improve my skills and learn regularly. With student-led conferences and various holiday breaks, teaching will be a bit sporadic over the next two months, but I hope that at some point soon, I’ll bounce back and feel like I’m still making a difference, even if every day isn’t ideal.