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The Highs and Lows of Teaching

Published: 05/01/2018

Right about now you may be wondering just why you entered teaching in the first place.

Disillusionment. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. The chart refers to a First-Year Teacher’s progress through the year, but it really represents a common trajectory of educators throughout the first few years of a career – and depending on the year sometimes longer.

Cheer up! Let’s look at the full picture of a year. Of course, each summer we go through the anticipation of what it will be like in the upcoming year. Each new year is a blank slate, and enthusiasm and excitement reign supreme. We can’t wait to get started!

We start to slip when we realize the class (or classes) are full of kids of all varieties and in all different learning modes. Why is “Johnny” so sullen? and why is “Lucy” constantly talking? Meeting the needs of each individual feels like some days we are drowning, others we are managing to keep our heads above water, and a few when we are staying afloat. We are in survival mode, but the vast majority of us will make it through.

Why is November a low point? Well, you just finished parent conferences and it is likely that at least one parent questioned your ability to teach his/ her child. That doesn’t mean that you haven’t done a fine job, but only that the parent is unsure what the student has learned. Are the child and parent actually conversing at home to talk about school activities? Parents have busy lives and learning from the teacher, as opposed to knowing, or at least anticipating, how “little Susie” is doing may seem like dereliction on the parent’s part with a strong shot of guilt. Guilt that then transfers into blame toward the teacher. “Why aren’t you doing a better job with my Susie?”

It is probably small solace for me to share with you that parent conferences do not always go as planned. I have plenty of anecdotes I could tell. One thing you may want to consider is having the child in the conference (if you don’t already) as the s/he may be asked to do some explanation of the daily work habits and personal progress. There’s nothing like having to admit to both teacher and parent that attention waivers and work is incomplete.

Take heart. Rejuvenation is in your future. It is common that in January – just after holiday break – your return will signal a sense of relief, that you really are teaching the kids the curriculum as you realize you, and they, are accomplishing your plans.

As you near the end of the year, you will likely begin to reflect on what worked and what needs to be improved. In fact, you may start to say, “Next year I will…”. Yes, you will be back. Yes, you will make a difference in every student’s life. Yes, you are amazing. And yes, your colleagues and I do want you to stay with us.

That, my friends, brings us full circle back to those lovely summer months full of anticipation… But for now let’s make it through December.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.