The Hardest Part About Teaching

Apr 06, 2023

I once had a student named Mason whose behavior was off-the-walls. Mason had zero fear of any consequence I could give him, and his behavior reflected that fearlessness. 

No threat of detention and even suspension could stop Mason from blurting out in class (often 4-letter words), throwing school supplies across the room, or just walking out in the middle of an activity. 

I tried everything under the sun to connect with this student. I gave up my lunch hours to work with him on assignments. I let him come in before school and hang out with me, hoping the relationship would build some rapport. I tried calling home a number of times, but always the calls went to voicemail.

Heck even for spirit week I wore one of his sweaters to match him in a desperate attempt to build a connection. 

And yet seemingly, none of it worked. 

A sample of my thoughts during that time: 

“What’s wrong with this kid?”

“What’s wrong with his parents?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

In March of that year, Mason moved away, and I have not seen nor heard from him since. I have absolutely no idea whether any of my efforts paid off. I don’t know if he learned any discipline, if he passed high school, or even remembers that English teacher who wore that Baja sweatshirt for Spirit Week. 

All this to say, sometimes teaching is really hard.

Of course I could add a silver lining or a positive way of thinking about this story--- there is always one--- but sometimes we just need to give space for naming the hard parts of this work. 

So if this has been your story lately, and you feel like your work as an educator is fruitless, first, know you are not alone in that. There is an aspect of being a professional who works with kids that you often don't see all of the fruit of your labor. Sometimes you just have to believe it's worth it. You have to have faith to continue to invest and pour into students. 

And don't let anyone ever try to convince you that this is supposed to be easy. It's always a challenge not knowing if there will be a payoff. And it's easy to take it personal and think the lack of progress is your fault. Listen, there is always room to improve your pedagogy and grow as an educator, but that doesn't change this reality. 

One of the most helpful quotes I learned during the pandemic when teaching felt especially fruitless is, "It is not your job to get 100% participation from students. Your job is to continue to give them opportunities to succeed."

And so I urge to keep showing up, keep sharing your gifts with students, and trust that the best work of an educator is never in vain. 

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