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Education Opinion

Stop Making Teaching Harder Than It Has to Be!

November 02, 2017 4 min read

By Allison Riddle

We all know teaching is challenging, but some teachers make it harder than it has to be.

As a veteran of 28 years, I get it. I know the intensity and seemingly endless amount of paperwork and planning involved in teaching well. While there are moments of true satisfaction, teaching can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. That being said, while we cannot manage every aspect of teaching that makes it a challenge, we can control something that has a far greater impact on learning and on our own professional self-efficacy. We can control our own attitudes about teaching.

Without sounding parental, I’m suggesting we practice mindfulness when approaching our work: consider our intentions when beginning a lesson, speak to a student who is struggling behaviorally, or reflect on our practice. There is an undeniable connection between a teacher’s attitude and a student’s experience. The attitude we bring permeates the classroom climate, and ultimately, it can make the job harder or more enjoyable.

“Seriously? I’ve taught you this a hundred times! A kindergartner could do this!”

The growing frustration from having to repeat instructions or behavioral expectations may tempt a teacher to use rude or sarcastic comments to get a student’s attention. And yet, the message sent is not just disrespectful, it models the use of sarcasm to humiliate another person and force them to comply.

Why would we model behavior we consider unacceptable from our students? Teachers may also lose patience and yell to quiet their students. This can create a vicious cycle, because the teacher is modeling what students may perceive to be the standard of volume used in class. And, ultimately, this makes teaching much harder than it has to be.

Excellent teachers have high behavioral expectations for not only their students, but for themselves. They speak respectfully, and they are particularly mindful of the way they interact with students who struggle behaviorally. Effective teachers are confident when challenged, and in response, model the behavior they expect of their students. These teachers tend to have less oppositional behavior in their classes. It may appear they have the easier kids, when in fact, they are often given the most challenging students.

“Guys, I’m tired. This is not my favorite topic either. Let’s just get through this.”

Teachers of all levels of experience often feel consumed by the demands of the classroom. But if we approach our students with obvious fatigue or a self-defeating attitude, we should expect to receive an equal response. If we don’t approach our lessons with excitement, why should our students believe their time will be well-spent? If we apologize for lessons based on standards we don’t appreciate, we give students permission to tune out, and we depreciate the value of learning. Understandably, teachers who approach their lessons with a grouchy attitude just seem to have a much harder job.

Excellent teachers understand that the attitude and energy they bring to their lessons will be reciprocated. Students in their classes don’t feel captive; they are captivated. Teachers who teach with enthusiasm enjoy greater levels of student engagement and appear to have higher job satisfaction. These teachers just seem to have an easier job.

“These scores are insulting. My principal has no idea what good teaching looks like.”

As educators, we are proud of our practice and we spare very few words expressing how complex and difficult instructional skills are to master. And yet, teachers—often veteran teachers—sometimes refuse to acknowledge the validity of observational feedback given by administrators. We can’t have it both ways. If teaching is so hard, how can we possibly expect glowing feedback for every lesson?

Teachers who inherently believe teaching is complex recognize that it is unreasonable to nail every lesson. Just as we teach our students to analyze their mistakes and use the results to solve problems, teachers with an intention to improve their practice consider observational feedback a worthy piece of evidence and use it to make necessary adjustments to their practice. Excellent teachers love getting better at teaching, and they welcome other professional opinions.

Teaching is hard enough without adding negative energy. I earnestly suggest teachers engage in a reflective process focused on one’s attitude and intentions while teaching.

What do you truly believe about your influence as a teacher?

What intentions do you have when you begin each lesson?

How can you honor observational feedback?

Let’s make each day more enjoyable and a little bit easier by walking into that classroom hoping for the best and showing our students we love learning!

Allison is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis District I Northern Utah.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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