What is the hardest part about being a teacher?
September 2, 2008 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Calling all teachers! What's the hardest part about being a teacher (aside from the teaching/classroom/students)?

I'm seriously considering a job change to teach HS. I'm fed up with the bureaucracy that comes with dealing with middle management at a Fortune 100 company. Is that any better in teaching? How are performance reviews done? What do teachers get measured by? Interested to hear from teachers or former teachers.

posted by taz20075 to Education (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mrs. Genefinder would say that the toughest thing to deal with is parents.
posted by genefinder at 10:52 AM on September 2, 2008

I was going to say parents as well. I am not a teacher, but had a position on a school board. Parents were a huge challenge all the time. I could never be a principal or teacher for that reason. And I hate to say it but I think bureaucracy exists in school systems as well.
posted by maxg94 at 10:57 AM on September 2, 2008

From the teachers I know:

- the worse part: self-righteous parents with a loud sense of entitlement.
- the bad part: the bureaucracy, especially around curriculum disputes, and the politics between teachers.
- the annoying part: never having any budget.
- the not-too-bad part: dealing with the occasional student who causes trouble.
posted by gmarceau at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2008

Reviews are done by principals, vice-principals, directors of instruction, and/or superintendents. Their competence and personal/political agendas can vary widely. The most important measurement comes from the students, and with them you must strike a balance between being Mr. Easy-Peasy and being Mr. Hitler. You must have a strong sense of purpose; you must, to an extent, ignore what some students and administrators think of you, and do the most good for the majority of students. I know some extremely competent teachers whose lives are made difficult by administrators who think the students should have an easier ride or a more popular instructor. It can be a numbers game. You won't escape bureaucracy, but it can be an extremely rewarding job. It's definitely an art.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2008

Teachers have a very hard time arriving at the recognition that teaching is actually about conveying knowledge, imparting values and introducing methodologies of attaining and retaining valuable understanding about the world in which we all live in to children who deserve intellectual challenges that stimulate, don't bore, aren't repetitive and are in tandem with a changing world yet which are based and rooted in the fundamental laws that govern all thing. There seems to be a trend among teachers that they're there because they're forced into it, due to lack of alternative places of employment, that they're not being paid enough, appreciated enough or given enough rights, when while these are very righteous concerns, they needed to have been sorted out before taking the job and not while already entrenched in the educational system, because students pick up on everything, impressionable minds that they are and there's nothing worse than a disgruntled teacher who already feeds in to a potentially rebellious group. Teachers seem to forget that they're adults - but that comes as no surprise seeing how most adults these days are physically at their chronological age but emotionally they're still in their terrible two's. So - the hardest part? Prioritizing, growing into the role of *teacher* and learning that respect and honor s earned and can never be demanded.
posted by watercarrier at 11:14 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agree with "parents" 100%. I can't tell you how many parents I had who fought me tooth and nail on everything, always to the detriment of their children's well being! Very, very frustrating. Now that I'm a parent, I always try to keep that in mind!
posted by pearlybob at 11:22 AM on September 2, 2008

My answer in a previous, closely-related question (that did not get associated with yours, for some reason).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:23 AM on September 2, 2008

many family members and close friends who are teachers all agree with the above. difficult parents are the biggest downside.

if you're in a rich area, or a private school, the problematic parents are bossy, neurotic, and demanding-- typical helicopter parents.

if you're in a poor area, particularly if it's an area with a large population of recent immigrants, then the problem can be the other extreme: parents who are absent or apathetic. a lot of times it seems that it's not because they don't care, but that they cant attend parent-teacher conferences or closely monitor the child's progress because they have to work 2 or 3 jobs. or they don't speak english, so it's more difficult for them to play an active role in their child's education.

And then there's a subset of parents who truly seem to be neglectful. or worse yet, parents who refuse to decline to face reality and deal with a disruptive or violent child. they will refuse to believe that their kid could ever do wrong. they often lay the blame with the teacher. once and a while they might threaten a lawsuit.

the worst case situations seem to arise when when teachers are saddled with difficult parents and the administration doesn't back their teachers
posted by buka at 11:31 AM on September 2, 2008

I'm fed up with the bureaucracy

Then don't teach in the public school system.

I love teaching - it's pretty much the best thing I've ever done for myself - but there's no way I'd throw myself into that kind of hyper-accountable, hyper-managed setting. There are too many stakeholders, all of whom think their interests should come first, and while I admire the somewhat democratic way we govern schools in this country, I can't say I'd want what happens in my classroom or in the school library to be determined by a letter-writing campaign or some backroom shadiness on the part of school board members. I know not every district faces these challenges, but many, many local politicians view the school board as the first step to a wider career in politics. It's just too tainted a setting for me to feel creative in - perhaps it works for other people, but not for me.

I teach English abroad at private language schools, where I control pretty much everything we do as long as students progress enough to make it in the next year's class. There are no standardized exams, no one over my head other than the director of the school, and no nosy/intrusive/disruptive parents. I can accept the realities of a for-profit school because I have seen the director kick out students who cause trouble and refuse to change, preserving the quality of a class for everyone else who's actually there to learn.

My performance reviews come in the form of observed lessons over the course of the year: I provide a lesson plan in advance and my performance is measured by the school's director, himself a very experienced teacher, on how well the students do and how well I adapt my plan to the flow of what's happening in class that day. There's no final score or anything like that: even the best teachers get heaps of tips and pointers and things to work on. It's nice to know, actually, that there's no end to how good a teacher I can become.

Overall, I'm not out to change lives or make a difference in my lessons (though I'd like to think that happens). I earn my pay doing something I enjoy, and if good things come of that, then that's awesome.

I'd look into private, parochial, and charter schools before going into a public system. Look at community colleges, too, if you're seeking another way to teach.
posted by mdonley at 11:32 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a former HS English teacher, I can say the hardest part for me was the actual workload: I had something like 172 students/day, which was 5 periods of English plus Journalism. This translated into a tremendous amount of paper to read, mark up, and grade. Yes, there are probably reasonable ways of dealing with this, but I couldn't find a way that worked for me, and consequently, I HATED this aspect of the job more than anything. For me it was the workload that ultimately convinced me to change careers: I did not feel good about the job I was doing, and since much of the reward for teaching is supposedly intrinsic to the experience, constantly feeling behind and overworked made the experience SUCK. YMMV.
posted by mosk at 11:48 AM on September 2, 2008

My wife had a lot of trouble with the sheer amount of work at home. Not nearly enough hours at school to get the paperwork finished.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:21 PM on September 2, 2008

Teaching rules.
Grading, parents, and educational accountability suck.
posted by plinth at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2008

Listen to mdonley. ESL/EFL abroad is a dream teaching job. When I saw you mention bureaucracy, I winced. You will be up to your eyeballs in it in any US public school context.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:24 PM on September 2, 2008

I'm a former college professor but I'm speaking as a parent now. The toughest part is working with students whose home life is an impediment to learning.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:43 PM on September 2, 2008

I'm a 4th year history teacher at an urban middle school. Parents aren't a problem, they are mostly absent. The students can be a challenge, but are the best part. Having gotten out of exceptional education, the bureaucracy isn't too bad at this point. From the stories that I hear, a bad administrator would be a truly awful experience but I've been lucky.

The hardest part for me, honestly, is not being able to pee when I need to and the short lunches.
posted by john m at 2:36 PM on September 2, 2008

i mostly like being a teacher. but, as a teacher for 16 years, i'd say, in this order, the hardest parts of my job are:

- nclb and the correspondent compulsion it engenders throughout the educational food-chain to constantly appear as though we are improving the quality, delivery, and retention of instruction, when, in reality you know that most of the variables that impact student improvement (sleep, nutrition, emotional well-being, etc) are way outside your control.

- the haunting impression at the back of your professional-mind that the fed has determined that your profession, as you know it, is on its way to becoming a dodo-bird, and that you're just a ghost-dancer reluctant to see the signs for what they really are.

- the school-choice imperative and the constant need to makes sure everyone's always super-happy with you, your school, and your instructional program (including quantity/quality of parties, fieldtrips, restroom breaks, etc), despite how severely this undermines your effectiveness and your ability to truly impose high academic and behavioral standards on your students, because you know, if you make them angry, they'll just take their kid down the road to school-b.
posted by RockyChrysler at 3:27 PM on September 2, 2008

My wife is a HS teacher, and I'll tell you what I see: teaching is VERY hard work. She gets up at dawn, goes to work, comes home to grade and prep, and then goes to bed. It is much more grueling than most people think, especially when you factor in the relatively low pay.
posted by Crotalus at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2008

I've been teaching on and off for decades. I teach adults, but I have taught kids occasionally in the past.

I'd say the hardest thing -- and I love teaching -- is the gap between the supposed esteem in which teachers are held, and the actual support and remuneration they tend to receive in the real world.

Echoing mdonley, my experiences in the public school system in Canada before I went expat, teaching high school for a year and subbing a bit at various levels, almost kept me from ever going back to teaching. Some rewards, mostly trauma. But then, I'm not a big kid person.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:35 PM on September 2, 2008

Having to be "on" everyday, every minute you are up teaching - commanding the classroom. It's hard if you have any introverted tendencies.
posted by Xmeit at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2008

The hardest part is figuring out what to do with all the money you make.
posted by aetg at 3:20 PM on September 5, 2008

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