The other day I saw a blog post asking teachers to weigh in on what they would like to see for teacher appreciation day. Links were made to polka dotted Pinterest posts highlighting bottles of A&W soda with ribbons and cards that said, ‘AWWWW you are the best teacher’, or mini buckets of Hersey Kisses with toppers jauntily exclaiming, ‘You are soooo sweet!” This for many reasons, made my blood pressure sky-rocket. So buckle up, as we enter the stratosphere.
I don’t normally rant, but when I do, I do it well.
You know, I chose teaching. I am an artist by trade but early in my twenties I worked at Camp Mooba in Vancouver for Pediatric AIDS patients and during that time I discovered something about myself that changed my trajectory forever.
From the time I was sixteen I have never wanted children of my own, and so it came as a surprise to me, that I found I had an impact, made a difference, was ‘good’ with kids. I spent the next eleven years in Asia and three in Europe working in the international teaching community attending grad & post grad school in the US and England in order to hone my craft. I have worked hard, struggled though.
Not only did I choose to teach- more surprisingly, I chose early learning. I love that my students enter my class ego-driven and non-independent and leave using words such as, ‘inappropriate’, ‘respect’ and ‘community’ as a regular part of their lexicon--as well as able to tie their own shoes! I love that a-ha moment they have when they discover that writing has meaning, and that those 42 little letters can go together in different combinations. I love when they see that addition and subtraction are linked and that numbers are a language all of humanity shares. I love their questions and that I don’t know all the answers to them. I love that we discover and create together. I love that every year they come to me so, so small and leave so grown up. I choose to teach early learning for all those reasons and more.
I read a blog post the other day that stated most teachers reach burn-out at seven years. I have been teaching for twice that, and I still love my students, in fact, I couldn’t imagine giving up. But I have watched as many teachers leave the profession disheartened and disenfranchised.
There are a few reasons why teachers reach burn-out. I can’t go into them all or you would be reading my potential dissertation rather than a blog post. But, for starters…I would never, ever enter my doctor’s office and tell her what my diagnosis was, or what prescription I needed. I would never represent myself in a court of law. I would never go to a cartographer and weigh in on the maps she created. I would never tell a programmer how to code. Yet, I dabble in each of these fields as I teach kids to take care of themselves, negotiate relationships, create maps and use computers. However, I do not have the audacity to think I am an expert in those fields, but trust the years of education and experience that those people have had in order to create a product: be it health, maps or apps.
But teaching is a unique profession in which people feel that because they have gone through school, they are experts on how learning takes place. Learning is a science. It is a difficult balance that is unique to each person and that is the wonderful challenge and curse for teachers---finding that sweet spot where each student learns. Becoming a master teacher requires training, and experience. It requires openness to new practice and a willingness to be a life-long learner. Modern education is multifaceted, complex and ever changing.
I read a joke on Reddit the other day about how most ICT people hate their jobs because they thought that they would be looking after computers, but really they look after people. I think this is why teachers burn-out too. We thought we would simply be teaching children but really we are; counselors, negotiators, advocates, learning needs specialists, English teaching specialists, chefs, wait staff, nurses, curriculum designers, artists, janitors, secretaries, event organizers… the list is endless. We take care of everything AND teach.
I subscribe to r/teaching, r/earlylearning and r/teachers and it is disconcerting that in each of these online communities teachers express hurt and frustration that they feel that are not supported by their boards, their admin, their parental body and the government. Sentiment ranges from despair, to anger and eventual burn-out. They express frustration of being questioned for even the smallest decision, their assessment of learning, the experiences they create for the students in their care. They complain of the media promoting educators as lazy and unable to do anything else so defaulting to teaching. They share how they feel that individuals within their communities or governing bodies do not really understand what happens in an inquiry-driven modern classroom. Indeed, in most of the articles I read about education written by non-educators, the general consensus seems to be that teachers still stand at the head of the class and ‘teach’. There seems to be a tangible disconnect between what goes on in dedicated practitioners’ classrooms and the vision of those classrooms held by others.
True, most of these posts are made by teachers in the States or in public education systems but even in my time as a teacher I have felt some of these same frustrations, and yet I still come back each year.
I understand that children are the greatest things that parents will ever make. I genuinely agree with parents when they each tell me that their child is the most precious and clever and amazing. Because I think so too!
Working in international schools comes with it’s own unique challenges and benefits. It is an experience that only a select few chose to take on. However, we are connected to the greater community of educators and if we are truly reflective as a global learning community we would realize that teachers don’t need soda, or candy or flowers, for appreciation. Teachers need to be treated with respect. We need to be told we are doing a good job, we need to hear how a student went home and was excited about something they learned at school. We need the understanding that we chose this profession because we love what we do, and we struggle hard to find that sweet spot for each of our students to learn. We need to be trusted that each of our decisions is driven from our desire for the best for the learners within our care.
And we need a little leeway because we are only human and after all, we are all on a learning journey.
So ditch the polka-dot pins. Choose trust and real, authentic, respectful communication and you will see teachers on-fire rather than burned-out.