Defining ourselves by our students

A few months ago another teacher told me that “we are defined by our students” and that he was feeling disillusioned with the work of teaching in a school. He’s tired of the politics and the “accountability”, and he doesn’t feel empowered. He finds that the work is often not about student learning and growth. 

He’s one of the most interesting teachers I know. I don’t visit his classroom, but I know from talking to him about effective instructional approaches that he explores and experiments in his strategies and structures. But the “job” as he sees it is getting in the way of the parts he loves, and he feels it’s getting harder and harder to extract the reward.

Dean Shareski (@shareski) tweeted a link around the same time to his post Do What You Love – A selfish and misguided message. It’s a short read, and you should take a look now.

I retweeted it and he also sent me this link:

I think about all the teachers I know who work very, very hard but aren’t loving their work. Many of them say “Kids are different today” and “This isn’t what I signed up for”.

Would we think the same way if we didn’t have to love what we do? What if we could just “do the work” without requiring the passion that is so burdensome?
I don’t think it’s possible for most teachers. The people I know started teaching because they care, and they simply care too much. They can’t turn off that part of themselves.

We take everything personally, then berate ourselves for taking everything personally. If our students fail, even because of their own foolish choices or sad circumstances, we feel that we have failed them. We are proud of their accomplishments as well, and perhaps take some credit for them. We learn all about them, both to help us teach them better and because we care about every aspect of their lives. We live teaching 24/7. We aren’t “at work”, but the work follows us constantly. We have responsibilities that never, ever rest. We constantly plan, analyze, ponder, and worry. It’s not healthy, and we know it, but that’s what we do in spite of how it hurts us.

I teach because I love my students, and I don’t want to do anything else. But sometimes I wish this job were simpler, that it ended at the end of the day, and that it didn’t take so much of my brain and my heart.

2 thoughts on “Defining ourselves by our students

    • Sue, I think this question might be the most important one we ask if we care about the future of education. I wholeheartedly agree care may be the most important quality for today’s educator and burnout is real. I’ve not seen many doing much to address this issue other than reminding people to stay healthy and balanced. I think there’s more that needs to be done. Otherwise, we’ll continue to lose great teachers and never get the ones we really need.

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