George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

Teachers: We Are Doing Better Than We Think We Are

February 3, 2015

More than ever before, teachers are speaking out about their professional identity, voicing thoughts and opinions about stressors on the profession through the medium of blogging.

One year ago, I too wrote a teaching blog post titled What Students Remember Most About Teachers, a post which went viral the second month after I published it. Since then, it has been the single most-read item on my blog with hundreds of views each day and over two-million views to date. In particular, at key times of the year (August, September and mid-way through the year), it will spike an interest again with the teaching public, with tens of thousands of views on certain days.

I have been perplexed by this phenomenon, at a loss really, for why this particular blog post has struck such a chord. But then I happened upon these two articles. One, about why teachers feel so bad most of the time and the other, a test to take so as to determine whether or not you are a bad teacher, both written by blogger Ellie Herman (a former teacher).

It got me thinking about teachers again, and what matters most in our profession.

Instead of focusing solely on the content of either article so as to critique, I want to point out one thing in these two posts that I think explains the interest in my own blog post that went viral. That is, why it continues to be read by teachers one year later. According to Herman, teachers are inadequately trained for the classroom realities they face, get little to no support to deal with those realities, and don't have the resources to do the job well. Add to this, the reality that many teachers (both those who are essentially good teachers as well as those who should never have entered the profession, according to Herman's five criteria) have given up because the odds are stacked against them.

It is a tough gig being a teacher.

Ironically, when I wrote the article about teachers 14 months ago, I had no intentions of publishing the letter. It was actually written concerning a real person involved in an actual conversation with me. I sent the the letter because I cared about the person as a teacher, and I wrote the letter to somehow encourage that person in the very same ways I sometimes need encouragement. More than anything, I wanted to remind that individual that I believed in them and that I knew they were doing a better job than they were giving themselves credit for.

I think teachers need this type of encouragement so as to be reminded of how well they are doing, and all it takes is a moment for us to remember to do this for one another -- spurring each other on so that we stay the course. Even more than this, teachers need to hear the message that they are good teachers, doing a far better job than they give themselves credit. As teachers, we need to believe in ourselves and the influence we have on our students. We are are making a difference in ways that matter.

Something I have heard said about students is the following: students bring their best selves with them each day to school. It might not be what we would deem best- but the reality is, it is their best for that particular day. I have had conversations with administration as well about parents -- parents who do things differently than I do as a parent, but who love their children nonetheless; parents who bring their best to the table.

And what I have discovered about parents is this: parents differ in their understandings of what is BEST but, in general, as long as we are not talking about inflicting harm or injury on another human being in physical, emotional or psychological ways, parents tend to bring the best they have to give to their child's education as well.

Which brings us around to teachers. Do teachers bring their best to school each day?

Let's assume that teachers do not meet the five criteria that Herman has established which make for bad teachers (disliking children, consistently uninterested in their subject matter, don't have a clue what they are teaching, ignoring a large subset of their students most of the time, and who are overall, totally disengaged in teaching).

Teachers who are not consistently practicing any of those five and who also have a desire at all to investigate their practice and think about their identity as a professional are really who form the baseline for me. If teachers are at that place -- caring somewhat about who they are and what they do -- then I feel those teachers are bringing their best to the profession.

Now again, that word best. It is a relative word. When someone talks BEST they start envisioning other buzz phrases: words like innovative, charismatic, creative, reform-minded and inspirational. Words associated with teaching style like: engaging in praxis, integrating technology, differentiating instruction and scaffolding instruction. But I am not talking about setting a bar for best using either personality or teaching style as criteria. What I am maintaining here is that bringing your BEST SELF to work means bringing the self that cares.

Care is the essence of truly great teaching, and caring is (for me) the underlying quality that defines a good teacher.

Weighed against that criteria, good teachers are those who do the following:

* Good teachers care about themselves - care for their own personal, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

* Good teachers care about others - care for the young and old, children, youth and adults.

* Good teachers care about ideas - care about critical thinking and understanding, knowing and connecting.

* Good teachers care about things - classrooms, and books, and lunches and school buses.

* Good teachers also care about non-human entities - animals, and plants, eco-systems and habitats.

* And good teachers finally care about experiences - what happens at home, in school and some of what happens in between.

Simply put: good teachers care. And they tend to care in more expansive ways the longer they exercise that caring muscle.

When it comes to criteria for defining good and bad teachers, focusing on the fact that most teachers who care enough about ideas and experiences to read an article about teaching are probably good teachers, it almost becomes a moot point for teachers to ask themselves if they are bad at their job. We hear enough negativity in the onslaught of media messages to waste too much on this consideration. What we need to be asking is this: what makes us great teachers...and how can we find ways to be great again tomorrow?

Then too, ask this as well: how can we find ways to rise above the imperfect circumstances in which we find ourselves, the less than ideal situations we find ourselves in as a teachers and still be our best teaching selves? And how can we tap into that reservoir of care that brought us into this profession in the first place?

Teachers, we are better than we think we are. We just have to remember.

We are a caring profession. And while we are diverse in scope, each of us bringing different traditions, orientations, philosophies, backgrounds, experiences, personalities, cultures, attitudes and beliefs to the table, what binds us together as a collective is our common care for our students and our profession.

We care.

And may we never forget how important that quality is in making us great teachers.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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