Teach Til It Hurts

They are failing. I am failing them. Some of them, at least. On a profound level, I sense that I am selling my students short and it hurts. I do not know how to reach the slower ones without holding back the quicker ones. I do not know how to engage the more indifferent ones without risking alienating the ones who already care.

When I read bad freshmen papers at the beginning of the fall, I blame the entire secondary education establishment. When I read bad papers at the end of the semester, after months of my coaching and exhortation, I cannot help but blame myself.

Some days I am good. But I could always be better. What opportunities did I miss today to inspire, to draw connections, to push someone to excel, to save someone from falling between the cracks? I am a perfectionist, an idealist, and a relatively new educator, and those compound my sense of woe; but there is a true sense in which this is an impossible job.

I cannot reach everyone, much less equally well. In my current capacity, I teach two courses that blend history, philosophy, theology, and literature. I cannot correct everyone’s insufficient grasp of geography, fragmented sense of history, incoherent worldview, and sloppy writing. I cannot convince everyone that it is worth agreeing to disagree and learning more fully the nature of the disagreement. It is my job to try anyway. I must extend an offer to coach all of my students in honing their intellects, even though I know that not all will accept that offer.

Attaining perfection in this job is impossible and I am painfully aware of that impossibility. When I no longer feel the pain, then I will know that I am burnt out and have utterly lost my sense of calling as a teacher, or I am in Elysium.

3 Responses to “Teach Til It Hurts”

  1. Alicia on

    I completely deagsrie with the statement that teaching is for people who can not do any thing else, and the saying that goes with it, If you can’t do teach.’ There are many reasons why I feel this way. One reason is that teachers need to be knowledgeable about their content area. Not all people are knowledgeable about all of the content areas. For a teacher to truly get through to students and get the students engaged in lessons they need to be able to thoroughly explain content while also making it interesting and relevant to the students lives. In addition, teachers must also be good public speakers. This is because they are presenting lessons to many students everyday and new teachers also get observed by supervisors. Not all people have the ability to be effective public speakers. Also, teachers must be organized. This is because they need to plan lessons for everyday or every other day with modifications for many students. In addition, teachers must also grade tons of homework, quizzes and tests. Another thing that teachers must be is passionate about helping each and every student learn and grow. This is probably the most important part of teaching.

    • georgefaithful on

      I agree. I know that for many of us who teach, we could do other things; but there is nothing else that we would rather do. It is a passion.

      • Fhatima on

        What an excellent rceifetlon! I really appreciate your thoughts on how we as educator’s must be the guide through the murky waters. No longer are we as educator’s the bit talking head imparting information we need to see ourselves in that role of guide, that is nurturing, facilitating and cheering our students on from the sidelines as their thinking skills grow and expand.


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