I have been in the classrooms of our public and private schools. I have been on the administrative side. I have seen amazing people work magic with “difficult” kids, I have seen teachers who love their job and joyfully show up each day to be in the midst of the children they serve.
I have also seen the dark side of the classroom: the shaming talk, the disappointing glares, the frustrated tones and the cold attitudes.
And it is not pretty.
It has been said that “teaching is the hardest job in the world”. Usually at a rally to roaring cheers, but also in a coffee shop or around a conference room table where fellow teachers come together to discuss how they will keep moving forward despite the difficulties.
I remember feeling this way. I remember the frustration that overcame me when the kids I was assigned to work with did not want to do their assignments. I remember feeling irritated and angry when there was dissent or outright rejection of my ideas. I know the pain of putting creative effort into an activity only for it to fall flat in the classroom setting. I have heard the complaints of parents and felt the tugging demands of the hierarchical system.
Teaching wasn’t only hard, it was frustrating, infuriating, and at times completely ridiculous.
Over the course of my time in the classroom, tutoring students, organizing curriculum, and planning to do lists for students to follow, the truth of why teaching can be “the hardest job in the world” was slowly revealed. It is not that the effort put into activities and lessons is necessarily hard or that working with children is hard, it is that doing these things with humans who have no say so in the matter created an emotionally challenging and mentally frustrating situation.
Imagine you were told every day when to get up, when to read, when to focus, when to use the toilet, when to eat, when to play, when to apologize, when to socialize, and when to rest. Imagine not being able to listen to your inner voice, your internal clock and then were punished or fussed at because you couldn’t keep up or weren’t following directions. How long would you last? How long could you keep it together?
This is why teaching is hard.
Teachers are being asked to work with humans who are forced (compulsory education) to be there. Humans who are not even fully developed are being expected to willingly participate in a system that most adults would bail on after a week. Sure there are many children who follow along with minimal or limited complaints, but there are enough who don’t, or who honestly for many reasons, just can’t and therein lies the difficulty.
Add to this that teachers feel the same weight of force: regulations and rules, paperwork, and guidelines, not enough supplies, red-tape, and burned out co-workers. The demands are round the clock even when the school bell signals an end to the day. There is no rest for a dedicated teacher.
While there appears to be across the board agreement that our current educational system needs a complete overhaul, we know Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, teachers can continue to impact students greatly in the classroom by building relationships with the unique people they serve. One way to do this is to move from the teacher-knows-all paradigm to one of facilitator and genuine guide. In a nutshell, a conscious educator.
Educators have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the world and I don’t mean in the traditional sense of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yes, a literate society is important, but how ideal would it be to have a literate society AND one where children are raised in environments with adults who respect, trust, and include them in their own learning process?