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Mindset & Motivation   |   Feb 17, 2014

There is still hope for you in this profession: a message for disheartened teachers

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

I know that so many of you are frustrated, tired, and worn down. You’re tired of testing your students to death, of not having support from your administration or parents, and trying to understand curriculum and teacher evaluation systems that seem designed to trap and fail you.

This breaks my heart. My friends, I’m begging you today: please don’t judge the profession or your effectiveness as an educator based on a lousy teaching placement.

Teacher morale is not in the gutter in every school.

There are supportive administrators out there and parents who will have your back.

There are schools where you are allowed to teach and not just test, where kids are allowed to be kids and not just data-processing robots.

There are places out there where you CAN love teaching again.

I’m not saying those schools are easy to find, or that you can saunter in and demand a job. I know this is complicated stuff and I can’t fix a tough job market. I’m simply encouraging you not to give up on a career you once loved because you have a particularly challenging group of students or a misguided, micromanaging superintendent.

Don’t blame yourself or question your abilities as a teacher.

Don’t blame the entire teaching profession and lose faith that this can be one of the most fun and rewarding jobs on the planet.

Sometimes the problem is not YOU. And it’s not teaching, in general. It’s your particular placement.

I know firsthand the power of changing teaching positions. After just three years of teaching PreK, I was certain I was burned out and not meant to be a teacher anymore. Then I moved up four grade levels, and my passion was completely renewed. There was nothing wrong with the teaching placement itself, it just wasn’t right for me anymore. I needed a change.

Later, I relocated and ended up at a school where the working conditions were so depressing, I came home and cried every night. This time, the problem was the school, so I transferred to a nearby district as soon as I could find an opening, and once again, I loved my job. Eventually another principal was assigned to the school and made my life miserable. I suffered for two years before finding another position—and all that enthusiasm for my work came rushing back once again.

The message here is not that you can run from all the problems in education, or that it’s simple to find the right job for you. What I want you to understand is this:

The right school and grade level make all the difference in the world. You can love your work, and you can make a difference. Don’t give up your dream just because you don’t love your placement, or people in positions of power have lost sight of what matters.

Once a month, I’m going to feature an interview with a teacher who still loves his or her job and is excited to go to school each morning. Believe it or not, I’ve got dozens of teachers who are willing to share their stories. Some of them are in their ideal teaching placements, and others have simply learned to adjust and make the best of what they’ve got.

These educators are going to tell us how they keep from getting overwhelmed by their students’ needs and prevent the demands of the school system from weighing on them, their advice for balancing work and their families/personal life, and practices or mindset shifts they recommend that other teachers try in order to increase their sense of motivation, purpose, and enthusiasm.

If you are a teacher who’s found a teaching position you love, please, share your story with us and spread the message that teaching can still be a great job. Tell us in the comments, or email me and I’ll send you the interview questions and feature your story in a future post.

And if you are a discouraged teacher, please, hang in there. Hold onto your vision and keep trying to make it work. There is hope for you in this profession.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I have been teaching for almost 11 years at the same school in K-2. I became disheartened after going through several changes of admin. (In a five year time span we had 4 different sets of administrators!) I thought about leaving but couldn’t shake the feeling that it was “my school.” Administrators may come and go, but why should I? Then one day I ran across a video clip about the Mitchell 20. One segment really resonated with me. The woman speaking had been teaching the same amount of time as I had and expressed similar feelings of frustration. She went on to say how much the process of National Board Certification changed her experience. I decided to enroll in a pre-candidacy class. The weight of disappointment and frustration began to lighten. I realized that I could change my perspective if I wanted to, so I did. My focus is on student achievement and improving my teaching. I’m also developing my voice to justify decisions about the what, why and how I go about teaching. There will always be top-down mandates and expectations that I don’t agree with, but I don’t have to feel burdened by them anymore. This year I am an NBCT candidate and have rediscovered my passion for teaching!

  2. I too have been lucky enough to find TWO positions i have loved. I am currently an Instructional Technology Coach and I LOVE my job! I love every day that i get to go to work.

  3. Hi there!
    Thank you so much for posting this! I was just speaking to a teary eyed teacher at a conference last week, and I felt so bad for her! Her creativity is constantly being squelched by a tightly scripted curriculum and team mates that do not seem to respect her or include her in their planning or activities.
    My heart was just breaking for her. I just posted this on my Facebook page and pinned it to Pinterest. I hope she sees it!

  4. This resonated with me so much. Last year I made a mid-life career change to be a classroom teacher. I have always felt this is the place I was to be. Last year – a first year (older) teacher – was challenging as I learned the ropes. This year I was moved (after the first 2 weeks of school) to a new school and a new grade level. This group is challenging. I’ve still learned a lot but sometimes feel that my career change may have been a mistake. I suddenly realized that in my two placements, I have not been in the grade level that I really feel is my calling – kindergarten. Your post encouraged me – that maybe moving to the “right” grade level would make a difference. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for this great article! This is so true….My heart breaks when I hear of a teacher who is so discouraged due to the situation that they’re in. I had the privilege of teaching in an incredible school where we were supported and helped but had freedom to teach. And while of course there were challenges, it was such a blessing & I truly enjoyed my years there. The right school & the right grade/subject sure can make all the difference! So to everyone who is struggling – don’t quit until you at least consider if that would make a difference.

  6. This is so very true! And sometimes after years in the same subject, school, or grade you find you need to change just to get out of the same old routine. This is the first year in a long time that I’ve felt I’m where I’m supposed to be and I actually look forward to going to work in the mornings. My school is a very urban school and my kids have a lot of needs but I love it. The teachers who feel the most discouraged by the top-down mandates and creativity squashing curriculums are often the ones who need to stick around because they see what can be.

  7. My first year was typical text book worst year of teaching. I had thoroughly enjoyed my student teaching and undergraduate years in college and felt I had found my true calling. My first year made me heavily question my career choice. With an unsupportive principal who openly criticized and belittled by calling me kiddo alongside my students, I still cried when I was pink slipped and told I didn’t have a chance of being called back the next school year. Over the summer I contemplated my options, but still interviewed and found a position in another district the very next fall. It was a commute and again I was warned that many teachers who don’t live out in the community don’t last long. I have been teaching in this district for the past 9 years and have grown to love the community, my students, and the commute! I’m glad I didn’t give up, others didn’t know what was best for me, I did. My career as an educator is as important as my own family, and I cherish the wonderful life lessons it has given to me as I hope to give my own children and students everyday.

  8. This message comes at just the right time. I am so discouraged. I feel unappreciated and undervalued and I feel absolutely powerless to change things. I spend 6.5 weeks pulled from my SLP duties to administer state tests each year. My evaluations are based on my effectiveness, but it seems I hardly have time to make any impact at all with my kids. All of the little and big things pile up until I can’t take it and burst into tears in the evening. This happened today and I am so thankful for your message tonight. Trying to remain positive and carry on is so difficult to do sometimes. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  9. I’m from Sao Paulo, Brazil and I’ve been teaching junior high for 4 years. Most days I love my job, but it is always good to read posts like this and feel inspired again. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I taught for four years in Texas. Though I love my home state, it was very hard emotionally, mentally, and physically. On average, we had about 28 kids in our 5th grade homerooms. (Though, this fluctuated frequently.) We had a three-way split, so I was seeing almost 90 kids each day for Reading and Writing. With our district and state standards combined, we spent almost 5 weeks testing our students one year- benchmarks, required curriculum tests, state tests, and the like. Combine that with the normal student discipline, lack of support in places it was needed, and required documentation, I had decided at the beginning of my 4th year that I couldn’t take much more of that life. I signed up to teach internationally (at an actual, established international school– not teaching English) and got a job in Seoul, Korea. I fell in love with teaching again. It was exactly what I needed. Not easier in the sense that I don’t have as much work to do. But, my work is meaningful– which makes it better! Though I am going to try something new in the states in the next years, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back and teach internationally.

  11. I am currently teaching in a very tough situation. I am at a Title1 school with a population of over 80% homeless and 90% on free and reduced lunch. I deal with issues that most people don’t deal with… students with extreme behavior disorders, mental disorders, frustration from living in poverty, anger, students with learning disabilities, and almost all of my students are below level. Last year I had a very rude and aggressive administrator. This year, under new administration, I feel like not a lot has been done to help the difficulties in my classroom. I have come home crying almost every night. I am absolutely miserable. It has made me question teaching. I hope that the future holds something out there that is better suited for me. I am trying to spread my wings, but it’s not always easy to find a job. If I don’t find a better job soon, I may end up switching careers and going back to school. It’s nice to see so many people who have found a way to love and/or love their teaching jobs. I, unfortunately, do not right now. I don’t think I’m a bad teacher necessarily, but I do think teaching is not what I thought it would be.

  12. I was just like you. About to leave teaching for good to become an accountant. I changed positions, and now I LOVE my job! I’m definitely willing to share my story, if you’re interested!

  13. My joy is the learning environment in the orchestra class. I love to teach the students. They love to play with passion and are willing to do the hard work even when they are not sure where it is headed. The look in their eyes when the epiphany comes is priceless. I would like the support of my administrators in both schools and I have it, albeit in two totally different forms. I have deep and persistent parental support of the curriculum I teach. I feel fortunate in that.
    (This has been an extremely challenging year personally because I have been in treatment for Stage 2A breast cancer. Prognosis is excellent and chemo is now done, and I am on to radiation now. This medical aspect has honed my focus down to WHAT REALLY MATTERS: Students. Planning for my students and keeping to the curriculum that will bring them success and growth. )

  14. I have been teaching for 29 years. I am currently teaching Elementary School Art K-5. I have been at my current school for 14 years.
    I still love what I do. I’ve seen so many changes in the business of education, but one thing stays constant…the wonder & awe in a child. When I see children soaking up new experiences, I realize what brought me to teaching & what has kept me in it for so long. I regularly change the projects I create with my kids, not only because the kids change from year to year, but to keep myself interested & challenged. As soon as I’m bored with a project, I revamp or completely change it, making sure I’m still teaching the concepts. I also try to keep learning about teaching, about my students & about new ideas. You have to keep the profession alive for yourself! You can complain about so many things, but, when you enter the classroom & close the door, it’s you & the kids, & that’s all that really matters!

  15. I love that this article says that you can still have an abundance of reward from this career even if you’re having a bad year. Good motivation as we hit the pre-Spring Break slump.

    So, I sent it out to my colleagues at the High School I work at. Got in trouble for that. Now every article has to be pre-approved.


  16. I am a new teacher who graduated in December and moved across the country to accept a teaching position taking over a 3rd grade classroom mid-year. The entire experience is so far removed from what I knew that I was extremely nervous, but I can honestly say that having a supportive team, administrators, and mentors really has made all the difference. Knowing that my students are unique and face many challenges, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They teach me more than I teach them and their positive attitudes inspire me to keep going and give it my all every day.

    Thank you for your post. I’m glad I found your blog.

  17. Sometimes we get into a position we aren’t the best suited for.. due to a move or whatever … But… I am really stressed to think that people are so inflexible as to think that when deal implying with children you have to be so exact. If you love kids .. You love them…. And if admin is substandard …. You should love them more… And if not … Private school or home school. Because in public school….. We love them all

  18. I have been at my school for 33 years–this is my 34th–in about 5 different positions, but mostly first grade. There have definitely been ups and downs with principals and colleagues but those things never deterred me from sticking with the kids. The demographic of our school has dramatically changed over my career as well, but I have found inspiration and renewal in that change. I had one particularly difficult principal and I’m sure had I been a young new teacher, he could have broken me, but I found other support around me and I was the one who won out–he disappeared from our school mid-year! I have had numerous intern teachers throughout my career here and most of them are successfully employed, so I feel like I’ve been able to pass on my positive attitude and focus on the kids.

  19. I teach in a school that has 99%low income students. There are a lot of challenges that come a long with that. I have been told we don’t have problems at xyz. We do not have fights at xyz. You call administration for assistance and they never come. I have called when a student was trying g to stab another student with scissors and been hung up on. Amazingly, I am considered by admin to be one of the best at classroom management. They send teachers to observe me when they are struggling. My point here is I am not one that calls the office frequently so if I do, I REALLY need help. To make matters worse, our state “grades” schools in numerous ways and one is teacher retention. Our principal is known to sabotage teachers trying to leave. I want out but have no idea how to get out. She watches everyone and everything. She holds paperwork, she talks down employees, she’ll take a teacher with great observations and suddenly that teacher can do nothing right. This is something every principal can view when interviewing. We are required to “anonymously” rate our principal and vice principal. However, they write down our anonymous logins. A few people that have tried to end around her with the board have been written up and suddenly find themselves on a professional development plan. Our children are not even allowed recess. We need help and we have no idea how to get it.

  20. I can’t read this and not respond! I am a certified special education teacher that had my masters in counseling before I started teaching. I worked for 11 years. Burn out in teaching is such a tragedy! The average amount of years a special education teacher works before they quit is 5 years. I am now a counselor working to get my clinical license and counseling children in the public school district. I have seen administrator’s drive a coworker to a nervous breakdown, an administrator who would write up teachers for disagreeing with them in faculty meetings and then tell them that if they told anyone they would be fired, and many other events that are too many to list. Now that I am working in schools as a counselor and not a teacher, I see things through a different lens. I see administrators, teachers, and parents that have obvious mental health conditions which means working with them is extremely difficult.
    I read April’s story and it was almost like I was reading what happened to me with administrators at one of the schools I worked at. During that time I was able to attend a professional development conference that changed my life. The subject was working with people who have personality disorders. As I sat listening to the presenter describe what a person with Sociopath Personality Disorder does in the workplace, I realized it was exactly like one of my administrators. This type of person you can never disagree with, no matter how insignificant, or you are on their bad list and can’t ever get off, no matter what you do. The presenter described what meetings with a person like this would look like and I sat riveted because that was my administrator! I’ll never forget the advice the presenter gave about this type of person: “You have to be able to fly under their radar or leave. And if you think you can go over that person’s head to their administrator for help, think again. The person above them is probably just like your coworker because they chose that person, and likely have many of the same characteristics themselves.” I knew that he was right, and I left. Being in a situation like April describes is torment every day to get up and go to work. But I found that no matter how bad things got, I always had the students to cheer me up and give me meaning.
    Honestly, it sounds to me April, like you and the faculty are getting emotionally abused, which is far too common in the workplace today. Sometimes it helps to label something for what it really is because then you can start to heal. Some of the effects of abuse are feeling guilty, loss of self esteem, sense of shame. It might help to look up some of the effects of emotional/verbal abuse to help guide your way. My heart is with you! Make sure you reward yourself (every day if you have to) for finishing the day. That will help a little and be very kind to yourself because work takes all your reserves out of you, and you need to help build them back up by being extra good to yourself. Hope this was helpful! Much love!

  21. Dear Angela,
    I read your post and decided that I needed to respond. This is my 30th year of teaching. In all those years I have dealt with most of the issues everyone has mentioned. I know the frustration and disheartening things that we go through. Today I was feeling out of sorts because listening to how so many of us in the teaching profession feel right now is sad. Me included. When I had been teaching for 25 years I decided to go back and get my MA. What an eye opener! It was hard work but it rejuvenated me! I was excited to learn new things and to find ways to make my teaching better. I had always wanted to be a teacher-never had I even considered another profession. For all those fellow teachers out there who are frustrated, Angela is so right! A change, any kind of change, although it is hard, can be good. Going back to school made me realize that new things can make us better. Now that I am nearing retirement and thinking about what the next phase of my life will hold is strange. I had certain expectations about my life. But life threw me a curve ball 5 years ago when my husband died suddenly and I was left alone with three children of my own. We have to choose how we want our lives to go. Don’t wait!! Make a change today so that you can live every day as though it were your last. I’m not perfect and I get discouraged too. But then I go to the blogging world and see and read about all the awesome things so many other teachers all over the world are doing and it inspires me. Students notice when we are inspired about our jobs. They know if you really want to be there or not. Find a way to make each day joyous for yourself and you will continue to inspire your students to learn from you.

  22. I teach high school science. I have been teaching for 10 years. The first few years I LOVED it and would do anything for my kids. I stayed late every day if I needed to. Now, I have 2 small children and I am a little burned out right now. I still love my job and even though a part of me would love to stay home with my children, I am just not SAHM material. I wrote a blog post about it on my blog!
    I teach at an inner city school with a high teacher and admin turnover rate. We don’t get the best quality teachers because our school is mostly high poverty children. I love my children and would never leave because I would feel like I was abandoning them. As far as admin goes, my motto is “I was here before you got here and I will be here after you are gone”. Some years are tougher than others with admin, but I try and focus on the kids and not the admin. I am a pretty good teacher so I usually just fly under the radar and don’t get bothered too much! Hopefully I can refresh myself over the summer and be ready for next year. I am moving back to Biology next year and I am so excited because I have been teaching Earth Science for the past 5 years, which isn’t my favorite. I’m hoping that will help me recharge and be enthusiastic again!

  23. Hi Angela,
    Today is Sunday and I have just spent the past nine hours working on preparing data and evidence for my end-of-year evaluation. This is crazy! As I was writing up my self-evaluation report, I got so discouraged looking at some of the results for my reading and math goals. Last year I came out as a 4 (exemplary), but this year I know that is not going to happen. Most of my students do not care how they do on tests. (They are nine years old. Should they really be caring how they do on tests? I know I sure didn’t care about tests at that age!) The results on STAR Reading and Math are discouraging, and those are a significant part of my evaluation. This is my 31st year in teaching, and in my state one needs at least 35 to retire with a decent pension. There is talk about my school closing in a couple of years due to decreasing enrollment. Even if it remains open a few more years, I am sick of testing, the current teacher evaluation system, and the emphasis on data and meeting standards, instead of creativity! I took some painting classes a while back, and found that for two hours during painting, I was totally and pleasantly immersed in another world! I plan to do more painting over the summer. One needs hobbies to find a happy distraction in this profession. Friends help, too. The only ones who “get” this are fellow teachers. Thank you for being there for all of us, Angela!

  24. I have worked with children all my life and became a certified Early Childhood teacher when I was 45. I worked in a neighborhood school as a Kindergarten teacher who struggled to implement Developmentally Appropriate Practices despite state and local district pressure to test the life out of the children. I was coping well with a supportive administration and co-workers when a new Principal came to town. Our philosophies were very different. I worked hard to ensure that individual student abilities and needs were taken into consideration and suddenly realized that individual egos and financial goals were now the driving force behind our school’s goals. At the ripe old age of 60, I moved schools and age-groups and found the support and freedom to work with greater satisfaction and success.
    As long as Standardized Testing is in vogue individualized instruction is in jeopardy. There isn’t a great deal individual teachers, schools or local districts can do to change state mandates, but we are compelled to take small steps to be true to ourselves and our students to ensure we can sleep at night.

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