Hard: My administrator brought a new student to my room mid-October, accompanied with an IEP thicker than any I had ever seen before and countless problematic behaviors. No amount of training or education had prepared me for this particular student. While my heart was open to doing whatever it took to help the child succeed, I was terrified, and I knew it would be hard. I spent weeks working hard to build a relationship with him, trying to find any connection I could. There were many battles, and I felt defeated after several of them. I worked to meet all of his needs, while still taking on my other daily teaching responsibilities. The days were long, and they were hard.
Great: I grew so much that year, more than I had in my entire teaching career. I learned how to remain compassionate while still holding students accountable. I learned that I could endure a lot more than I thought. I found out just how creative I was in finding ways to engage students. I learned that I didn’t have to do it alone. I reached out to others around me for support. I truly believe I became a better human being simply because I spent my days modeling positive behavior, the behavior I expected from all of my students. I eventually won that student over, and when I did, he would have done anything to make me proud.
Hard: As the testing season approached, I did what I’d always done, began preparing my students for the upcoming state assessment. My class spent time reviewing previously taught skills, practicing various question types, building stamina, and going over testing tips, such as eliminating silly answers and going back to check over work. Then, a friend calls me over to her computer to an email announcing testing complications. It wasn’t the first time, and based on the email I was reading, I started to think it wouldn’t be the last. It was frustrating. I worked hard teaching that year. More importantly, my students had worked hard, and they weren’t going to be able to show what they learned that year.
Great: Shortly after my moment of frustration, I realized that I had the wrong idea about teaching. I found that I was guilty of narrowing my teaching and focusing on specific items that would help my students be better test takers. So from then on, I simply quit teaching to the test. I focused on teaching for the right reasons, like to prepare my students for the next grade-level, to help them reach personal and academic goals, and to equip them with knowledge and skills needed to take on the world, or at least college first. I still, of course, followed and ensured my students achieved the grade-level standards. However, every move I made didn’t revolve around how it would or wouldn’t help my students on “the test.” That big testing failure that originally frustrated me later helped the overwhelming pressure and frustration of testing melt away. Most importantly, that hard moment helped me develop authenticity in my teaching, which led to authentic learning.
Hard: A few years ago, I received a new math curriculum, and no training or coaching came with it. I spent hours outside of my regular teaching day studying all of its parts, crafting lesson plans that followed my style and meet the needs of my students. I hit walls, wanted to revert to the old curriculum, and maybe even cried a little out of frustration.
Great: I found that the curriculum took me from being an expository teacher to one who facilitates as the students lead. It challenged my students in ways that I didn’t know possible. It finally helped me refine areas I had once struggled with, such as questioning and feedback. It gave me more confidence as a teacher, feeling as if I finally knew the why behind what I was teaching.
Teaching is definitely a league of its own. As hard as it can get at times, teaching is also exciting, challenging, and just plain great. When you are struggling with no end in sight, facing a challenge that you don’t feel equipped to handle, hit a low point that leaves you feeling discouraged, and are feeling like the task at hand is just too hard, just remember that for every hard moment in teaching, there is a great one!
Hayley teaches 3rd grade at West Chester Elementary School. She has been teaching with the Chester County School System for 4 years. Hayley is presently serving as a teacher leader/data coach in her school. She is also a member of the district writing team. She has led PLCs within her district and has attended focus groups concentrating on supporting Tennessee educators. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Memphis. She is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.