The hardest part about teaching


The hardest thing about teaching has nothing to do with teaching at all and yet it has everything to do with it. Can you guess? It’s the politics.

The politics of education get in the way of teaching much like how arguing about money leaches into personal relationships. You realize it’s the circumstances nipping and snipping into your love life, your family and your home, but because they are circumstances, you have to learn how to deal with it – and that’s not easy.

I certainly wish we were warned about politics when I was in teacher training, but the focus, interestingly enough was mainly on the Waldorf pedagogy. Now, I realize this seems natural and understandable, but I think there should be room made for classroom management and dealing with school politics.

We had one session dedicated to classroom management questions and questions in general about the Waldorf way. And while this was beneficial, I watched our seminar teacher quickly deteriorate into great annoyance by the questions so that by the end of the class things felt a little awkward as if we had bothered him like irritating children asking too many questions.

I remember being told not to teach faculty children. I ended up with three of them in my first grade classroom, not including an office staff parent’s child as well. These parents were instrumental in meddling into my affairs. How could they not? They worked at the same school and were critical because they wanted the best for their child. I understand that, especially now. But what I wished I had asked my teacher trainers is, “How can I refuse to teach faculty children? And what if the school doesn’t support me?”

It’s important to say that I enjoyed my Waldorf teacher training experience, but it is only in hindsight do I see its shortcomings in preparing me for what was to come. I don’t blame them though. It is just my small hope that other teachers-in-training or teacher trainers will find what I say useful. Feedback is essential and unpleasant truths are deeply frustrating because none of us has all the answers and everyone simply wants to get on with it.

Yet, for all soon-to-be teachers and teachers like me with years under my proverbial belt, the politics involved in educating our children is a dreadful landmine. On the one side, it’s blissful to not know what is going on behind closed administrators’ doors and on the other side, it seems morally wrong not to care or do something about it. 

Here’s a list of real scenarios: 

// What do you do when you know other teachers are not getting paid nearly as much as you are? Think about the climate that creates within yourself and within the teachers room.

// What do you do when you are being privately bullied by your superior for criticizing curriculum changes? Do we then learn to not say anything? Yes, we do.

// Why are the good teachers left unrewarded and the bad ones given praise? (Interestingly, after my Waldorf experience I told myself that I would never speak poorly about another teacher having been the sweet target of my former colleagues. And let me tell you, it’s sometimes a hard silence to swallow.)

// What do you do when you know "management" is lying?

// What if a parent threatens you? Or insinuates that you’ve done something very wrong?

// What if you have classroom management issues? Do you ask for help or keep quiet (because behavior issues make you look bad)?

// What if you are asked to ignore certain problems so that “enrollment continues to grow”?

// Or what if you tell a principal about something you have been witnessing and she chooses to ignore you?

Many teachers I know learn to keep their head down and watch where they step. It’s a matter of survival and “playing the game”. I’ve certainly kept a low profile, but I’ve also stuck my short neck out on several occasions when I felt something needed to be said. Experience has taught me that nobody wants to be the bad guy so blame gets passed around like a baby that won’t stop crying.

And here we come to the reason why education, everywhere, mostly everywhere, is dysfunctional and drowning under problems. I believe we do our children a great disservice when we are not able to address issues with an open mind, when we are not able to mediate, and stand together for what we believe is ethically unjust. 

What do you think is the hardest part of teaching?

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