A few weeks back, a veteran teacher commented that she felt that teaching was becoming harder every year. I hate to say it, but I have to agree. Still, the question that needs to be answered is "Why?" What is it that is making teaching seem more difficult year after year even though the skill sets of veteran teachers (at least mine and the teacher in question) are increasing. Is it the students? I don't think so. Kids are kids. Yes, they do seem harder to engage than when I first started 17 years ago, but they are still kids and they have a natural bent for learning. At the same time, I have seen an overall increase in general disrespect, but that is simply a reflection of society in general. Plus, with training that can be overcome. Could it be the general apathy that students seem to demonstrate? Maybe, but again, that can be overcome with differentiated lessons geared toward the students. Ok, then what about the parents? As many educators would agree, sometimes parents are harder to deal with than others, especially those who have a grudge against schools in general. Fortunately, those parents are rare and most are willing to work with us as long as we stay in contact with them and treat their students fairly. Well, then maybe administration is to blame? As an aspiring principal, I have to say that I never realized all of the balls that administrators are required to juggle. The pressure for results is huge (as it should be), and this pressure is definitely filtered down to the faculty. But, again, I have rarely met an administrator who was not willing to work with those who were putting out their best effort and possess the skills to be effective. So, what about the new standards and testing? Could they be to blame? I won't lie and say that this is not a factor. We are definitely teaching more content at a higher cognitive level with much more critical thinking involved. I teach content at 7th and 8th grade that I didn't really understand until I was in college. Testing has also created a level of stress that was heretofore unknown. I have to agree with the pundits who are calling for a reduction in high stakes testing in lieu of other performance and growth indicators.
So, is teaching really getting harder? Yes, I think it is. But, in many cases, it is getting harder because we understand that new strategies and methods must be employed to reach kids and help them succeed. This is not an easy task. In other cases, we are having to act as parents to some kids due to broken families. This is not anything that we can readily change, but it does increase the work load. At the same time, if it means that a student succeeds where they might not have before, it is worth it. Stakes are definitely getting higher. As a nation, we got lax in our education system and now we are paying the price for it. I don't think high stakes testing is necessarily the answer, but there must be a fundamental change in how we teach and assess. Finally, as Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changin'." Therefore, so must our education system as well as our classroom methods. Again, this is not an easy task as it may require a change in the way we as teachers think. The days of "sage on the stage" are fundamentally over. We are entering the era of the "guide on the side" where instead of the teacher delivering content from the front of the room, they are instead coaching kids on how to use knowledge and skills effectively, especially as it related to their own experiences. For me, this has not been as difficult a change as I thought it might be. As a Science teacher, it may not be as hard because I have been facilitating learning for quite some time through labs and other interactive lessons. But, it still takes continuous reflection and changes in methods to be effective.
Teaching has definitely become difficult. I agree with that wholeheartedly. But, as the difficulty increases, the reward increases as well. The great teacher who is called to this profession will rise to the occasion, make necessary changes and adjustments, and, no matter the difficulty, keep their focus on the kids. They are the reason we do what we do.