When teachers get stuck

Robert Fried says…

When student resistance to classroom learning is seen as typical and inevitable, and teachers console each other to “just hang on till June,” that . . . is being stuck.

The worst part of being stuck comes when you begin to think that what you are experiencing is the inevitable condition of being a teacher.

To be stuck as a teacher is . . . . dangerous to your spirit. You feel that your school is a place where authentic teaching and learning happen only rarely. It is the rare student who seems to genuinely appreciate what you have to offer, the rare class that responds well to the instruction you have meticulously planned for them. You consider yourself lucky if “most of the kids are paying attention, most of the time,” or if your latest lesson “seemed to go over okay.” You face the daily grind of instructional delivery, content coverage, student apathy, and grade consciousness. Your own learning streams seem to have dried up even as each new school year presents its complement of pedagogical challenges.

When you are stuck, it is not at all clear that there is anything you can do to resolve the situation you’re in. The horizons of your job look unchanging and unchangeable. . . . In such cases teachers stop seeing students, colleagues, and administrators as individuals capable of enhancing their effectiveness, but instead view them as “forces I have to contend with.”

As teachers, we pour incredible energy into our daily work. . . . Such an outpouring of energy and concern is tolerable as long as we are getting something back – so long as the flow of energy goes two ways, and we receive from our students and colleagues and, occasionally, parents as well, sufficient evidence that our efforts are having a real impact, that our caring is appreciated. But when the energy flow seems decidedly one-directional – outward and away – we begin to burn out. [The Game of School, pp. 153–155]

10 Responses to “When teachers get stuck”

  1. That’s really deep. I liked this.

  2. So true and so very common. I had a discussion with another colleague about this just the other day. I think one of the ways to become “unstuck” is to stop dwelling on the things that are beyond our control because that makes us feel powerless and being powerless becomes an excuse to not try. Instead, if we focus on things that are within our control we can empower ourselves and find motivation.

  3. Every once in a while, someone in the vast blogosphere posts something that speaks directly to you. This is one of those moments. Thanks for the quote!

  4. It can be hard not to focus on the factors we can’t control – in fact it is natural to do so. Yet a conscious focus on why we are educators can become our positive focal point.

    Being stuck is a downward spiral it itself, and occasionally there are the added pressures of accross the board cuts, personal hardships, reductions in force, student incidents, etc. that apply such force at any time that it seems insurmountable…YET WE OVERCOME!

    Way to go, teachers! Don’t just hang in there, EXCEL! Make May a month of LEARNING, not just SURVIVING!

  5. Why should a Teacher “excel” when there is only an intrinsic reward in that success? What’s the point of trying when your “colleague” down the hall gets just as much compensation for doing the same thing they did 20 years ago (or being a warm body in the classroom)? Being “stuck” will only change when we start paying teachers for GOOD teaching and not teaching to some basic multiple guess test kids see at the end of the year.

    Do I sound a bit jagged and bitter? Damned right I do.

  6. Money is not the only compensation available for teachers.

  7. This Fried quote took me to an essay by Forrest Gilmore, a UU minister, in a book called Wrestling with Adulthood.
    “Rites-of-passage theory affirms 3 major transitions between 4 stages in a person’s life – from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to elderhood. While all of these stages are profoundly important, the shift to adulthood has been especially emphasized for the health of society. While childhood and adolescence are appropriately focused on the self, adulthood is a time of offering oneself in service to the larger whole. The adult is the source of life for the culture, the one who provides for people so that they may live. Without the adult, a community falls apart.” (p 69)

    This short section help me to focus on a key roll of education – helping kids maneuver this transition.

    “It seems to me that Western society suffers from a crisis of maturity. Adulthood has come to be viewed not as the life-giving source of our culture but as boring, out-of-touch, and oppressive. Without the inspiration of meaningful adults, our children choose to remain children” (p 74)

    I fear that “stuck” adult teachers are dangerous not only to themselves, but perhaps more importantly to those they are to serve. I don’t believe they provide that inspirational meaningful adult influence needed by our kids. In fact they may be discouraging students in their move toward adulthood.

  8. Most teachers just teach the students the first couple months and then they just tell us to hang on unitl may. In my opinion i think teachers should teach us everything they possibly can up until the day school is released, dont get me wrong i like a couple play days everynow and then. All in all though i would appreciate all teachers more if they used all the days of school to the advantage. We are being taught to survive in life an if we dont get all the information we are not going to succeed as much as we might have knowing everything possible to learn during our school career. Keep up the good work and dont let the students bring you down to a point where you are STUCK!

  9. I feel that I am so stuck and it’s scary that school hasn’t even started!!! I feel that I have lost the battle before going to one!!!

    I couldn’t sleep well and I don’t think there is anyone out there that can help me. I am so STUCK!!!

  10. placing blame on external sources is the safest thing for us to do when things aren’t going so well. It is much easier to say this is not successful because he/she/they/it doesn’t it allow it to be.

    It’s amazing what we could achieve if we brought ourselves out of that cycle.

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