Frustrated joy

Bruce Lear interviewed experienced public school teachers about their favorite parts of the job and their biggest frustrations. -promoted by Laura Belin

Have you ever spent hours putting together a large puzzle, only to find the very last piece missing? Being an educator in public education is a lot like that. It’s “frustrated joy.”

There is joy in working the puzzle; fitting the pieces and solving the problem. But there is sheer frustration when there is one missing piece that would make it whole. For educators, that one missing piece is a political system that truly partners to complete the picture.

There are some incredible joys in teaching. For example, the biggest rush comes when a student finally “gets it,” and the light flashes on. It doesn’t happen every hour, every day, or even every week, but when it does, it thrills.

There are other joys. Unlike most professions, teachers get to begin again each year. They get to buy new school clothes for themselves even when they’re 50, and each year they get to make a fresh start again with a whole new class with a whole new set of challenges.

But perhaps the biggest joy is educators make a difference. My guess is if you ask anyone on the street, “Who was your favorite teacher,” they’ll come up with a name and also tell you why. My Dad, at 87, could still tell you every teacher he had from kindergarten until he graduated. Teachers matter.

But remember, I said “frustrated joy.”

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine 27 clones of your child or grandchild in an overcrowded room, and your job is to teach them something, keep them under control, and entertain them all while administrators, parents, politicians, and the media are looking over your shoulder, saying, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Now, imagine six of your students don’t speak English. Four of them are off their ADHD meds and three of them haven’t eaten since the night before.

That’s the frustration part.

But let’s hear from teachers who live with “frustrated joy” every day. Recently I asked a group of teachers to answer three questions.

“What is your biggest frustration about teaching?”

“What is the greatest thing about being a teacher?”

“If you could tell the public one thing about teaching, what would it be?”

Here are their voices.

Kris Snavely, 24-year veteran:

My frustration is the lack of planning time, and the constant increase in workload. Every year, teachers handle more and more issues, with less resources. Educators are being worked to death and have to dip into their own personal funds to pay for classroom supplies.

My colleagues inspire me every day. In spite of all the challenges, teachers are resilient, and look for opportunities to make a difference. Teachers advocate for schools and students, and invest in the future by placing students at the center of everything they do.

I’d like to say public school educators work in highly constrained settings and give up more and more of their personal time to ensure their students have every opportunity to succeed. We need the legislature to make investing in public education a priority. Strong public schools make strong communities.

Sarah Holman, 8-year veteran:

The things that frustrate me about public education are large class sizes, and not enough resources to meet our students need. My school could use more social workers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and teachers for students with special needs.

I love watching my students grow and try new things from year to year. I teach music. All people can enjoy and learn music. It is so fun to facilitate that process!

I wish I could tell the public how much effort being a good teacher takes. I wake up and hustle all day, every day. Each day I deal with students with behavior challenges, I collect student data, make accommodations for students with special needs, use my own money to create things for my room, and work long hours to give my students the best opportunities I can. Every student matters to me. Every lesson matters to me. And I truly love teaching music in our schools.

Kelli Tuttle, 32-year veteran:

It’s frustrating when we receive mandates with no additional funding!! It takes time, creativity, and energy for implementation.

The greatest thing about teaching are the students, the students, and the students!

I’d like to tell the public that just because you attended school, doesn’t mean you have a true understanding of the educational system. There is so much more to it!

Michelle Sokolovske, 24-year veteran:

The best thing is that I am able to form and build lasting relationships with my students. It is the single most rewarding thing I do.

The most frustrating part to me is how we are perceived by the public based on the fake lens of politicians. They have no idea what we do or how many sacrifices we make for our children.

I’d tell the public that I believe all jobs are challenging in different ways and to not believe every sound bite that they hear. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes you have no idea how hard they work.

Amy Swenson, 22-year veteran:

I became a teacher because I love kids, and I love seeing the look in their eyes when they are learning and “get” what I am teaching. I love filling their young minds with information, not only academic, but with social skills to have good character.

I know I have touched the lives of many kids, and many of them still stop to see me.

These days in our schools across the country, we seem to reward negative behavior. I worry we are creating a future of kids who will not be able to function in society. I am not sure they will be able to handle the first time they are told no, or their employer expects them to complete a task they do not want to complete. I worry they may react with aggression because the school system didn’t provide appropriate consequences when they were younger. We need to hold students and parents more accountable.

I also fear as a society that we are not getting kids active outside running and playing. Instead, they are given an electronic device of some kind from the time they can hold it in their hands. Kids are constantly bored at school because the teacher is not a screen moving and entertaining them.

I do not think the public understands the frustrations of teaching. Some of the public think we work short days, no summers, and get paid huge salaries. That is far from the truth. Our “plates” are so full from teaching expectations.

Bernie Scolaro, 26-year veteran:

I feel the most frustrating thing about public school teaching is the lack of understanding of all that teachers do. They not only prepare lessons, teachers put in the time and effort working and talking with students to reach them as individual people with worth and dignity.

Teachers use both their own money and time to reach kids. I believe teachers are given more and more paperwork and busywork to show they are meeting standards and benchmarks which takes away their time to be truly present to students.

The great thing about teaching is the interaction with students of all backgrounds, and helping them reach their fullest potential. As a school counselor, I have the good fortune to help students not just graduate, but to assist them with future planning. So, in one word, the greatest thing about teaching are the RELATIONSHIPS.

I wish people understood how invested teachers are with their students. They are not just invested with all the extra time and money, but in what they provide to support students every day. Teachers invest their heart and souls in reaching all students, often believing more in the students than the students believe in themselves. Teachers are students’ emotional support system, role models, and often their number one fan. Teachers are often the catalyst that inspires the students to go forward, to achieve their dreams.

Name withheld by request, 27-year veteran:

The most frustrating part is that we are having to patrol cell phones and social media vs teach and enjoy the kids we love! Parents need to take full responsibility and stop blaming schools.

I love when I know students really mastered a skill. Seeing their pride. The joy is knowing the differences, we make all day every day!

What I hear from these voices is they may have different highs and lows, but the harmony comes from caring enough to fight through the frustration to get to the joy. Iowans need to hold our elected leaders accountable for the frustrations so there can be more joy.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and recently retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for 27 years for the Iowa State Education Association.

Top image: Self-photographed picture from April 2016 by ManageWP, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: Education

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