Educators Share Their Joys And Struggles
By Michelle Bourg
Teaching has to be one of the most rewarding professions there is. Helping to mold the next generation, seeing “the light come on” when they finally grasp an elusive concept, watching as their confidence and skills grow day by day— teachers cite all these things as what has inspired them to enter the field and what continues to motivate them in the classroom during every school year.
But, just like parenting, teaching doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There’s a whole world of opinions, regulations, interruptions—in other words, life—to be negotiated. And also just like parenting, there are things about the role that teachers wish others knew, but don’t often have the opportunity to talk about. Some of these things might surprise you while others you, as a parent, will surely recognize.
One of the first things that teachers want parents to know is that they’re on the same team: both parties want kids to not only get the best education possible, but also to be well rounded and happy. Teachers know that parental involvement is crucial to this process, and welcome parents’ questions and input. They stress that the lines of communication are always open, something some parents don’t always take advantage of, whether due to unfamiliarity with the process or simply discomfort with the idea of bridging a gap in communication.
Bentley Monk, a music teacher who taught at the middle school level for four years in the Cobb County School District and who now teaches in the Grand Canyon Unified School District in rural northern Arizona, believes that communication is at the heart of improving education not just for individual children but also for bet tering the system: “Our convenience-based society has got children and parents alike so disenfranchised with working harder and smarter that we find ourselves in a deepening educational hole. Unless we have a true open, honest conversation without political and emotional biases then this problem will get worse, not better, no matter what.”
Ron Clark, noted educator and founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, noted in an essay published on CNN that many teachers reported experiencing situations in which parents viewed them as an adversary: someone only looking to point out mistakes or deliver bad news when there’s a bump in their child’s educational path. But as part of your child’s education team, teachers want you to know that they always have your child’s interests at heart, even when there’s a difficult situation be discussed. “I want parents and students to know that I care deeply,” says Danise Fields, a sixth-grade science teacher at Woodward Academy in College Park. “If I have to tell a parent something that is difficult to hear, I feel their worry and pain.”
David Roth, an Upper School English teacher at Woodward Academy, agrees: “I want each and every child in my classroom to succeed—end of story.
When I sit in a parentteacher conference to discuss a student’s progress, my hope is that parents see the intent and the care. When students and parents see faculty and staff members as humans, rather than “grading machines,” I think it changes the understanding of why we are all here in the first place.”
One thing parents may find surprising is that teachers believe that children should be allowed, sometimes, to fail. “Childhood is the best time to make mistakes,” says Trey Veazey, assistant head of lower school at the Walker School in Marietta. “It can be tough… to watch a student grapple with misunderstandings, but there is great triumph to be found—for both the teacher and the learner— when the picture comes into focus.” Tiffani Listenbee of Woodward’s middle school English department agrees: “Middle school is a time to figure (out) how you learn. This comes with productive struggle. This experience occurs more often than making an A.”
As Monk puts it, “You have to fall down to get back up again.” His experience teaching in divergent environments has shown him that challenge and success are universal principles. “Both school systems have shown me that children can learn when they are presented with a rigorous curriculum that challenges them to achieve, but isn’t beyond their scope of how it applies to their future.”
Just like parenting, teaching has its frustrations and heartaches, but in the end, it’s one of the most meaningful roles in life. When parents and teachers see themselves as partners in the educational process, as opposed to “providers” and “consumers,” the relationship becomes not only more pleasant and productive, but also builds a foundation for students to learn and achieve, which is the real purpose of it all. When parents take advantage of the ways offered by teachers to communicate or proactively open a dialogue, that partnership can flourish. While time is at a premium for everyone, taking time to go beyond the “script” at a parent-teacher conference, such as talking about a child’s habits, peer relations and events at home, can give both parties invaluable insight into the things that factor into academic performance.
But what teachers would most like us to know is how much they genuinely care about every one of their students. As Carrie Edmison, a Primary Academy academic technology teacher at Woodward, expresses it: “While they are not my children, I often refer to them that way. My children. I think about how to reach them, how to help them see the giftedness I see in each of them, and how to…help them discover how much they matter in this world. It was clear from my first hectic day as a teacher that I will never be perfect at this, but I set my sights on being better for my students each day. I try to be the teacher your child deserves.”