Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Does One Draw the Line?

A thought has really been on my mind lately. A thought about the number of students in my class that are falling victim to warm weather and spring sports programs. These students that have all but checked out of school mentally, not to mention academically. Then there is the group that I feel never really checked into school this year.

This leaves me, as the teacher, in a bit of a lurch. You see, teachers walk a tight-rope to begin with. We, generally speaking, try our best to support, cheer on, and encourage our students to be successful, responsible citizens of our respective schools.  However, at any given time, many teachers (myself included), step over the line and into the role of parent (or counselor, enforcer, etc.). While the actual distance a teacher travels from "teacher" role to one of these "other" roles is minute, it requires a HUGE change in energy, time, and emotional investment.

For example. Let's say that a student you have been working with all school year in regards to bringing homework, signed planners, signed grades, projects, and more is making improvements. Then one day he/she stops coming with the little they were doing. You, as a teacher, remind the student of the obligation he/she is under to complete assignments. You also offer encouraging words, and praise the student for their hard work (while knowing inside realistically they have done very little).
The next day nothing.
The next, again nothing.
You pull the student aside and express you disappointment in his/her lack of responsibility. You give a "life lecture" and express your confidence they can and will improve.
The next day, nothing.
The next....nothing.
Again, you pull the student aside. You ask what you can do to help them. In return, you get a shoulder shrug, a mumbled excuse that it was "forgotten", and that the grade isn't a big deal to them.

Here is where the teacher has to make a choice. This is a jumping off point. A point that ultimately leads down a path of no return.

Now here is where my nagging question has been playing over and over and over in my mind. This dilemma is eating me up. I believe I am actually becoming depressed over it.

I want SO DESPERATELY for each child that enters my classroom to feel safe, acknowledged, and willing to work hard. What I get in reality is a group of students (in general) that are unmotivated, unwilling to try, and flat out bullies to one another. (At this point I do acknowledge that in the past these students that were a challenge were by far the minority. But as the years progress, they are becoming the majority. I have many students whom are excellent at learning, believing in themselves, and making an effort to learn. Thanks to those precious few).

So the dilemma- the one of which I have successfully avoided.

Is it ever okay to back away from the line towards the school side. To simply let a student know you have done all you can for them (Is it possible to say you HAVE done all you can for them?) and that you hope they discover, on their own, the need to step-up?


If you back away from that line and "abandon" the student to their on demise is that unprofessional? Is that unethical? Is that giving up on the future of America? Does it mean that I am not fit to be a teacher anymore?

NOW, before you wax all judgmental and starting spouting words of encouragement or disdain, I will present another headscratcher.

IF, I don't back away from the line, my only option would then be to move towards the parent side of the line. I then must start to nag them, hound them, threaten them with all sorts of creative and punitive consequences (which usually are more of a punishment for the teacher who is left to enforce them during breaks/recess time- which is also break time for the teacher).

As I read back over this posting, I am not sure I have been able to completely capture the true anxiety that a teacher feels in this situation.

Me? I am what I would hope others would call a dedicated teacher. I work many hours outside of school to ensure that materials and lessons are prepared. I spend extra money to provide activities and experiences that I feel enhance learning. I strive to be interactive and a technology user. I greet every student every morning as they enter the room and talk to them, ask about them, try to show interest in them. I guess what I am driving at it that I am 100% invested in teaching my students. This isn't a brag or a boast. (If you were to look at testing results for the past several years- you would NOT get that idea at all). Rather I am trying to present all the facts, all the evidence before judgement is passed.

One more piece of "evidence" to lay out there. I don't ask for anything in return from my students, other than their very best work. However, I will say that it is emotionally draining to put yourself out there day after day- greeting, working, striving, hoping- and get nothing in return. No "Thanks for helping me today". No, "That was a great lesson Mr. Hughes". I don't mean to sound like a whiner. I don't really expect those things. But it simply shows that most students are oblivious to what a teacher does for them behind the scenes that they will never understand or appreciate (unless they become a teacher themselves).

So, what is the answer?

I really don't know. I will spend many restless nights during the last five weeks of school, waging a battle against what I WANT and what I hope is right. I hope my soul won't become a casualty of war and that my actions are worthy of a professional educator.



  1. Sadly you've hit upon a situation that keeps so many of us popping antacids and losing sleep. I don't know what the answer is... what I do know is that your students are lucky to have someone like you in their corner.

  2. You have a student this year who sings your praises far and wide to anyone who asks her what grade she is in. She knows that you are the "GREATEST TEACHER IN THE WORLD", and will give examples of things that you do in class to support her claim. She loves school and she loves learning and she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. I believe that she recognizes the challenges you face, as much as she is capable, but she also recognizes the impact you have made in her life. For this, I can never thank you enough.

  3. John,
    Been thinking about this post since I read it on Wednesday. Kids, parents, and education really have changed a lot over my 29 years of teaching. I'm sure your parents have said similar things to you also. You pose a great question, and I'm not sure there is any of us in education that can truly answer it. I think we have all been there and thought the same thoughts. I hate that they want to judge us on students scores for that very reason. There is no other profession where the product is not controlable by the the one doing the job. We can do an excellent job of teaching something and still have 30 attitudes do with it as they will. Just keep in mind, that as long as you're doing your best to help those in your class be their best....nothing more can be asked of you, I don't care what the public or lawmakers say! Have a great rest of your year and also remember you may never know the difference you make in one of those students lives!
    Love ya,

  4. I couldn't agree with you more on this topic, John. There is that fine line educators walk from day to day in their classrooms and I don't think that society realizes the emotional and physical energy required to play the part of coach, cheerleader, mentor, educator, counselor, and all the rest of the hats a teacher wears to a class full of 20-35 students.

    Also, this isn't even mentioning wanting to teach lessons with enthusiasm, and make school a place where they want to be. Many days it's a thankless job...especially when you give so much day to day.

  5. Thanks for the insights and thoughts. I appreciate your wisdom.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Unfortunately all teachers feel like this many times all throughout their careers. You are right about our students being oblivious for everything that the teachers do. I try and think back to my time and feel ashamed because I probably never thought that way either. However, I do remember my high school days and some of the teachers that went far and beyond for me. Those I can never forget and thanked them during that time.

    Another stress that I personally feel is 'worse' than students not recognizing our effort but fellow teachers as well as our administration. We are not thanked enough by some of our own colleagues who are adults themselves and see all the work, time, effort and not to mention our own money each one of us put in to run their schools.

  7. Sadly, there’s not much you can do for them, once they’ve made up their own minds to ....well...quite, for lack of a better word. If and when they enter college, they’ll quickly discover just how easy they had it during public schooling. And when they fail a course, they have to pay again to retake it. That was my major motivation to do well the first time around. I simply didn’t have the funds to retake the same course twice.

  8. In complete cynicism you should try mothering! At least there is a pay packet at the end of the week teaching!

    1. I agree with you. However, as a teacher(and a mother), I feel more appreciated by my own children.

    2. Although I agree that both can be thankless jobs, as a mother and teacher, I feel more appreciated by my own children. I thoroughly enjoy BOTH (most days).

  9. Pauline- That is exactly what my wife said when I had her read over my post. Ha ha. All I can say to you moms that work with your kids- THANK YOU for all you do! :)

  10. John, someone just repinned this and I'm just getting to read it. I would agree it's becoming more prevalent.

    I decided the line in the sand, for me, was when it was affecting the way I did my job. When I felt myself becoming more cynical, I had to detach from that student and situation so I could return my focus on everyone else. He, of course, became part of the "everyone else". It seemed the only fair thing to do- fair to me, to everyone else, and to him.

    One a lighter note~ Have you ever looked at the way some adults behave and say to yourself, "I know what you were like in school"? =)

    Desktop Learning Adventures

    1. Pam-
      Thanks for your thoughts and insight. I really appreciate it. And yes, I have TOTALLY thought that about MANY adults... ha ha.

  11. Can I just say how MUCH I needed this today?? I even put out on Facebook a question so similar to this that said what do you do when a student who has SO MUCH POTENTIAL just makes the wrong choices over and over again. When do you back away and allow them to really, in all actuality, ruin their lives? When do you stop being their support and end up dragging them along without any effort from them? I have a student who is up for a felony for vandalism and he has the opportunity to do a probationary year to clear it from his record. But, today he stormed out of the class and I read him the riot act, the first time since I took him under my wing and started nurturing him and helping him realize his ridiculously high IQ does not mean he has to go down the road of drugs and gangs but toward college and a career. I am drained, both emotionally and psychologically. I don't think I am ready to give up but today was hard. I wanted to put it into word through my blog and I think that eventually, I will but tonight, it was too raw. I needed your experience. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Claire-
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I am glad I was able to help in some small way with my posting. I feel this is getting to be more and more common with my classes. It is exhausting, but it's not in me to give up.

      I wish you well and hope things start improving.


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