Teachers face challenges every day.
Sometimes it’s from students, whether they’re misbehaving or failing to fully grasp a concept. Other times it’s expectations or stress related to the school administration. Either way, teachers across the country can bond over the challenges they face and overcome.
These challenges can lead to stress, which makes it difficult to continue to grow and succeed as a teacher. As part of Stress Awareness Month, we reached out to our community of teachers to find out about challenges they’ve faced during the academic year and how they have moved forward.
I have been challenged this year as a resource teacher to teach back-to-back classes of different age groups to help classroom teachers have a larger block of time for collaboration. This is a challenge because I am not always able to prepare for the next class. One class might have to wait while the other class departs the room. Taking care of personal needs becomes challenging for me without buffer in between classes. This process also inhibits my ability to just mentally switch gears, revive my energy for the next group and handle disciplinary issues that have occurred. One solution I have learned to accept is to not try to plan so much. I try not to get too upset if second- and fourth-graders end up using xylophones on the same days. I plan similar activities with varying levels of difficulty. I eat lunch in my room to maximize quiet time. It is not my preferred way of teaching, but I see the good it is bringing to the school as a whole and the dialogues the classroom teachers are able to have because of the additional time they have gained. Each day is like a race – it is constantly high-paced. My administrator maximizes the time of each employee for the good of the students and learning. Because I see the same push from within himself and I share the belief in our students first, it is easier to take a running jump to join this fast moving train.—Mary Ann B., VA
A major challenge, not just for me, but for our entire school has been a very fast influx of students labeled as English Language Learner students. After the hurricane in Puerto Rice last fall, we initially didn’t get many new students; however, in early January we suddenly got about 65 in our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade school and well over that number in our district – mostly in seventh grade, which is the grade I teach. Many of these students should be on individualized education plans, but much of that information hasn’t been available or was lost in the hurricane. As an individual teacher I have used my knowledge on teaching ELL students along with implementing the most common accommodations – repetition of directions, extra time on tasks within reason, differentiated instruction, etc… with all students. As a school, everyone has pulled together ideas for where to place these students because the budget was decided and finalized by the state about two weeks before the hurricane hit. I have been really impressed and pleased to work in a school that rather than complaining, teachers pulled together and brainstormed what to do. The administration team was only able to hire one new staff member, so our classrooms are beyond capacity. Both students and staff are stressed, but we all manage. The best part is to see students helping other students by translating or giving them a hat and mittens since we are in a Massachusetts winter, not a warm climate like Puerto Rico. Communication and kindness are two of the best ways to get through any challenge.—Debra B., MA
One of my main challenges is meeting unrealistic expectations. I feel that no matter what I do it is never good enough for state legislators, the district or my students. The state tests continue to get more difficult and the content I am expected to teach in one school year continues to grow. To combat this challenge, I try to keep in mind that my goal should be one of growth and not achievement. If I can show one year’s growth for my students, I have succeeded. If I can show more than one year’s growth, I have exceeded the goal. I try to keep in perspective what my students and I are capable of achieving in the finite time we have together.—Lori S., OH
One teaching challenge I encounter is making math relevant to my middle school students. I often get the question, “When will we use this?” I am realistic with students. I give them examples of how they use math every day and do not realize it, especially algebra. I tell them anytime they have an “unknown” quantity, that is using algebra. The example I use is: you have $100 and you need groceries. You have no idea how many of each thing you will buy, you must take into consideration sales and discounts, etc. I try to use real life examples of how they will use the math as we learn different topics. I also tell them some things are to make them better thinkers and problems solvers.—Laura L., OH
One of the challenges I faced this year is working with teachers who are not having fun in the profession. I continue to try to support these teachers by bringing materials that support current math lessons but will add some differentiation and “fun” while learning. Math games that are aligned with curriculum are always a big hit with students. I have also provided ways to offer more challenging projects for students that I have worked with in the previous grade and know they are capable of independent work. Lastly, I provide centers and offer to teach lessons that are different than the curriculum so that teachers and students can see material presented in a different way. Technology and Smartboard activities are usually part of the plan. Being a former classroom teacher, I am empathetic to the demands and unique situations classroom teachers are dealing with daily. A difficult behavior can be so draining and defeating for the entire class especially if additional supports are not in place. In these situations, I offer breaks for teachers to give them a chance to re-group or just get a breath of fresh air and a new perspective.—Jane C., MA