The Character Movement

teaching-won't-be-easy

It won’t be easy

By Tom Rademacher

No, it won’t be easy.

It won’t be easy during your first year or your second. I won’t be easy in your 10th year or your 20th. It won’t be easy in fall, and definitely won’t be easy in winter, and absolutely won’t be easy in spring. Summer is pretty easy. But, teaching won’t be easy, and being a teacher isn’t easy.

The danger of pretending it’s easy – of pretending we have the right answers – is that struggle too quickly feels like failure.

I spent my first few teaching years sure that it wasn’t right for me because I was tired every day, because I went home every night with a pocket full of losses and a few wins slipping through my fingers. Everyone around me seemed to be doing fine. Everyone around me had the same sort of easy answers we wish were true.

We say silly things like, “Set high expectations and the students will meet them.” But we skip all the things between setting and achieving expectations that are the real work of teaching. What we mean is, “Set high expectations; communicate them effectively, while simultaneously communicating concern and love and respect; reinforce all those things, while not enforcing your high expectations in a way that will damage your relationships or that tries to be too much of a buddy; also check yourself constantly to make sure your expectations are focused on students and are not reflections of your own whiteness or experiences; and then some of your students will meet your high expectations, but not all, and not on all days.”

We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves it’s the full moon, or too close to a long weekend or the weather is weird. We tell ourselves this week is just off, but we’re close, so close, to when things will calm down. Any day now. Calm City, that’s us.

We lie to new teachers. We tell them that teaching is the sort of puzzle there are answers for. We are given what are meant to be answers in the form of new curriculum and online reading nonsense and district initiatives and classroom engagement strategies. We are given uniform approaches for complex problems that are not constant between schools, between classrooms, between days. Here’s an unsolvable equation; the variables always change. Get it right – it’s easy – and don’t forget to show your work. But those big answers aren’t enough. Nothing works well enough for enough kids, except working specifically for each kid. That’s not easy. That’s never easy.

It’s not easy, and it won’t be, no matter how often we tell new teachers that it is, no matter what inspirational speech or email or professional development course tells us how easy it could be if only we all just did this one thing. No matter how much our district and national leaders wish there were easy answers that made teacher ability matter less, it’s not easy. It won’t ever be.

The struggle isn’t just inevitable, it’s important. It shows us where to get better, where to adapt, where to throw out the old answers and come up with some new ones. There’s no better sign that things are going poorly in a room than a teacher who always thinks everything is going just fine.

My name is Tom. I’m a teacher, and I get my butt kicked nearly every day. I get too angry, too disappointed. I have to learn to wear my urgency a little further from the surface. Also, my class is probably too boring still, and I can’t seem to talk for more than thirty seconds without getting interrupted. Some nights I struggle with getting to sleep or staying asleep because I’m worrying about that one kid, or that one class, or what to do next or what to do better. I’m in my 10th year in the classroom, and it still isn’t easy.

It is, on balance, worth it.

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Originally posted on Mr. Rad’s NeighborhoodTom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is Minnesota’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. He writes about teaching. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (And Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” will be available in April 2017,  from the University of Minnesota Press, and can be pre-ordered at amzn.to/2fFkflS.

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