I feel like I’m failing as a teacher. I feel like I’m failing as a teacher and I’m drowning. I wrote those words and many others explaining my feelings one Friday, not too long ago, sitting in my classroom at about 5:55 p.m. after spending hours working. I wrote it after a long week teaching virtually and in person and I meant every word of it. It is weeks later, a new year has started and after much trial and error and making some changes, I do not struggle as much with the feeling that I am failing as a teacher.
You might be thinking, “It’s natural to feel like you’re failing, especially for teachers who have so much to do. You may think it’s even more understandable that I feel that way, especially right now, with all the current challenges that teachers, and many others, are facing. For me, however, feeling as if I’m failing as a teacher did not feel natural.
Why didn’t the feeling that I am failing as a teacher feel natural? Well, I am a veteran teacher. This is year fifteen in my teaching career. I have bachelor of arts degrees in English and Spanish, a master of education degree in early childhood education and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. It is always my goal to be an excellent teacher: to inspire, to care, to motivate, to challenge and to, well, get the job done right, but this school year, for months I couldn't shake the thought or feeling that I’m failing as a teacher.
You know what makes the fact that I feel that I’m failing as a teacher hard to swallow? It’s several things actually. First, I am coming in early and leaving late, like at 5:30 p.m. or later every afternoon late. Second, I am painstakingly replying to emails, texts and Remind messages from students and parents. Third, I am updating my Google Classroom with detailed steps and printable resources, learning and using well researched instructional tools, recording videos and lessons for my students and hosting twice daily Google Meets lessons, all while juggling my in person students. Most importantly, I am constantly wracking my brain to think of fun, but virtual; hands on, but accessible, experiences for ALL my students, regardless of whether they are in class or virtual, but still I feel that I’m failing as a teacher.
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Why do I feel that I’m failing as a teacher?
Well, I’ll explain. I feel that I'm failing as a teacher because I cannot fix the child’s mic at home that will not work. I feel that I'm failing as a teacher because there are times when I cannot make my view board share its screen to the virtual students at home or make the internet connect or comfort my student/s whose experiment did not work.
I feel that I’m failing as a teacher because I cannot make the young child in class understand why I tend to call on the student/s at home, while we're having a joint lesson, to help them feel connected to the class. I feel that I’m failing as a teacher because I need to go and check my email at times to help walk a student through how to turn in their work when there may be a student in the room wanting my attention right then.
I definitely feel that I am failing as a teacher and a mom because I cannot help my own child to understand. I feel that I'm failing as a teacher because I can't make him understand why we must get to school so early and leave so late and why he has to let mommy work at her computer to check the emails, update her Google Classroom and record the videos.
Now, I think you fully understand why I feel that I’m failing as a teacher. Maybe you feel like I do, too. At least that is the way I was feeling, but then I came to a realization on another Friday at about 6:00 p.m. That day, I was walking with my 4 year old, out of the building, after talking with a parent who was at the end of his rope from trying to help his virtual student get through online learning. Here is what I realized.
Coming to a realization about feeling that I am failing as a teacher
That Friday, I realized that I had to fight the feeling that I am failing as a teacher. I realized that I had to try to see things differently. I realized that despite all of the challenges and things that don't go as planned that I am a great teacher who is doing her absolute best to swim in the worst of times. I realized that I could only pray that my parents see my heart and my efforts. I realized that I had to take heart in the smiles and feedback I received from students and parents who recognized how hard I was working. I realized that it was important that I didn't entertain the feeling that I’m failing as a teacher because that would definitely affect my ability to teach well.
Having these thoughts and this internal struggle made me want to create this post to help other educators who may be feeling like failures as teachers. Here are my 7 Guaranteed ways to Win When You Think “I’m Failing as a Teacher.”
1. Take Care of Yourself
The number one thing you need to do when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is to take care of yourself. If you’re anything like me those thoughts will drive you to work more, not eat or eat whatever is handy, which may not be the healthiest, sleep less due to worry, and before you know it, you will be of no use to yourself, much less to your students and their parents.
This is why my first guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher is to take care of yourself. Establish procedures and put plans in place to care for yourself. Some of the things I personally practice are meal prepping. Meal prepping, on the weekend, before the chaos of the week sets in helps me to have healthy, delicious meals. I even have a go to list of fast and easy meal prep recipes I can use when I am short on time. I also try to exercise for at least 30 minutes daily and have started setting boundaries about the time I go to bed and the minimum amount of sleep I get daily. Another thing that I do is to keep myself motivated. My methods of self care may not be the same as yours, maybe you need some shopping and pampering, but do what you need to do to take care of yourself, so that you can win even when you feel that you are failing as a teacher.
2. Show Your Students that You Love Them
The second guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is to smother your students in love. Praise their efforts on classwork, thank them for contributing to the class discussion, schedule one on one or group conferences for students at home to check in with you. In addition, do read alouds, take time to joke and laugh together, plan fun virtual and in class activities and of great importance, please listen to them. One of the best things you can do to combat the feeling “I’m failing as a teacher” is to love and engage with your students. Below are two badges, and the link to download them, that you can virtually use to praise and recognize virtual students and their parents for working hard.
3. Get your Students and Parents Involved
The third guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is to involve your parents and students. What do I mean by that? Ask them for feedback on how to create the best classroom virtually and in person. Check to see what their thoughts are on how you’re delivering instruction, the assignments, your schedule etc. Checking in with parents and students is one of the things that I did that helped me get over the “I’m failing as a teacher” feeling. Parents and students were able to let me know what was going well, what wasn’t going well and what they needed from me. Overall, they had more positives than negatives to share which definitely helped me to shake the “I’m failing as a teacher” funk.
4. Ask for Help
The fourth guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is possibly the most difficult one for me to do. I have a difficult time asking for help. I want to do it all, help everyone and do it perfectly, but that is simply not realistic. Keeping that type of mindset is damaging for everyone involved. Ask other teachers for help with finding engaging resources for students. Ask what they are doing in person and virtually that’s working. If they are able to help you may want to give them a small token of your appreciation. Also, ask your spouse or family for a few moments after work to decompress and shake off the day. Ask anyone in your life who has the tools and ability to help you for their help, so that you will be able to get rid of that “I’m failing as a teacher” feeling.
5. Join, Follow and Participate in Teacher Groups
My fifth guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” will help you to have a support system that understands what you’re facing, which is extremely important. Feeling alone in your failure only makes that feeling grow, but being able to talk to and connect with others who are going through the same challenges will help in so many ways. You’ll get to vent, but even better you’ll get to come up with and find solutions from others who’ve been there and have come out on the other side from the “I’m failing as a teacher” darkness.
6. Be Flexible
The sixth guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is to be flexible. Half of the time when you are stressing out over something that didn’t go as planned no one except for you is aware of it. If you choose instead to be flexible and adapt as best as you can, you will be fine and will triumph over that I'm failing as a teacher feeling.
7. Use the Resources that are Available
The seventh guaranteed way to win when you think “I’m failing as a teacher” is to use the resources that are available to you. There are so many resources that have been created in response to the wide range of educational needs we are facing and many of them are free. Use those resources to your students and your advantage. I have created a few that you may find helpful. Here are two resources, one to celebrate Children's Book Week and another to help students learn about MLK. Here's another on excellent writing prompts for kids, one on how to use flexible seating in your classroom and another on facts you need to know for back to school. These resources will help to solve many of the problems you’re facing, such as student engagement, but especially feeling that you are failing as a teacher.
8. Know Your Limits
I cannot emphasize the eight guaranteed way to win when you think “I am failing as a teacher” enough. It is to know your limits. Listen to your body, protect your mental health and remember to make time for your family and loved ones. Sometimes things just will not work. A sore spot for me this year is my chess club. Historically, I teach and work with my returning team to prepare for tournaments and to compete. However, this year I have not been able to find a way to do so safely, so as painful as it is, we haven’t met. I’m hopeful some online methods I’m researching will work and we’ll be able to meet even briefly this year, but if not I will accept it and try to resist the feeling that I am failing as a teacher.
9. Stop Comparing
This was another huge reason I was feeling as if I was a failure as a teacher, comparison. I was comparing my teaching this year to previous years. I was comparing myself to other teachers, who were not teaching students online and in person simultaneously, and on and on. Take my advice and stop. Comparison is awful in and of itself, but it is even worse right now when we are for the most part trying to do the best we can to survive a challenging situation.
When those feelings of failure creep up, know that It is perfectly fine to set the bar high, it is fine to use others as guides for what you can or should do, but don’t compare what you’re achieving to others. Instead, set about doing the best you can and give yourself some grace. Remember, to fight the feeling “ I am failing as a teacher,” because as long as you’re trying to be the best you can for your students, it simply isn’t true.
I would like to leave some final thoughts with you:
Teachers: You are not failures and you should not give in to that feeling. Love yourself, your students and do the best that you can do. Even when you fail at something, a lesson or a new educational tool, know that you are not a failure. You are superheroes, even if no one says it.
For those of you teachers who are also parents:
Parents: Thank you! I know you are trying your best to teach your students, navigate all these changes, teach your own child/children, work from home, be at school, practice new cleaning and safety procedures, keep the house clean, check assignments and on and on. I see you and I know the struggle. I appreciate your support and even more, so do your children, all of them.
We have all felt or currently feel that we are failing as teachers or drowning, but if we hold on to each other and relax a bit, we will float and this too will pass. If I can be of assistance to you, please let me know. Again, I want to emphatically say, do not give in to the feeling that “I am failing as a teacher.”
Before You Go
One of the things that I have done to try to help teachers and parents, who may be feeling like a failure at this time, is to create resources to teach preschoolers. I have included several below. I hope they will be helpful to you. If you like what you’ve read, consider subscribing to the blog by clicking the join button above and please come back soon to see the most recently added tools.