Teaching is a difficult profession. The truth is that every job has its own unique set of challenges. Teaching is no different. This does not mean that everyone should avoid being a teacher. There are also substantial benefits and rewards for those who decide that they want a career in teaching.
There are many problems for teachers that make the profession more complicated than it has to be. These problems sometimes make it feel as if you are constantly fighting an uphill battle. However, most teachers find a way to overcome this adversity. They do not allow obstacles to stand in the way of student learning.
Here are the most common challenges teachers face:
- Overcrowded classrooms and the differences in the students’ backgrounds and needs
Part of what makes teaching a challenging career is the diversity of the students that you teach. Every student is unique having their own background, needs, and learning styles. Teachers cannot use a “cookie cutter” approach to teaching. They have to adapt their instruction to each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.
In classrooms with over 30 students, this challenge cannot be overcome easily. It takes a lot of imagination, as well as time for preparation outside the classes for teachers to reach to every student’s needs.
- Motivation and engagement
Motivating students is a perennially difficult aspect of teaching, so it’s no wonder that there is robust interest in the neuroscience behind motivation. Researchers found that when test subjects could see how their brains were reacting to different motivational strategies on MRI images, they got better using successful approaches. But they also found it exhausting. While not yet applicable to the classroom setting, this neuroscience does offer educators insights into strategies that did and didn’t work, as well as how tiring the process can be.
On a more practical note, an article featuring 20 tips to engage even the most seemingly reluctant students also grabbed readers’ attention. No teaching approach is going to reach every student, so teachers need lots of strategies. When teachers have many ways to present information, to offer varying points of entry, and know how to demonstrate concepts from multiple viewpoints, they can better serve the different needs of their students.
- Increased curriculum responsibility
Over the last century, teachers’ responsibilities have increased significantly. It seems that every year teachers are asked to do more and more. All of these increased responsibilities have come without a significant increase in the length of the school day or the school year meaning that teachers are expected to do more with less.
Alongside discussions about how to instill character, improve school climate and motivate students to do their best work, educators are also continually trying to hone their craft, learning from research about the most effective ways to pull the best thinking out of every child. Often the articles that stimulate the most excitement and debate are not about specific curriculum or tools, but instead grapple with how to improve students’ metacognition. Researchers at Harvard have studied educators who focus on “teaching for understanding” for several years and have narrowed in on some practices that help improve the depth of student thinking.
In math classrooms a similar discussion is raging, with many math teachers looking for strategies to provide multiple entry points into the underlying conceptual topics in the curriculum. At the same time, most math curricula are stuffed with so many standards that teachers struggle to cover them all well. Math teachers are balancing trying to both prepare students for tests and give them the space and time to explore the foundations of math, a key practice to future math success.
- Parents involvement
Often, it feels like there are just two kinds of parents: The ones hunkering in a cave somewhere and the ones camping in your pocket. Unreachable? Or unavoidable. Either way, teachers wish for the kind of parent involvement that supports learning.
Nothing is more frustrating for a teacher than parents who don’t support their efforts to educate their children. Having parental support is invaluable, and the lack of parental support can be paralyzing. When parents aren’t following through with their responsibilities at home, it almost always has a negative impact in the class. Research has proven that children whose parents make education a high priority and stay consistently involved will be more successful academically.
Even the best teachers can’t do it all by themselves. It takes a total team effort from the teachers, parents, and students. Parents are the most powerful link because they are there throughout the child’s life while the teachers will change. There are three essential keys to providing effective parental support. Those include making sure your child knows that education is essential, communicating effectively with the teacher, and ensuring that your child is successfully completing their assignments. If any of these components is lacking, there will be a negative academic impact on the student.
Parents are crucial partners for teachers in the academic and social development of children. Many parents take that responsibility seriously, reading up on how they can prepare their kids for academic success through the myriad of small interactions that happen daily. But the obsession with doing everything right is taking a toll on parents and may not be that great for kids either.
Teachers at the K-12 and university level are beginning to notice a worrying trend of overinvolvement from parents — while well-intended, it is actually depriving kids of crucial learning experiences.
- Excessive standardize testing
Most teachers will tell you that they don’t have a problem with the standardized tests themselves, but how the results are interpreted and used. Many teachers will tell you that you can’t get a true indicator of what any particular student is capable of on a single test on any particular day. This becomes especially frustrating when many students have nothing riding on these tests, but every teacher does.
This over-emphasis has caused many teachers to shift their overall approach to teaching directly to these tests. This not only takes away from creativity, but it can also quickly create teacher burnout. Standardized testing puts a lot of pressure on a teacher to get their students to perform.
One of the main issues with standardized testing is that many authorities outside of education only look at the bottom line of the results. The truth is that the bottom line hardly ever tells the whole story. There is a lot more that should be looked at than just the overall score.
- Students behavior
Increasingly, teachers are being asked to do far more than deliver content, and that shift requires a new set of strategies and a compassionate approach to the job. Often educators are looking for guidance on how they can help kids improve self-control and behavior, as well as address their social and emotional needs.
Managing the behavior of 30 kids in an enclosed space is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching, so it’s no surprise that no teacher knows exactly how to respond to every situation. Yet acting out is a form of communication that can easily be misinterpreted as intentional disobedience or malice. That’s why tips to de-escalate situations with anxious or defiant students, presented by an experienced behavior analyst, was so helpful to educators.
Similarly, more and more educators are beginning to realize how much trauma their students have endured and how their behavior is often a symptom of those experiences. Educators are gravitating to workshops on how to teach with a trauma-informed lens, and are seeking support as they deal with the taxing work of educating children who are suffering intensely.
Early research on mindfulness has found that practices like focusing on one’s breath or intentionally showing gratitude can positively influence executive functioning skills that are also crucial for focusing in class, organizing work and many other cognitive functions. The importance of self-control on life outcomes has been well documented by psychologists, research that educators are now taking advantage of in classrooms.
- Lack of proper funding
School finance has a significant impact on a teacher’s ability to maximize their effectiveness. Factors such as class size, instructional curriculum, supplemental curriculum, technology, and various instructional programs are affected by funding. Most teachers understand that this is completely out of their control, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
In lean times, schools are often forced to make cuts that can’t help but have a negative impact. Most teachers will make due with the resources they are given, but it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t do a better job with more financial backing.
- New technology and internet
Students today are technophiles. They love their video games—all fast-paced and addictive—and they can’t put down their smart phones, tablets, and social networks. And educators? They might also love new technologies, but even if they don’t, they realize that technology often is the key to locking in a student’s interest. The challenge is, how? Deitrya Anderson, a Tulsa teacher, puts those phones “to an educational use” through a site called Wiffiti that receives and displays student questions via text message. Others are using Twitter—sending tweets to students to remind them of key points from the day’s lesson or use it as a language arts tool. Even Facebook has its merits. Susan Colquitt, a New Mexico teacher, says she uses it to answer her students’ questions and mentor them.