Every working parent experiences at least a small nagging feeling that what they are doing is never enough. We struggle ardently to be everything to everyone and usually feel like we're failing.
Some teachers experience this as well.
It's the sad and uncomfortable feeling like we're not reaching everyone. So it's like parent guilt amplified exponentially since we have many more kids than we do actual biological children.
Over time teachers develop close relationships with students, becoming invested in their successes, and carrying the burdens of their failures. We work hard to shift the frame of how these situations are felt and seek to positively impact as many kids as we can.
The fact is, none of us want to feel responsible for that kid who slipped through the cracks.
So we try extra hard to notice, putting our own situations aside, personal disagreements or drama to recognize that one kid who seems to be sitting alone with his/her head down. We want to understand why and if we can for even a small moment, make that child smile, maybe even get them to open up, then we've done our job for that day.
Teaching is so much more than facilitating learning. It's about helping to raise responsible citizens who are self-aware and capable of existing in our world. There is an understanding on some level that it is impossible to get them all, but that certainly doesn't stop most of us from trying.
There are some ways that teachers can combat this guilt or at least keep it in check...
Be the best version of yourself for as many days as you can, being vigilant and responsive to as many kids as possible.
Accept that you won't reach EVERY child EVERY day (but know if you miss one today, you'll start with them tomorrow)
Every day is a new day, don't allow yourself to carry baggage. It's a beautiful thing in education to be able to start from scratch repeatedly
Allow your humanness to show through. It's okay to not be perfect and it's even better to share that reality with your students.
Make mistakes. Make lots of them. Be transparent about making them. Problem-solve together
Work smarter, not harder... wherever you can put the students in charge of their own learning, do it. Don't hesitate. Just put in their hands and help them in class.
Teach them to be great providers of feedback so that you don't have to be the only expert in the room.
Train yourself to compartmentalize your personal life from your school life. Often, unintentionally we project our issues onto our students. Although this can certainly generate a level of empathy that can be useful, it can also backfire.
Get close to your students, but don't make them your friends. We are teachers in a position of authority and although we can love our kids as much as we can, they aren't our contemporaries. As long as they are students in your school, there should be boundaries. Make them clear.
Know when it's time or essential to blur the boundaries. There are exceptions to every rule. Although it isn't recommended that we blur the lines for every student, there will be some it is appropriate and necessary to do so with.
Your own family comes first. There will be times where you feel responsible and your workday bleeds into your home time; if possible, try to put your children first to avoid resentment.
Being a teacher is similar to being a parent, but they aren't the same thing. We have a responsibility as a teacher to adhere to what our job is and know when to keep our emotions out of it. Of course, most of us passionate types have a hard time doing that, so we need to keep our self-expectations realistic or burn out will be imminent.
How do you avoid teacher guilt? Share your tips
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in May 2015