5 min Read

Chalk Talk: Teacher Guilt

Teacher Guilt

We all know about parent guilt; it’s the way you feel when you realize you’re spending more time at work and less time with your child. How about that sinking feeling you get when your child is struggling in school? Well, you’re not alone. That other person in your child’s life, the one who spends almost as much (if not more) time with your child, experiences teacher guilt.
Parents, you can be our greatest allies, but sometimes you’re also one of the more challenging  aspects of teaching. During my second year of teaching, I moved to a school that had a very involved parent community. My class was scheduled to sing a song in the monthly assembly and I failed to send home a note telling parents about it. I quickly learned what a seismic error that was. The following day, a parent came into my classroom and started yelling at me about how “thoughtless” I was to not inform parents about the assembly. It hadn’t crossed my mind to send home a note about a school assembly. Maybe I was too distracted by just getting by each day (which, when you’re a new teacher, that’s all you can do). I was also quite young at the time and didn’t think like a parent. Not only did I feel guilty, but I also felt like the worst teacher and human ever!
On the bright side, it was a learning experience. Today, my monthly newsletters are so detailed and informative that I find I’m actually getting peeved when I see it still inside a child’s backpack a week later and obviously not read. Clearly, I’m not at the same school anymore.

Do you remember taking the oath before you became a parent that promised you would be a perfect role model with no bad habits and only redeeming qualities once you became a mom or dad? Well, teachers don’t take that oath either. Let me shatter some illusions for you: Teachers are far from perfect. In fact, we’re just as messed up as everybody else. When you teach four- and five-year-olds you can get away with wearing the same outfit two days in a row, being a little tired, or messing up a lesson. When you teach grade 5, it’s almost as if you have 60 eyes waiting for you to make a mistake.
I think I’m a pretty good role model but I admit to one really bad habit: Diet Coke. I can’t very well teach a lesson on healthy eating, which includes how bad pop is for you, and then have it on my desk after lunch, can I?
I’ve also learned never to promise to do something and not follow through; I remember too well
the time I swore to mark their science tests for the next day, only to fall asleep on the couch after dinner. You’d be surprised how disappointed their little faces were when they learned they were not getting the test back. I don’t expect perfection from myself but I do know that as a teacher I am a built-in role model. When I make mistakes that show I’m human, I feel like I’ve failed them.

Here’s a controversial subject you never hear teachers talk about: how we really feel about our students. In an ideal world, we would treat all of our students the same and like them equally. I try to be equitable but I have to admit that some students are just harder to like.
After two years with Ryan I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like him. I know he’s someone’s child and yes, he is only five years old, but he drives me crazy. I know why he acts the way he does: he has absolutely no structure or discipline at home. But that doesn’t make me like him any better.
As I write this I realize that I should be more patient with him as he doesn’t have the proper role models outside of school, but I’m not going to lie and say I’m not looking forward to him leaving my classroom next year. I’ve already started the countdown.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teacher guilt. Seeing some students progress so little after a year with you, not getting everything on your to-do list done before you go home and being sick and leaving your kids in the care of a supply teacher are just a few other sources. Then there’s the guilt put on us by “teacher-haters.” These are the people that see us as “moneyhungry” (strike anyone?), “always on vacation” “lazy bums” who “only work from 9 to 3:30.” Besides the fact they’re sadly mistaken, it angers me that I have to justify how hard we work.
I guess a teacher who doesn’t ever feel guilty probably doesn’t love teaching. Feeling guilty shows that I care. So bring it on!

Published May 2010

Related Articles