Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Frustrations of a Teacher

frustrationI recently heard from a reader and her email made my heart hurt for her. I wanted to share with you her email and then share my answer below it.

“While I try very hard to take much of your advice to heart, I find it can be very hard... I do not get a lunch break on more days than not. I do not have a planning period. And I find, no matter how organized I get, once I am in the building for an hour (or two, at best), I am no longer organized. (And I am borderline OCD about being clean and organized!!) I take vitamins (and use Airborne), but have been sick more this year than ever in my lifetime. I am exhausted when I get home and should keep up with school on the weekends, but I'm usually too drained to even BEGIN to think about work. (But really - I LOVE my kiddos, my classroom and my job!) 

I do not cry often, and I've cried twice in the past 48 hours over something work-related. I am stressed, frazzled, and frustrated... and it is NOT me! 

How does one continue at this profession without being worn out and worn down daily?! 

My biggest problem as of late is that I have 7 students - all kindergarten and special needs - and 5 of them have what I would consider major behavior issues. One in particular. She is, without a doubt, my difficult child. She came to me in October from a gen ed classroom setting where she was set up, basically, to fail. Mom pushed for the gen ed class, but she was not ready for that... She is diagnosed with Down's Syndrome, as well as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. She came to me kicking, hitting, spitting, biting and pinching grown-ups and her classmates. We've eliminated MUCH of that behavior - although she did slap me in the face last week, which resulted in a flip to red and being sent home. However, she continues to throw herself on the ground, kick over tables, throw chairs and refuse to do a multitude of everyday tasks that even my most stubborn students will do without so much as a flinch. She is also a runner, has to be accompanied by an adult staff EVERYWHERE she goes, and has pica. 

I believe shortly after she came, three of my other formerly well-behaved students (one Autistic, one non-verbal/OHI, and one ODD/CD) began displaying many of her mannerisms. Saying no instead of complying, being very loud and defiant, screaming instead of sitting on the carpet at morning meeting. 

I think my hair is turning grey as  I type. 

Any advice? 

I think the most frustrating part of this entire situation is that I WENT TO SCHOOL FOR THIS. I have a Master's Degree and cannot control my children! I can't imagine how their parents feel, because many of these kiddos display the same behaviors at home. 

Absolutely any help you can give me would be adored.”

First of all, don’t feel alone. Many times I have felt the way you described. Don’t feel like there is anything wrong with the way you feel either. I remember thinking that if I was a “good” teacher, I wouldn’t feel like this but I was wrong. Many of the “good” teachers feel like this but have found ways to deal with these feelings.

I’m also concerned that you don’t have a lunch period. I believe by law that you must have one so I’m not sure if not having one is one that you control or your administration. If the administration hasn’t given you one, you need to get that corrected immediately. If for some reason, you are working through your lunch time, then you need to stop. You need to make yourself stop and give yourself a break for your physical health as well as your mental health. I used to work through lunches and many evenings at home until one day I lost all my hair on my head. After many doctors visits due to this traumatic experience, it was determined that stress caused this. I began exercising and eating right and eventually my hair grew back. I realized that even though I wanted to be the best teacher I could be, letting my health decline was not the way I was going to do this. In fact, it made me a less effective teacher rather than more.

One thing I have done (and still do), is make a list at night of all the things I want to accomplish the next day. Then I prioritize them either by relisting them in order of importance or numbering them. Then the next day I follow that list. I don’t jump around the list unless there is something keeping me from completing a previous item. As I finish each thing, I mark it off. This visual of marked items keep my spirits up. I also gave myself pats on the back for doing a good job.

As for the copying behavior of the other students, I would give extra praise and rewards for times they are not copying her behavior. They may be doing this because they see that her bad behavior is getting her more attention.

Another thing I have done is calling up parents and bragging about their children when they have done something right. The more I did this, the more pleased the parents were and bragged to their children. This made the children get more attention for appropriate behavior and tried harder in class. At times when I was feeling discouraged or frustrated, I would make extra calls like this and the parents appreciating and excitement helped me realize that I was making a difference.

You talk about catching up on weekend but do you have any hobbies outside of school work? I think it is important to find something outside education to give your mind a rest. That is one way that I kept from getting so burned out. Over the years, I have had several hobbies and when I lost interest in one hobby, I found another one.

I know that it will take time for you to figure out a system that works for you. Every year you teach, you will tweak this system until it gets better and better. Eventually you will overcome this general feeling of confusion and frustration. This does not mean that at times you won’t feel this way but you won’t feel it every day you wake up. I know I felt this way every time I moved to a new school and it took me at least a year to settle in.
My last piece of advice is this: Don’t give up! If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be worried. Knowing that you care means a lot but it isn’t enough. You need to take of yourself physically and emotionally.

To my other readers out there, have you ever felt like this teacher? If so, how did you deal with these feelings? Please share.

mage: 'Day 15--Frustration'
Found on


Sioux said...


Your advice was wonderful. Yes, it is crucial that this teacher develops a life outside of school. Go to a "happy hour" with your colleagues, even if you're not a drinker. I was--at different phases of my teaching career--eager for staff happy hours, but only drank soda. It wasn't the was the fellowship, the laughter, the socialization I craved. Go out to dinner with a teaching colleague after school. Insist on a lunch time and a planning time. An educator cannot help their kids if they're worn down and exhausted and emotionally drained.

And rejoice in the fact that every year is different. But if you see the same thing will happen next year (same group of kids, same problems) consider changing schools within the district, or changing districts, if you find YOU change but are up against impossible-to-move obstacles.

Pat Hensley said...

@Sioux Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you found time for "happy hour!" Great suggestions!

fancyboots said...

Thanks, Pat!

I'm just now responding to this... But I actually took the day off today to rest and drink tea and finish up IEPs. I took it as a "sick" day, thinking, 'If I don't take a day, I'm GOING to be sick!'

I think making a list and crossing things off will help a ton. I'm a list-maker by nature because, like you said, it feels good to cross things off.

I have a neighbor kindergarten teacher that is brand new also; she is literally right next door to my classroom. She and I talk often, and that seems to help. We are actually planning on going to lunch this weekend.

And, I am a beekeeper on the side... it is one of my hobbies. I also like to sew, and have several friends having babies soon - so I should be working on baby quilts! I can definitely take a ton of your advice...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! It truly means a ton.

Mar said...

Oh how I wish I had never felt this way, but I have many times. I currently have a boy with autism that has behavior that is very difficult. I teach an autism support class. Everyone has given you good advice, my one admonition would be to consider your needs as much as you consider the needs of your students. You need your breaks, you need your planning, you need your lunch. If you have a union, they should support you in getting these needs met. Also, be careful about what behavior plan you are using, be sure it isn't rendered useless in the first five minutes of class. Sometimes the red yellow green flip cards can be like that. Take a look at Randy Sprick's work, a book called Champs. Good luck and hang in there.

Pat Hensley said...

@Mar Thanks for adding your point of view and advice to this post!