Difficulties Teaching K-12

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“A good teacher is someone who cares about others, and loves to explain things,” one teacher writes. “Jr. High teachers have no fear of standing in front of a classroom full of disinterested teenagers, trying to get them interested in the day’s topic. Elementary teachers don’t mind wiping runny noses.”

There are many things to consider when deciding which level-elementary, middle school, or high school-of K-12 you would like to teach. People may think, for example, that high school or elementary school would be the easiest grades to teach. However, high school teachers have to know how to help curb drop-out rates, delinquent absences, drug use, and pregnancy, and elementary teachers need to have lots of energy to keep up with the kids. The truth is that there is no easy grade to teach and no easy teaching job. Here is a bit of a breakdown of the difficulties encountered when teaching the K-12 years:

Elementary school – Elementary school teachers have to have a lot of energy. Attention spans are at their lowest. Lessons cannot last too long before moving on to keep the kids focused and productive. One teacher told me to be aware that the kids know they are cute and will use it against you. She says staying strict has helped her a lot, so the kids know that she means what she says when she says it. Another elementary teacher told CTI interviewers: “The army is wrong… This is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Don’t go into it if you are not tough, caring and have a lot of love and compassion to spare!” she advised.

Middle School – Kids in middle school are starting to really test the boundaries. They have a little better attention span but, as with every level, need to be engaged and pushed to their highest potential. Middle-schoolers often have fully developed attitudes as well, and might challenge the teacher with words like “uncool” and “unfair” a lot. Another difficulty with these tweens is to not over- or under- estimate them. Underestimating them would allow them to be lazy and not reach their fullest potentials; some suggest over-estimating them (rather than under-challenging them) is the lesser of the two evils, because they could end up rising up to the challenge and impress even you with their capabilities, if put to the test.

Middle school teachers also need to know how to diffuse rude remarks and hormones. In a teaching story reported by the New York Times, for example, teacher Corinne Kaufman demonstrates that to survive teaching middle school you need a unique set of skills including the ability to diffuse situations such as the following: her student called her a “fat lady” one day and she retorted with “voluptuous,” turning the moment into a vocab lesson. “Teaching middle schoolers is like working with a herd of wild fillies,” wrote middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron in her blog. “You have to rein ’em in and give them slack, rein ’em in and give them slack.” Another teacher writes, “Rule #1… in middle school, there are no rules.”

High School – The high school kids often have begun to think they know everything, even better than you. In high school you as the teacher have the opportunity to push them to expand and open up to the world around them as well as to their own potential. If you don’t make this progress with them, they may feel and remain isolated, believing that they belong where they are categorized.

Also, administrators are not the only ones who have to deal with delinquency, absences and behavioral problems. Teachers, in fact, are much more involved with the students on a daily basis and therefore carry with them the responsibility to try and encourage their students in the right direction. This can sometimes make a difference, and sometimes cannot, especially if outside influences are too destructive. However, the teacher has a duty only to give the student their best effort, and never give up on them.

One Ohio history teacher shared his thoughts on what he believes are the hardest parts about teaching high school:

• They are still kids, although you may sometimes be inclined to talk to them like adults-don’t.

• Missing school, skipping class, and dropping out is at a higher rate.

• They question everything and sometimes not nicely.

• Pregnancy rates.

• Premature deaths due to new drivers or alcohol.

• Attitude, attitude, attitude (not like middle school, but its there).

• Not as much parental involvement-sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes a bad thing.

• Many uncaring toward their future, most teens can’t see past the end of their noses, and no realization of their actions sometimes.

• Funny, witty, make you laugh and in the same instance make you want to shake your finger at them to be good.

“Teaching is a hard job, if you do it right. And, if you’re not willing to do it right, kids suffer,” an elementary teacher said to CTI interviewers.

“It takes energy,” a young elementary teacher said to me. She loves it, and loves teaching elementary students, but has learned to not let them get away with everything just because they are adorable.

“It’s not a job to do for the money,” another teacher urged. Teaching is a job you have to love, she explained.

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