The 21st-Century Teacher: Burned Out and Powerless But Staying For the Kids

The 21st-Century Teacher: Burned Out and Powerless But Staying For the Kids

“The kids make it all worth it.”

I’ve heard this phrase more than once from teachers who’ve gone before me. I believed them; it turns out the statement is true. If it weren’t for my love for those kids, I wouldn’t be a teacher.

I do, however, wish someone would have told me about how hard of a decision it would be to stay every year when those contracts come out. I had no idea that, as a teacher, I’d have a constant internal battle with myself about whether it was worth it to stay in this career, use the degree I worked so hard for, and stick it out as a 21st-century teacher.

Before I became a teacher, I saw men and women leaving the profession, and I thought, “Why?!”

I would think, “You get summers off, you only have to work until 3:30 p.m., you have a consistent schedule, and you get to spend your days in your own classroom with the kids you chose to work with!”

I’m ashamed at some of the thoughts I had towards struggling teachers before becoming one myself. Now that I’m knee-deep in the struggle myself, I can only be thankful that I never voiced these opinions aloud. 

Teaching isn’t the empowering and life-giving role I anticipated it to be—instead, I often feel powerless and completely burned out. What I thought would be a fulfilling career has left me absolutely depleted; the things I thought would give me control have left me feeling the most chaotic.

I am so tired of running in circles and not feeling like enough—but if we don’t stay, who will? There will be no one left to teach these precious souls that need guidance. The knowledge of that alone has this hold on us, ensuring that we stay right where we are—up against the wall and not sure where to turn. 

We’re held up against this wall by many things—good insurance, job stability, fear. The biggest clencher will always be the kids, though. They’ve got an undeniable hold on our hearts. We know they deserve someone who cares like us. 

So what do we do? We deal. We manage. We rise to every occasion, we grade a million papers, we enter grades and objectives and lesson plans. We discipline, we break up fights and disagreements, we counsel, we try to understand. We teach when we can, in those small windows of time where we’re not completing some other monotonous, arbitrary task bestowed on us by someone who doesn’t know what our students really need. We smile—because attitude is contagious and we can’t let negativity spill over to our students. We hide the frustration because when we air it, we’re met with eye rolls and dismissiveness and people asking—“Who do you think you are?”

We’re 21st-century teachers. We have more tasks than any teachers who’ve gone before us, and even more expectations. We have more distractions and less actual instructional time. We have less control in our classrooms and less power to do anything about it. 

However, one thing will never change about teachers—no matter what era or expectations they’re met with—

We’re all in it for the kids. That’s what keeps us going.

Also Read:

The 21st-Century Teacher: Burned Out and Powerless But Staying For the Kids

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Whitney Ballard is a writer and teacher from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, https://trainsandtantrums.blog/. Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holding a Master’s degree in Education; she writes about her journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens on her blog. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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