EP09: Teaching involves a lot of hard work that is rarely acknowledged. Learn strategies for staying encouraged despite the lack of appreciation, and stay focused on your personal vision!
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.
This episode is brought to you by Riffiti, a really cool new mobile app for learning anything from multiple perspectives. With Riffiti, students can see and hear how 5 or 10 or 100 people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences understood a concept or an idea, as explained in their own words. Go to Riffiti.com to sign up! The app is in the testing phase now, and due to high early demand, will be released to early signups first.
So our topic this week is avoiding discouragement when no one seems to appreciate what you do. Some of us are going to have a much harder time with this due to our specific teaching positions, and there will be certain years when it’s a bigger problem than others. Any teacher who has a super critical or micro-managing administrator is going to struggle with feeling unappreciated. And any teacher who has a parent of a child in their class who is always on their back and critiquing every little thing is also going to be extremely susceptible to discouragement. So between the two scenarios, that’s probably three quarters of the teaching population.
And that’s all really compounded by the fact that teaching is a pretty thankless job by nature, in the same way that parenting is. For every one thing you do that gets noticed and acknowledged, there will be hundreds of other tasks that go without recognition. Most of the hard work you put will be completely behind the scenes, and no one truly understands the time and energy and effort you put into your lessons because no one else is doing exactly what you do, the way you do it.
The more effective you are as a teacher, the more this holds true. Really great teachers make it look effortless. It’s kind of like watching an Olympic gymnast. You see the flips they’re doing on the bars and you think, Wow, that’s easy, I could totally do that! And that’s because of the tremendous amount of talent and training and hard work that gymnast put into the routine to make it look so effortless. So if you’re not constantly telling people how much work you put into getting that good, they may not realize it.
So when you take the fact that people don’t recognize teachers’ hard work unless it’s constantly pointed out to them, and you combine it with the fact that in many schools, teachers are really not getting praised or encouraged or recognized at all, in any meaningful capacity, you’ve got a real issue with teachers feeling unappreciated.
Sometimes we end up either falling into this martyr role where always we’re feeling sorry for ourselves and trying to get other people to feel sorry for us too, or we let the lack of appreciation cause us to wonder if all the hard work is really worth it and we stop trying. I think we need to get real about those traps we fall into.
This podcast isn’t about an ideal teaching situation, it’s about reality. Of course teachers should be appreciated by administrators and parents and students. But we can’t control that. We can only control ourselves and our own choices.
If your sense of accomplishment (or even worse, self-worth) is based on receiving recognition from other people, I’m sorry to tell you that teaching is going to feel pretty unrewarding to you. There will be many days when you work your butt off only to have a parent accuse you of not helping their child, your principal nitpick something in an evaluation, and your students ignore and disrespect you.
I have seen many teachers become completely disillusioned through dwelling on the lack of appreciation they receive. They complain constantly that no one recognizes their hard work or says thank you. Their bitterness toward parents and students, who they perceive as unappreciative, becomes a poison which sucks the life out of their teaching. Every task becomes pointless in their minds because “no one’s going to appreciate it, anyway.”
I’m not saying it’s wrong to want an occasional acknowledgement. I’m saying you cannot base your happiness on whether someone else provides that for you. You cannot allow other people’s actions to determine whether you feel good about your work, and recognition cannot be your primary motivation for working hard.
You have to learn to reflect on and recognize your own work. Practice setting goals and rewarding yourself when you meet them. Build your personal learning network so that you have a group of educators to celebrate your accomplishments with. Don’t be shy about sharing your successes with your educator friends, and help them celebrate their small wins, too.
You also have to return to your vision for teaching over and over again. I’m going to talk about creating a vision in another episode and also in my book Unshakeable. You have to have a clear, driving focus that compels you to do what you do every day. When you are working toward your vision, you tap into intrinsic motivation. And since it’s your vision and no one else’s, only you can recognize or fully appreciate all of your hard work toward it. With a clear vision, you will naturally look inward for validation instead of outward at the people around you.
So, come to terms with the fact that teaching is not a job where you will hear a lot of appreciation and recognition from adults. Do not let that make you bitter or keep you from doing what you’re called to do. Do not let other people’s recognition or lack thereof determine your attitude and motivation level. Recognize your own accomplishments and stay focused on your vision.
But beyond all those things, I think the most important part of avoiding discouragement in a thankless job is believing deeply that you are making a difference, even when you can’t see it.
It surprises a lot of people to hear that I was a horrible student as a child. I never paid attention in class, talked all the time, had indecipherable handwriting, and took the easy way out for pretty much every task. By the time I got to high school, I was completely boy crazy and had zero interest in anything academic. I was lazy, disorganized, and unmotivated.
I’m sure I drove my teachers nuts. Some of them were patient with me, and others seemed to give up immediately after meeting me and figuring out my ‘type.” I’m sure none of them imagined that one day, I’d be an entrepreneur running my own educational consulting business and publishing company. (Angela?! ANGELA giving advice on how to be organized and stay motivated?!) Even my mom has commented on the irony that a girl whose bedroom looked like a pigsty all through her childhood is now teaching other people how to be organized.
I am grateful to my parents who never gave up on me and to those teachers who kept trying to engage me even though I completely ignored them. They realized there’s no such thing as a hopeless case, and that children are always capable of change and improvement..
There IS very little immediate gratification in our work, and we have to learn to live with that. Teaching is very much like the sowing of seeds … it takes months or even years to see the fruit of your labor at times. Often the payoff from your efforts won’t be evident until long after a student has left your classroom.
Trust that your hard work will manifest in positive ways for a very long time to come. When you teach, you don’t always get a recognition in the short term, but you do leave a legacy. You have a choice of what that legacy will be.
Next week: A special surprise guest is joining us!
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