What makes teaching so hard?

What is it about teaching that evokes so much feeling from people? Is it the fact that we believe it matters so much? Is it the fact that it is so difficult? Is it because we are constantly moving the goalposts?

I believe, a major factor is that we never really know what the end “results” are the way people in other careers do. We never truly see what happens to the people whose lives we are but a fleeting part of. Furthermore, we are not truly sure what those end “results” should be. We don’t really know whether we are supposed to be nurturing the next generation of businessmen, care-givers, politicians, musicians, writers or… teachers. We basically operate on a kind of human conveyor belt, along which comes a never-ending and constantly different series of young people and, of course, none of them get off the conveyor belt in the same place or at the same time. In fact, to take a silly analogy even further, there isn’t even one conveyor belt.

Does this play with our sense of purpose so intensely as to leave us all perpetually in a state of dissatisfaction with ourselves and how well we do our jobs? I think it does for me. It certainly leads me to go online and find other people to talk to about it, at the strangest times! (At the moment, I am sitting in the airport bar in Ho Chi Minh City).

It is no surprise we are such a confused bunch. It is no surprise that the collective wisdom of teachers is in constant flux. It is no surprise that it is so hard to put together a group of teachers who genuinely see eye-to-eye.

But, do we need to see eye-to-eye? Isn’t that kind of groupthink the first ingredient of mediocrity? Don’t we need to make sure disagreement and discourse remain a fundamental part of our profession and, indeed, seep right down into the way our classrooms operate.  After all, we must all be quite terrified by the “like”, “like”, “like” culture that our modern kids are growing up in… fearful of being controversial or of disagreeing in case they get “unfriended” or “unfollowed”.

Perhaps we can all agree to disagree. Or at least, to agree that disagreeing is important. And, to make sure disagreement becomes a vital part of the way we teach, and the way our students develop. With so much in the world designed to trick us, fool us, hide the truth from us and basically treat us all like idiots who are too afraid or apathetic to question anything… surely healthy and informed disagreement may be the only really important attribute of a 21st century learner!



  1. Lana

    Thanks for stretching my thinking again Sam! I think the key words are ‘healthy’ and ‘informed’ disagreements. It’s always great for our ideas/ beliefs to be challenged as it helps to clarify and refine our thinking. Loved the post!

    • sherrattsam

      Learning to disagree in an informed and healthy way should certainly be part of a good education. Unfortunately, many of us never learned it!!! It is not too late, however, and teachers can quickly learn to change habits and harness the power of disagreement.

  2. Lara

    Thank you! It IS important to disagree and we so easily forget. Leadership teams / administrative teams often forget that they do not always stay as up to do date with the curve of the wave as teachers do. They are removed from the front row buzz and emotion teachers experience. Hence, this sense of disappointment or discouragement can occur. This can add to why teachers can feel vulnerable about such disagreements. Teachers are so good at making a climate of risk taking, support and encouragement, but schools sometimes miss the need to do the same for teachers. But, I am so pleased to read your post and be reminded of the big picture. Thank you for being an educator who inspires and teaches me. Hope you made your flight!

    • sherrattsam

      Thanks, Lara. You are spot on when you highlight the need for teachers to be given the same opportunities and to put in the same contexts/cultures as the ones they create for their students. Like everything, we cannot just assume that it happens, we must deliberately and purposefully create the culture by showing that we value it.

      I did make my flight – thanks!

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