The question every teacher has asked themselves at some point-am I a bad teacher?
Has this question been buzzing around in your head lately? Is it a recent occurrence or have you found yourself asking “am I a bad teacher?” for some time now?
I’ll be honest with you from the start. This is not an easy question and the solution won’t necessarily be found in this, or any other, blog post. However, I hope to help you explore this question further so that you can come closer to an answer and make the right decisions for you.
Before we delve further though, I want to assure you that whatever you are as a teacher is the not the total sum of who you are as a person. Teaching is a very intensive profession and it can be easy to view your life and your self-worth entirely through lesson observations and grade targets. Remember:
- You are a person (a kind/funny/creative/ambitious/friendly/dedicated/trustworthy/respectful/resourceful-delete as appropriate and feel free to add your own-person)
- Who happens to be a teacher (and may decide either now or in the future that teaching is no longer the career for them or may decide that teaching is their life-long passion)
As hard as it can be, try to remove ‘yourself’ from the question “am I a bad teacher?” and focus on viewing this as an objective question about your future career options.
Let’s start at the beginning.
How long have you been asking yourself “am I a bad teacher?”
Have you had a rough lesson (or lessons) today that has caused you to doubt your teaching skills?
Have you recently moved to a new school and are struggling to find your feet?
Have you been asking yourself this question for many weeks (or months or years) and it is becoming harder to ignore?
Understanding what has led you to question whether you are a bad teacher is key. All teachers (and yes, I will be so bold as to claim all teachers) have questioned their abilities at some point in their career. Having these doubts it not necessarily a bad sign or a sign that you are a bad teacher. That being said, it can lead to stress and/or anxiety which you shouldn’t have to deal with either-take a look at this blog post for tips on how to use meditation to combat stress:
6 types of meditation for teachers to try
See if you can think of when you first started to wonder if you were a bad teacher. Was there a particular trigger for it? Note down what you can remember and how you felt at the time.
It may be worth keeping a journal for a short while and writing down every day where you find yourself asking “am I a bad teacher?” or even thinking that you are a bad teacher (remember to also note down when you feel good about your teaching!). You may find that there is a pattern or certain events that set off your thinking. This can help you to identify what exactly is making you doubt your teaching abilities.
Why did you become a teacher?
It will also be helpful for you to remember exactly why you went into teaching in the first place.
- Was it a passion for your subject?
- A desire to work with children?
- A wish to have a meaningful and fulfilling career?
Consider whether you still feel the same. Life is changing all the time. What drove us ten years ago could be very different to what drives us now.
If you still feel that teaching is the job you want to do, then we need to look at why you are asking if you are a bad teacher and whether there is any truth in that statement.
What is a bad teacher?
I believe that a truly bad teacher is a teacher who does not care whether they are good or bad.
The very fact that you are here, questioning and wondering, demonstrates that you do care.
You want to be a good teacher.
You are wondering whether you really are a good teacher.
You already have one of the most important qualities of a teacher. You care about teaching.
Well done you!
Rather than thinking about whether you are a bad teacher, instead, re-frame the question to “Are you the teacher that you want to be? “
Removing the idea of ‘bad’ and it’s connotations with ‘not being good enough’ or ‘failing’ can help to remove the negative emotions you may be experiencing. It also turns your thinking towards the future rather than the past (by switching from ‘what have I done’ to ‘what can I do in the future’)
Are you the teacher that you want to be?
In order to answer this question, you will have to spend some time thinking about what teacher you want to be.
What are your goals and ambitions when it comes to teaching?
How do you want to be viewed by students?
How do you want to be viewed by other teachers?
How do you want to be viewed by Ofsted?
What sort of lessons do you want to deliver?
How do you want to feel at the end of a school-day/school-term?
Spend some time honestly thinking about these questions and any others that you have. Write down your answers in as much detail as possible.
Now, go through your questions and answer them based on what you feel right now about yourself as a teacher. Do this at a time when you are not feeling especially low about your teaching as you are liable to be too hard on yourself.
Compare your answers. How close are you to being the teacher you want to be?
If you feel you are some way away from it, don’t panic. That doesn’t mean you have to hand in your resignation letter tomorrow. Instead, you can start to unpick the questions and your answers to them.
Are you being too hard on yourself?
As teachers, we can often be our harshest critics.
This can make it hard to do an objective assessment of where we are in our teaching career.
The desire to compare is also strong. Remember though, that your head of department with twenty years experience is going to be at a different stage in their teaching journey then you are as an NQT for example. It is important to also be realistic in your expectations.
What objective evidence do you have about your teaching?
Think about any lesson observations you’ve had, targets you have met, good relationships that you have built up with students, clubs you run, CPD you have completed etc.
Compile a list of strong areas and areas to improve.
If you feel that it would be beneficial to you, show the list to someone else in your school (someone who will be honest with you) and ask for their opinion. Do they agree with your assessment?
It would be very unusual for someone who was genuinely a bad teacher to be able to hide it to the extent that no-one else notices! Remember, someone also thought you were good enough to qualify as a teacher.
Areas to improve
All teachers have areas to improve! It will vary from teacher to teacher but no teacher is perfect every single day (nor should they be expected to).
Your areas for improvement might be one big area or many smaller areas or a combination. Compare your areas for improvement with your earlier list for the teacher you want to be. Would working on these areas move you closer?
Do you feel supported and able to achieve these areas for improvement in your current school?
Not every teacher will be able to teach well in every school. You need to find the school where your strengths are needed. It may be that in order to be the teacher you want to be, you have to find another school.
If you are really struggling with a particular area then your school should hopefully be providing appropriate support for you, especially if you are in the early stages of your career.
But what happens if you are in a very supportive school with a great department who are providing tons of help-but you still feel like you are not improving?
That’s not bad
Remember our earlier definition of a bad teacher? One who doesn’t care at all if they are good or bad?
Just as in any job, we sometimes have to honestly appraise our current skills. If you feel that you can not become the teacher you want to be, even with the right amount of support, then you will need to think about whether you want to stay in teaching.
This can be a heartbreaking decision, especially if you still love the idea of teaching. Remember though that there are still ways to teach or work with young people that do not involve being in a classroom. See this blog post for some ideas:
Taking some time out of the classroom can be very beneficial. You can develop new skills and grow in experience and confidence. There’s always the option to return to teaching at a later date. There will still be schools in five years time!
If you do decide to leave teaching, either temporarily or for good, remember that you are not leaving because you are a bad teacher. You just need more time to become the teacher you really want to be, and that’s OK.
I hope you found this post useful. Please share your experiences in the comments and remember to share this post before you leave to help other teachers!