What Teachers Need


Love this meme Mike teased the students with!

I’m thinking of Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” this morning, but I’m thinking about what teachers need.  I know I need something right now, because this job has me in the winter of some serious discontent, as Shakespeare says.

After this year, I am leaving the high school classroom.  I am starting to get very nervous about it.  Perhaps part of my anxiety comes from the fact that I’m seven months pregnant, but I think the majority has to do with the fact that a big part of my identity is teacher…and when I’m no longer one, who am I?

Next year holds lots of promise for me–motherhood, PhD work, teaching some Education courses, presentations, and more time for writing.  But I know that I’ll miss working with the teens in my classroom.

Right now I’m struggling with finding things to sustain me, because I have an excellent student teacher.  He’s teaching all six of my classes, doing all of the grading, and generally thriving on his own.

I get to plan with him, but then I sit in the back of the room and observe.  There’s always something that needs to be taken care of, whether it’s editing pages in the yearbook, running copies, or filling out paperwork.  But I am still so bored.


Running into two of my students at the gas station was the highlight of my day yesterday.

I miss conferring with kids–our daily meetings at the bookshelf to talk about what to read next, or poring over their notebooks together, or sharing an exciting mentor text.  I miss the active work of discovering texts that I want to share with my students and urge them to reproduce.  I miss doing booktalks every day.  I miss conducting the symphony of rustling notebook pages, shuffled piles of books, or scribbling around poems.

A former student teacher observed that my typical day only consists of about 50% teaching.  The other 50% is made up of grading, making copies, lesson planning, running errands, going to meetings, and all of the not-so-fun tasks of our jobs.  They’re all essential to being prepared for the big show–the lesson–but I’m learning that I really hate those parts of my job when they don’t lead up to the ultimate experience of teaching.  It seems that they are mindless and pointless, and it makes me wonder about how teachers who have mandatory curricula, or who choose to teach straight out of a textbook, sustain themselves in this profession for decades.  I worry about their health!

I am craving the autonomy I’m accustomed to in my teaching.  Choice, independence, and purpose are just as important for teachers as they are for our students.  They sustain us in our quests to create lifelong readers and writers.  Without them, we’re just going through the motions of any job that doesn’t require creativity and energy and dynamism.

authenticityWe teachers need everything our students need:  timely, specific feedback (a great deal of it positive); the resources to do our work well; someone to listen to us and thus validate us; choice in what we teach and how we teach it; an identity as a teacher who is part of an authentic community of educational professionals.

It’s not every educational community that offers those conditions.  We often must go beyond our own school walls to fulfill those needs.  I’m thinking of Meenoo Rami and her excellent work to connect and sustain educators through Teacher2Teacher, and her important championing of the needs of teachers in Thrive and through #engchat.

I am depending upon Meenoo’s wisdom to get me through this winter–a winter both literal and figurative–and upon the wisdom and inspiration I find in my friends on Three Teachers Talk, Twitter, and more.  If you find yourself struggling, too, remember what teachers need–and do whatever you can to get it!

How do you sustain yourself in the winter of your teaching?  PLEASE share in the comments–I, for one, am dying to know!


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5 thoughts on “What Teachers Need

  1. […] season for this kind of large-scale reflective thinking, as I wrote a post about a year ago about what teachers need in order to feel […]


  2. nuzzyanne February 25, 2016 at 9:03 am Reply

    Recently, I have sustained myself with your enthusiasm, so don’t you dare say you are in the middle of a bleak midwinter. Your enthusiasm for teaching kids is amazing , but your enthusiasm for influencing adults is a part of what has sustained me recently and I am now trying to pass on to the members of my department. So, instead of give and take, I’m thinking of a circle. The enthusiasm builds, we send it on (to students and colleagues and babies in utero), and as it builds with others, it comes back to us and pushes us forwards.

    My students are reading more than ever. Now I am reading more than ever. I have bookmarks in Don Quixote, My Book of Life by Angel, The House on Mango Street, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and I reluctantly handed over my last copy of Columbine to a kid yesterday after I book talked it, otherwise I would be reading that too.

    So, Ms. Shana, take heart. You have helped an entire department of English teachers marooned in the great north woods of Wisconsin (sort of) sustain their practice and grow as educators. And that’s BEFORE you are Dr. Shana. xoxo. Just a random Thursday in February.

    Liked by 2 people

    • shanakarnes February 25, 2016 at 9:08 am Reply

      Hahaha…”and babies in utero”!!!!

      Indeed, this random Thursday in February, plus the pregnancy hormones, plus the snow, are definitely contributing to me feeling like I’m in a winter slump. Hoping to spring out of it with the advent of warmer weather.

      Our work together is sustaining me even now, Lisa. So glad to know you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary Anderson February 25, 2016 at 8:43 am Reply

    Shana — You especially know that your job and your work are not the same thing. Although your job is ending, your work will continue.

    This tribal elder is fully confident that you will be a literacy leader for decades to come, and your new role as a parent will only enrich your work in due time.

    Meanwhile, be good to yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • shanakarnes February 25, 2016 at 9:09 am Reply

      You’re right, Gary–and I was careful to not use those words interchangeably as I wrote this. I guess when I’m stuck just doing my job, I just miss my WORK. 🙂

      I’m glad to know you, tribal elder. You’ll help me weather this winter!

      Liked by 1 person

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