What It’s Like to Teach and Lead in 2017 (Hint: It’s Exhausting)

What its like to be a teacher in 2017

My colleague and I looked each other on Tuesday of this week. She had a look in her eyes of pure exhaustion. I could sense a call for help, but I think we were both too tired to send out an SOS.

I let out a deep sigh and said, “Man, it’s only been two weeks!”

Students came back just after Labor Day, and the past two weeks had been a whirlwind of non-stop problem finding and problem-solving.

As a Director of Technology and Innovation, I got to live out the highs and lows of another beginning of the school year.

  • Handing out 3400 devices to are kids in 6th-12th grade. Unbelievable experience.
  • Getting an entire building ready with technology in three days (construction all summer). Also an unreal experience!
  • Putting flat screen TVs in every middle school classroom. Impactful experience.
  • Trying to figure out why some of those classrooms’ devices would not connect to the TV. Tiring experience!

The list could go on, but in walking around the schools and talking with teachers I quickly found out that this sense of exhaustion was not only me.

There was a general excitement around the opening of a new school year, yet every teacher I spoke to felt a bit tired after a full two weeks with students in their classrooms.

One veteran teacher who has led the move to personalized learning and authentic assessment said to me, “I keep thinking things might get easier. But, they never do. I guess I’m hoping for the wrong thing. Instead, things are getting better for our kids. They are having new experiences we could never have offered 5, 10, 15 years ago. It’s not easy for us, but it’s the right thing to do.”

That last line stopped me cold. I had forgotten why we are here.

We aren’t here for the new and shiny. Sure, the learning spaces, technology, and all kinds of updates are great.

But, that’s not what it is all about.

Innovation, as my friend George Couros says, is new and better.

But, it does not matter if it is new and better unless it is better for our learners.

The rest of the day I went around and asked teachers, administrators, and kids all the same thing: How’s it going? How can I help?

What its like to be a teacher in 2017

The Exhaustion Is Real…But It’s Worth It

It’s 2017.

Communication is changing fast (my 7-yr old daughter and I just exchanged Snaps while I am in Colorado and she is outside of Philadelphia in different time zones, with real-time interaction).

Collaboration has evolved to a point of instantaneous feedback loops (my colleague and I are on a shared Google Slide presentation changing and adding to slides for this week’s presentation in real-time, able to modify and go back to old versions if need be. We also shared this with someone who is going to be in the presentation to get their feedback on a teacher perspective.)

Critical Thinking has become a necessity in order to not only solve big problems, but everyday issues (we know teachers learn best from other teachers, but it is increasingly harder to get teachers into each other’s room due to sub shortages and other factors. We bought a 360 camera and are going to film to elementary teacher’s lessons this week in order to share with other staff while they watch using VR headsets to see the entire room as if they were in the classroom on a visit.)

Creativity is a part of our everyday lives. No longer reserved for the few, we must all be creative and innovative in order to do our daily work (with all of the great work currently happening in my school district, I’m working with a small team to create an innovative and simple way to share out the stories of teaching and learning with our community!)

Yes, those bolded terms are what we commonly refer to as “21st Century Skills”, yet I’m fairly certain that these were always NEEDED skills.

But, developing these skills in students, and creating/facilitating learning experiences where our learners can demonstrate these skills is exhausting.

It is really easy to teach from the textbook.

It is even easier to hand out a multiple choice test. Grade it with a scantron or online grading tool. Record the grades.

Move onto the next chapter in the textbook and repeat.

But, it’s 2017 and most teachers I see working around my school, this country, and the world…aren’t teaching like that anymore.

It’s why we are exhausted. It’s why school leaders are exhausted from supporting this type of teaching and learning. It’s why parents are wondering how to help their kids because the answers to their projects aren’t in the back of the book. It’s also why I’m smiling more and more when we share our stories of frustration, desperation, and exhaustion.

These stories of authentic learning, project-based learning, real-world assessments, and creative work are also the stories of teachers and leaders who have said, ‘I’m not going to take the easy path. I’m going to take the right path.”

Yes, teaching is tiring. Yes, leading change is tiring (as Trevor Muir so perfectly points out in the video below).

But, wow, it is worth it.

When we innovate in our classrooms and schools we shouldn’t expect it to make life easier. Instead, we should expect it to make the learning experience better for our kids. That’s the goal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m heading into our third week of school a bit worn down, a bit frustrated, a bit tired from the stress of working through problem after problem.

Yet, I’m heading into this third week of school fired up because all of this work, frustration, and exhaustion is going to make it new and better for our learners.

And to me, that’s a win.

You know what makes it even better? When we share these stories of exhaustion (and triumphs) together. Make sure you are talking about the realities of teaching and leading in 2017 with your colleagues. And please share in the comments below!

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  • Angie Hostetler says:

    Great post! I’m in my third year of teaching, and came in so ready to make every moment of my students’ days full of creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. I continue to build my best activities and units on these principles. I see light in my students’ eyes when they’re building a model, designing a logo, deciding for themselves what the rules of a good paragraph are… yes, it can be exhausting for me. Yes, it is worth it. But I have also seen the same glazed panic in their eyes that my husband sees in mine in the middle of an intense week (like, every week?). Finally this year it’s clicking: sometimes it’s exhausting for them too. So many projects, so many new formats and structures. A new style of rubric every assignment. So I’m learning to read the room and give them balance. One big project at a time. Lots of consistency between each one so we have time to relax the tension that comes with creative thinking. In my class that means independent reading, current event discussions, and, yes, even a few worksheets. It feels good to the students to settle into something familiar, and it increases their engagement during our more innovative projects. And it feels good to me, because I am working on making a few projects amazing instead of making a million projects just barely. I don’t know, this is probably one of those “it comes with time” lessons every teacher learns in their first five years, but to me it’s been a hugely valuable one.

    • Susie Hamlin says:

      I’ve been in and out of the classroom since 1985 – and I agree totally with you! Instead of getting easier, it is actually more challenging to teach now than it was then. In a GOOD way! I’m trying so many new things and pushing my students to try different ways to understand the curriculum, and I know deep down there are more than a few that would like nothing more than for me to pull out a publisher-generated worksheet, assign a chapter and sit back for 45 minutes while they “work.” But, with retirement on the not-so-far horizon, I am going to continue to challenge myself, and in turn, my students.

  • Sue King says:

    SPOT ON! I have to give a huge shout out to the HHHS admin team – they have done and are doing a fabulous job leading & supporting the 1-1 rollout at the high school. The ed-camp style full day PD was both energizing & exhausting for the teachers who organized it and for the admin team – yet it has set the stage for some really good work. I think those committed to the work would all agree it is tiring, but well worth the effort to create the type of learning environment all of our students need and deserve! Great message!

  • Gary Furlong says:

    Teachers who have been teaching awhile and are committed to teaching accept the fact that teaching may be “tiring”. Experience allows us to anticipate the flow of the school year and understand where we have natural breaks that we can look forward to. My concern for younger teachers is that schools are designed for a different time. I teach high school and if you were building a new high school it probably would look very different and if teachers could design a new curriculum it would look radically different. I think some of the “fatigue” comes from trying to accomplish what is needed for students in their future under structures set up 100 years ago to meet the needs of students then and the needs of students today are different.

  • Jennifer Cox says:

    I am not really sure I can say with a completely straight face that The Lord even uses social media to send messages of hope, but I’m pretty sure that is what happened today as I checked my Twitter feed! I am a second year principal and just this Friday shared with a colleague these words, “I am so exhausted and frustrated that I am finding it hard to see successes. Maybe I am just not meant for this work. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to endure the years I know I need to hang in there as a building leader to see lasting transformation.”

    It is , in fact, validating to know a leader I see as a natural can sometimes feel the same way. Thank you for sharing with us. I needed to read this today. We need to believe the exhaustion is good because what we are producing is what kids need.

  • […] read a recent article by A.J.Juliani about ‘What it’s like to Teach and Lead in 2017 (Hint: it’s exhausting)’. In it, he explains how 3400 devices had been handed out to pupils – a ‘powerful […]

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