Back when I was in high school so many decades ago, my favorite teacher was Mr. Christie, the hippie history teacher with the long beard. He was cool, he was smart, and he kind of looked like John Lennon with his wire frame glasses.
This was smack dab in the middle of the Watergate era and congressional hearings, and Mr. Christie dispensed with the history book because we were right in the middle of history being made. Our lessons came from the morning newspaper and were filled with mesmerizing tales of adventure, intrigue and betrayal.
Mr. Christie was passionate about history and excited to share that with his students. He did his best to keep the students engaged as he taught us about the “why” behind historical events and the significance of the current developments unfolding before us. His material was good, but unfortunately he was trying to teach to a pretty tough crowd.
I remember Mr. Christie telling me once that he taught for the handful of students like me, the ones who cared, not the ones who stared out the window, put their heads down on their desks or clearly had no interest in hearing about anything he was trying to convey.
So why am I sharing this with you? Because as we are now well into another school year, I’m hoping you’ll stop and think for a moment about teachers, the people we entrust to educate our children. Their impact on our kids comes from hundreds of hours spent with them every school year. It’s a monumental task and one that’s vitally important.
Here at Nucleus Marketing Lab, we’ve conducted dozens of studies with teachers and educators over the past five years alone. Personally, I’ve conducted more than a hundred in-depth interviews with teachers covering a variety of topics. Here are just a few of the insights that have stuck with me from those conversations.
Teachers have an incredibly tough job. One that has only grown incrementally more difficult by the disruptions to classroom teaching and student mindset resulting from the pandemic.
Teachers and counselors report seeing high levels of anxiety and depression among their students. The reasons they cite include lingering worries and isolation experienced during COVID-19, social media creating insecurities among students striving to live up to idealized and unattainable images portrayed by their peers, and pressure from parents to succeed. Among lower socioeconomic students, added stress comes from dealing with issues such as hunger, violence, gangs, family dysfunction, unstable parenting, and sometimes having to balance school with outside jobs.
And now, in a sad case of history repeating itself, many teachers find themselves trying to teach in a climate of book banning, censorship, shifting perceptions of historical facts and school policies created by political shifts of the wind. It’s a tough enough task that teachers face already without having to worry about losing their jobs for teaching yesterday’s truth.
Even in the best of circumstances, teachers have a lot to deal with. Realities like teaching to mandated standards, adjusting to varying student proficiency levels, having inadequate or outdated curriculum materials, adapting to new digital teaching tools, and trying to engage students who are often struggling with bullying, depression, anxiety, gender identity issues and lack of confidence or parental support.
The more I’ve learned about the challenges teachers face every day, the more I’ve come to appreciate these courageous souls. Being a teacher isn’t easy, and they surely aren’t doing it for the money. While we may never be able to pay them enough, the very least we can do is to thank them for what they do. Just remember, sometimes a kind word and a smile are all it takes to make someone’s day. Perhaps we all could give it a try.