being a teacher, being me

Come Teach Again – On Teacher Guilt and the Platitudes that Grows It

For a while, I have been noticing a trend in my Twitter feed, or rather what Twitter wants me to see.  If I ever cross into “Moments” or “Search” it seems that the same white males keep popping up with Twitter telling me that if I follow education then I surely must be interested in their statements.  At times, it is right, many who are no longer in the classroom have fascinating ideas to share, research to ponder, and resources to go through.  And yet, there are times, and seemingly more so recently, that who I am supposed to be learning from in education keeps being the same white, male, non-classroom teachers that keep telling me, this classroom teacher, what I need to do to be the perfect teacher.

I have quietly rolled my eyes.  Seethed a little.  Showed friends how funny it is that it seems to be the same people that others also see when I ask them to cross into that stream.  At times I have been baffled by the statements shared, even if well-meaning, as they seem to be written more with a re-tweet in mind than any actual learning.

This morning, as I leisurely browsed Twitter on my vacation, I came across this statement.


A pretty typical example of the platitudes that are served up daily to all of us educators who spend time on social media.  Often, statements like this get liked thousands of times, retweeted to the nth degree.  Shared as if this is the gospel truth, pushing teachers to finally realize that they should teach as if they actually care about their job.  Seemingly wanting us, in this case, to finally realize that since everything is controlled by teachers, then surely we could create the most engaging student experience if we just worked a little harder.

Can we stop for a moment and unpack this just a little?

I used to lose sleep over how I seemingly failed my students.  How even though I spent hours planning engaging lessons, how even though I brought my very best, how even though I walked so many steps in the classroom checking in with each student that my knees and hips hurt at the end of the day, it didn’t always seem to matter.  That every day there seemed to be at least one kid who was quick to tell me just how bored they were.  How much they didn’t like what we were doing.  How much they wished they were somewhere else.

Despite my planning.

Despite my strategies.

Despite my positive urgency to reach all children.

And so when these supposed thought leaders, who seem to be fairly removed from the day to day experience of what it really means to teach, then tell us that everything our students experience is controllable by us, I cannot help but wonder how many teachers end up feeling like failures just like I did.  Despite all of the work they have done.  Despite everything they are striving to be on a day to day basis.  Despite how much they already pour of themselves into this profession because we know how much it matters.

How is that furthering anything good for educators?  Because the teacher guilt is a real thing.  Because teacher burnout from not feeling like we are enough is a real thing.  Because we already work in a profession that at times is showcased as everything that is wrong with this country.

It is hard to sometimes believe you are of any kind of worth when you are constantly reminded of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher.  In fact, last year, I expressed my regret to students in how I seemed to fail to engage them all during a particular unit and that I wished I was a better teacher for them.  How I was really trying and yet seemed to not live up to the high expectation I had placed for myself.  In that moment of vulnerability, I will never forget what several students told me.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, sometimes we just don’t want to.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we are kids and it is natural that we don’t always like school.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we need to bring it too…

They need to bring it too.

I love the wisdom of kids.

Because that’s it.  While we, as educators, should bring our very best every single day.  While we, as educators, should plan engaging lessons for all.  While we, as educators, should teach as if every moment matters – because it does – we are not enough.

We have to have a partnership with students when it comes to their engagement.  To their empowerment.  To their investment into our classrooms.  We have to bring our best and expect our students to bring their best as well.  We have to have an agreement with students that we will all try to rise to the occasion together, and that there will be days where that may not happen.  And that does not mean we have failed, but just that we will try again the next day.

My job is not to entertain my students, my job is to teach, and while the two are not mutually exclusive, I have to continually remind myself of what my purpose is as the teacher in the room; to help them become more invested, engaged, and critical participants and creators of their own educational experience.  That does not just rest on my shoulders, but the shoulders of our students as well.  We start conversations about what real learning looks like and then we set the expectation of how we will provide the foundation for them to stand on, but that they must do the building.  Sometimes with us and sometimes without.  That we can only bring our very best but then it is up to them to make it matter.  To make it worth their time.  That for them to have the very best educational experience, they have to invest as well.  Sometimes despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, they face in life.

To think that I, as the teacher in the room, controls all of their attention and levels of engagement is simply false.  It supports the notion that students are mere pawns and not there as active investors in their own learning.  It supports the notion that school is something we do to children rather than something they experience.

So what if instead of listening to some who may have great things to share but are not actually doing it themselves, and haven’t for a really long time, we instead had conversations with students about how we can increase engagement and attention in our classrooms?  How about instead of pretending that everything is under the control of teachers, we actually realized that the very best classrooms are those where students share the control and thus have to invest to actually learn?

Because frankly, I don’t need more people outside of the day-to-day realities of what it means to be in a profession that is constantly attacked for not being enough, telling me how I need to do more.  To that I say; come teach again, then we can discuss it, my students and I have plenty to share.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.




37 thoughts on “Come Teach Again – On Teacher Guilt and the Platitudes that Grows It”

  1. Thank you for writing this post! I have just finished reading Hillbilly Elegy and wonder if Mr. Marzano does any reflective reading or tries to grasp the realities of students who struggle daily with a home environment well beyond our control as teachers. Somehow these students still make it to school, perhaps seldom, occasionally, or regularly, but we celebrate each day of their attendance and give them the care and stability that they so richly deserve. Oh, and we teach them, too.

  2. This is an eye-opening post which gives me a confidence after a year with a tough class. I had (still have) the feeling of failing the kids and keeping them disengaged in class. You are right!!!!! They have to invest in their learning. First, they have to accept our invitation for learning, then begin contributing daily. Having students who would refuse any kind of work made it so difficult to teach even those students who were interested in learning. Being frustrated and taking the responsibility (taking everything on my shoulders) was not an option because those students wouldn’t work no matter what I was doing. I waited for them to ask for learning, and one of the students did! Yes, there was a time “wasted”, but if the students got the understanding that it was up to them, they would catch up on missed work (with my help) and would succeed anyways at their own pace. So, they need to realize what it takes on their end to engage in learning (as our goal is to see them being responsible for their actions and learning). Thank you!!!! This is definitely the lesson I learned this year. I am glad that I found a confirmation in your post which motivates me to prepare for the next school year by making a plan considering this perspective.

  3. Thank you for this powerful post, Pernille. Although I visit classrooms, I need to really get in and teach more often. Your thoughts have provided me the extra push that I need.

  4. “My job is not to entertain my students, my job is to teach, and while the two are not mutually exclusive, I have to continually remind myself of what my purpose is as the teacher in the room; to help them become more invested, engaged, and critical participants and creators of their own educational experience.” Your words help me stay the course in working to help students develop self-efficacy.

  5. Once again you have brilliantly verbalized something that has been going through my mind as well. These platitudes that are posted feel like they have an underlying message that if students aren’t engaged and learning, it’s automatically a teacher’s fault. If you just did more, they would all suddenly transform. Yes, we need to have engaging lessons, but students have some responsibility too. Thank you for calling them out on this. Now if we could just change the Twitter algorithm!

  6. I’m with you, Pernille. I run across these eye-roll-inducing tweets often enough from well-respected voices in our field, that I think we need to start calling them out whenever we see them. Maybe a hashtag? #showsomerespect #ucrossedaline #watchyourtone I’m open to suggestions.

  7. I saw this post yesterday and have been rolling it around thinking about it…your words have embodied my thoughts. Thank you!

  8. As a white male who does not directly teach in a classroom but is responsible to my community to ensure every student has success; I read the platitudes on Twitter as I read the posters on a classroom wall. They are nice nothing more. When students fail, I ask why, when the answer is, they don’t engage; I ask why. When the answer is, I taught the content, “they” chose not to learn it; I ask why. When the answer is, they don’t care, I ask why. I also ask why do we make each kid read the same book? Why do we make each kid complete an assignment the same way? Why is English taught in isolation, siloed, from other subjects? The teacher’s job is not just to teach but to empower students to learn. A subtle shift that makes the difference.

    You are one of a growing number of teachers on Twitter who are saying enough of the platitudes from those (both white males and females)who do not teach. I would suggest you scroll by the posts and keep empowering students to take ownership of their learning based on their needs. Of course I’m a white male who is not actively in the classroom so what do I know ?

    1. I think you just reinforced Ms. RIpp’s point that she is tired of those removed from the classroom telling teachers what to do with the tone that they are not already doing enough. And you could not resist telling her what to do yourself…”I would suggest you scroll by the posts….” Please don’t do that. I don’t think Ms. RIpp or anyone else needs your advice on how to read a twitter feed! It is rude to suggest that teachers should just ignore negative comments or comments that seem to be supportive but contain veiled criticisms. I am glad that teachers are speaking up and calling out supposed leaders that may be out of touch with what is happening in classrooms. By becoming defensive, you missed an opportunity to LISTEN and learn something that could possibly improve your own interactions with teachers.

      1. As you are as well. My point was and is for teachers to cruise past the platitude posts and see them as “scenery” or wall art in the Twitter verse. If you dwell on each as a supposed atrack you will find yourself miserable.

      2. I believe Ms. Ripp had important things to say – but – she turned me off with the “white male” thing. That was unnecessary. Those are the kinds of statements that are not helpful and turn people off instead of leading to positive discussions. I recently attended a 2-day seminar at the Marzano Institute and the guy leading that hadn’t been in the classroom for quite a while and he wasn’t white. Did his skin color make a difference in what he had to say? Again, I think she has a very valid point, but skin color has nothing to do with it.

    2. Unless you are “in the arena” TODAY, any suggestion is best kept to yourself. #ripprightonthemoney #showdonttell

  9. I taught in the classroom for my first ten years in education, worked as a literacy coach and staff developer for the last ten years, and this year I’m going back into the classroom to teach students again. I do this knowing it will require more effort, energy, and time to work with kids on a day-to-day basis than it has required in my work with adults. I will be more exhausted and more invested than ever. But, getting back to the roots of why I do what I do with and for kids (and why I’ve been encouraging and promoting these ideas and practices among the educators with whom I’ve worked and guided the last ten years) seems critical to me. To test my beliefs, to tweak my teaching practices, and to reconnect with the very learners I hope to inspire to “bring it” with passionate curiosity.

  10. There’s much to chew on here, Pernille. You say: “And so when these supposed thought leaders, who seem to be fairly removed from the day to day experience of what it really means to teach, then tell us that everything our students experience is controllable by us, I cannot help but wonder how many teachers end up feeling like failures just like I did.”

    I read lots of assumptions in this part of your post. Is Marzano a “supposed thought leader?” While I’m no huge fan of his work, I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of teachers readily consider him a “thought leader.” And do the “platitudes” you refer to on Twitter really propose to “tell us that everything our students experience is controllable by us?” I don’t read them that way at all. I think most people know that very little can be controlled by teachers. And do you honestly think teachers feel like failures over a few tweets?

    I believe how educators handle social sharing is a topic we definitely need to continue to discuss, and while you make some reasonable points about it, I think the most salient points are clouded by hyperbole.

    Of course, you have generated another valuable discussion, which is what I appreciate most about your work. Thanks for inspiring good debate.

  11. Thank you for your wisdom and thoughtful sharing. Deeply striving to let go of the guilt and be a passionate guide on the side of innovative learning and student growth.

  12. Thank you! I read the same tweet yesterday and immediately felt defeated until I remembered that I bring my best (almost) every day to my classroom (Let’s be honest, though, I’m human and the week I had the horrific head cold probably wasn’t my best). Education is not done to students–it is an experience! Yes! We are a community of learners!

  13. I”m thinking of a student I had this year who I would say was 2-5% engaged in all of her classes. Her sister died last year. Her best friend dropped out (yes, in 8th grade) after getting heavily into drugs. Her mom moved across the country, leaving her with her dad, who is frequently on the road, so she was spending a lot of time on her own, under the nominal supervision of an aunt. Midway through the year her mom called to let her know she’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

    This kid was, I repeat, NOT ENGAGED. But she was there. Almost every day. She did not drop out and get wasted with her bestie. She did not use her parents’ absence as reason to not show up at school. She was there, and she was listening to music, and she was chatting to friends, and SHE WAS THERE. What she needed from us was a safe place. Sure, an education would help her more in the long run, but with all the trauma in her life, her brain did not have space or focus. Instead of telling us that it was our fault she wasn’t engaged, I would hope that anyone in education would appreciate it was our caring and patience that kept her present in our classrooms.

    Another great post. Thank you.

    1. And it’s that patience and caring that probably got her through the day and made her come back for more. For some of our students that’s the most important thing we can do, which must be why we are still in the classroom rather than spouting platitudes on social media. Keep doing what you are doing. It will make a bigger impact on this world than you will ever imagine. ❤️

  14. I couldn’t agree more! A few years ago my district had the Teach Like a Pirate guy give our opening keynote for the new school year. He was entertaining and had many props, including a Victoria’s Secret bag and a lacy bra. Everyone in my school was so hyped up and even now years later they will ask “What’s the hook?” if you ask for advice on a lesson. Our administration sends out emails and adds snippets to our weekly newsletter asking us “What’s the hook?” The insinuation being that I need to jump through hoops entertaining my students in order to get them to learn. I am not a pirate, nor do I feel I need to teach like one to be effective. If educating students means we need to parade our undies around to get their attention or orchestrate lessons where the “hook” is more important than the learning then I’m afraid we are doing our students a great disservice.

  15. When browsing social media, I often feel a desire to bring all the wonderful ideas I see to my own school and then feel dismayed at my inability to be more / do more. I experienced these feelings previously as an fifth grade teacher and now as an elementary principal. It always seemed to me it had more to do with my internal drive and perfectionism than any external influence. Your post makes me wonder what effect of the culture of guilt and platitudes has had upon me. Thank you for your focus on student voice and the mental health of educators.

  16. Thank you so much for this response. It is bad enough when people outside of our profession tear us down. To have a ‘leader’ in Educational Theory contribute to those feelings of worthlessness and guilt is a horrible way to treat the very people he is supposed to be inspiring and helping.

  17. I have had the same feeling for several years as I saw the voices in my Twitter feed change. Glad to hear you say it so well! Thanks!

  18. These are some strong, strong words! Thank you for articulating them so beautifully. While I completely agree about the ivory towers, this really makes me think about what we do everyday. How not only should we encourage and more strongly find ways to create student agency, but we should explain why student agency is important to everyone: administrators, fellow educators, parents, and the ‘experts’.

  19. Pernille, I love your blog! The beginning of this post, however, started with something you may not have thought through completely. While I am totally on board with your sentiment, why did you have to use the qualifier of ‘while males’ as those who are telling you these things? It may well be that many of these tweets originated with members of this group but you could have been just as effective without this stab at Caucasian men. You could have put them in the much smaller and more accurate grouping of out of touch education experts. Your point was that there are people who are not currently educators who are living in ideal worlds of higher education that are telling everyone what teachers should be doing in order to be effective in the classroom and that they have no clue what it’s like to teach in the 21st century. The fact that many of the tweets you are seeing are by members of a specific group isn’t relevant to what you were writing about. We must be careful as teachers not to have this mentality, just imagine what would have happened if you had used any other qualifier in your description ie. Jewish, gay, black, latino. Everyone would have jumped all over you.

    1. I think you are reading too much into that statement, I was highlighting what Twitter is showing me when it tells me who to follow in education. Twitter shows me white, male administrators, I don’t make that up. It was while browsing these suggestions that Marzano’s tweet came up. I do find it problematic that that is who Twitter tells me to follow since it shouldn’t be such a homogenous group. And yes, if it had been some other homogenous group I would have written that.

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