What Makes Working in Education So Difficult?
Short answer: the people.
On any given morning, we could be trying to manage a group of rowdy students, responding to emails, have a parent at the door and a student at our desk asking to use the bathroom in an inaudible whisper.
In schools, we're constantly accountable to other people. Our days are filled end-to-end with interactions with students, parents, teachers, donors, partners, and administrators. We can’t sit behind a computer all day or work in a quiet, private office. Our work-life is very public and we can’t sit still in one place without being bombarded by the needs and requests of everyone around us.
Don’t get me wrong, we can love the people we work with and the families that make up our communities, but that doesn’t make it is easy to cater to everyone’s requests. To work in a school, you have to master your relationships with students, parents and coworkers. And as everyone has learned at one time or another, creating and sustaining enriching relationships is a really tough thing to do. Work relationships are filled with brief, tense moments when our own frustrations impede our abilities for empathy and mutual understanding.
Education is difficult because we always have to be “on”. We can’t slip up in appearance, language or behavior in front of our students or coworkers because it can seriously impact the the people around us. We have to learn how to work with people in a genuine, constructive, and engaging way while also managing our own paperwork, emails, lesson planning, and personal life.
So, if the work is so draining, why do we do it?
Turns out, it’s also the people.
Yes, the same thing that makes education nearly unbearable at times, is also the thing that makes it worthwhile. It is our genuine investment in each person that causes us stress when we fail to deliver on a task. But at the same time, our personal investment also makes each success more rewarding.
All parents, educators, and administrators share one thing in common—they care deeply for each student and want the best educational opportunity for each child. And that is what I try to remember when I get frustrated with my work. As responsibilities and anxiety rise, it’s important to remember that our frustrations come from a place of care and desire to do better.
Education is difficult because it is our investment in the community that makes our work feel at once more rewarding and high stakes. There is no simple advice that can help us tread the thin line between our desire to provide the best education for students and our frustration when we fail to do so. Sometimes we need to take a breath and remember why we work in schools; sometimes we need a weekend to get our minds off work. So the next time we have a moment when we feel like our sanity is slipping, let’s remember what lies beneath all the layers—a fierce commitment to students, parents and schools.