An Open Letter to Teachers

Dear Teachers,

You and I both know that just because someone knows how to do something well, doesn't mean they can teach it effectively. I've spent a good part of my life teaching people how to do things and I can confidently say, it's a separate skill. I've been to hundreds of classes, seminars, workshops and camps. In the teaching arena, at each of these events, there is wheat and there is chaff.

It's certainly alright to be a beginning teacher who is unsure of the most effective methods, feeling your way through and learning from experience. But there's a big difference between that and someone who is just not meant for the profession. If you are not a lifelong learner, if you cannot relate to each of the learning styles in some way, if you prefer not to work on the craft of teaching, you should probably get out.

It sounds harsh, but look, we're all good people. I'm not idly casting aspersions here. I'm simply saying that if you consider teaching anything less than your life's calling, you are doing damage. You need to make a shift; to find another way to make a living.

At the High School for which I taught (and most public schools, I think), there was a legion of teachers who were simply trapped by their decision to teach. They knew in their hearts that they had made a poor choice of career, but were too petrified to stop and do something else. So instead, they showed up everyday and went through the paces, giving their students their minimal effort and negative energy. The problem is, of course, that uninspiring teachers create uninspired students. You have to care at a level that most people just aren't built for in order to excite and mobilize a class.

It's okay if you don't. It's not a bad thing. you've learned something valuable about yourself and now you can move on and let someone who is more passionate step in and fire people up. It doesn't mean you've failed. In fact, in many ways you've succeeded. You've acknowledged your unhappiness and now you can shift gears.

For those who may be considering stepping into the classroom, a word of advice. Just make sure you want it more than anything else. Make sure it's not your ego that is driving you to teach. The least effective teacher in the building is the one that wants to "pass on their considerable knowledge". It's not about you. It's about the people in front of you. Keep that in mind, and we'll all benefit from being in your classroom.


  1. Fantastic post Paul – very sensitively expressed. To add a tad - I have recently read posts about career guidance and its lack of ‘range’, I’m sure a lot of people are in jobs that they feel it is their best/only option. Jobs these days are more varied than some career advisers know.
    P.S. Have you seen this?

  2. Kimprayz - Thanks for the comment. Nice blog, BTW.

    HappyDacks - Agreed. Fortunately, if you stay at most jobs you are only hurting yourself and possibly the company. If you stay at a teaching position, you're hurting the future. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Another good post, Paul. I agree completely. Especially with your last comment - at a regular job, if you're not that into it or you do a poor job, the impact is usually limited. On the other hand, I know several people who gave up something completely because as a child they had a poor teacher who either was uninspired, or didn't like them personally for some reason. The opposite is also true - a great teacher can create students who are passionate and dedicated about a subject for the rest of their lives. A teacher can change the direction of people's lives without even realising.

  4. Matt - Yeah, man. Oh, this gets me so fired up! No more poor teachers. To hell with what they call professional development, let's teach people how to inspire a class and to think for themselves! The revolution will not be televised. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I completely agree with your post. I was a dedicated teacher for six years and nothing made me madder than to see a completely checked-out colleague who did nothing but waste students' valuable time. That said, as long as teachers continue to be treated like cogs in a machine, the profession will continue to attract (and produce) just that sort of person. I was routinely subjected to one-size-fits-all mandates, parents who "paid my salary and expected results", and the reward for doing my job well was extra unpaid responsibilities. Nothing was EVER based on how much my students learned or how inspired they were. I may have loved my job, but I wanted to be treated like a human being and be compensated fairly. Let's stop perpetuating the culture of teachers as martyrs and then maybe we can attract enough wheat to the profession that we can get rid of the chaff. Otherwise, we only do the opposite.

  6. bizmiss - I hear you. It's interesting, you know? I've been having a lot of conversations about this lately and I think we really need to crash this system and start over. I know a lot of teachers in a lot of different states and the general feeling is that they are all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's broken. Big time.

    For me, I was a little luckier. I taught technical theater, and since none of my colleagues or the administration understood what that was, I got to do my own thing. It was sort of like running my own mini school that worked well inside a giant school that was not working at all. Even with all the autonomy though, at the end of the day, I decided I couldn't stay in a system I didn't agree with or believe in. I'm sorry for the kids, I'm not sorry for me.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. Paul: I agree completely. There is no way to fix our education system--nor should we try. It's essentially the same Industrial Revolution system we used to create competent but subordinate factory workers 150 years ago. With a little tweaking we've been able to shift to creating competent but subordinate office workers, but that's about as good as we can do. We need to tear the whole mess down and start over with a new mission statement.