Professional Distance

Professional distance is often cited as essential for teachers.  Do not take it personally if they fail.  Do not take their behavior as a reflection on you.  Leave work at work.


First, this is almost impossible if you like your students.  Of COURSE you’re going to care, and you’re going to care too much.  You can lose sleep over your students that are failing, because you SHOULD loose sleep, comma.  Them failing means you’re not a perfect teacher, and you can improve.  You should be thinking about how to be a better teacher.

It’s called passion, and if you don’t have passion for teaching and improving, you shouldn’t be teaching, comma.  Maybe it’s because I teach in a school with a high poverty population, but to me it’s total bull for any student to not get the best possible teachers.

And yes, their behavior, their inability to learn is a reflection on you – personally as a teacher.  That student that always misbehaves in your class?  That’s for a reason.  It might not be you in particular, but if you’re not trying to figure out something to remove that behavioral impediment to their learning, then you’re not doing your job.  Those students, those teenagers, they always have some reason for behaving the way they do.  It’s probably based on some totally messed up premise, but that logic is there.

Why today?  Well I had a rough time today with one student, and in conversation with another teacher, I heard some of my own words come out of their mouth – “that’s just what student does.”  And it disgusted me.  Student doesn’t do anything without a reason, and hearing it come from their mouth, made me realize just what makes me a better teacher now:  I improved my understanding of the student.  I have some idea why student decided to act that way, and I reacted to the cause.

So the moment I don’t lose sleep over failing students, I need to get out of the classroom.  Someone better is waiting to do the job right.


3 thoughts on “Professional Distance

  1. Interesting post. I agree and disagree. I’m a first year teacher and I came in all bright-eyed and innocent. I had done my student teaching in an alternative school outside of Detroit, but I still maintained that teachers should only blame themselves.

    Now, 3 months into my first job as a “real” teacher, I’m not so sure. I still want students to succeed. Not even for a second would I believe that I am doing enough for my students, or that their failure falls back on them entirely. And I understand what you mean about understanding why students do things. School isn’t their life. Most of my kids have messed up home situations that I never faced. School hasn’t necessarily been a walk in the park before, and that has serious consequences now.

    Where I *disagree* (and I’m not entirely sure that’s the right word) is with this: I see most of my students for 48 minutes per day. 48 minutes. The primary objective is to teach math, but there are so many other barriers that need to be broken down daily in order to even begin really teaching. Thoughts of “I’ve always failed math, today is no different, I don’t need to try (which, by the way, I think their fear of failure is the biggest hurdle I face).” Thoughts like “I don’t where I’m going home today.” So how can I say their failing is my fault? They have 11-12 years of pent up anger and messed up situations and I have 48 minutes.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I think teachers can’t settle for failing students. It should upset them. But maybe my interest is more in seeing a reform take place outside the classroom that can better support students as learners. For them, school is 6 hours of hell, and 48 minutes a day is a sad excuse for an attempt to change that (though a very important 48 minutes- this doesn’t let the teacher off the hook). What can be done to provide a place of positive support when its not provided at home, where students don’t have to face the stress of “am I failing or not?”

    • Good points. I’m emphasizing that you should always feel like you can do a little bit more, even when that’s not feasible. The post was more of a reaction to the “some students can’t learn” mentality that I run into from time to time.

      For the outside situation, that does need to be addressed, and a school could provide connections to needed resources for the families. But we as teachers have control over our classroom climate and culture.

      And because you do have control over what kinds of success your students have, that’s somewhere we can always do better.

      As you move through your first year, keep two things in mind: 1) if you can measure that you’ve taught them something, you’re doing okay 2) if you’re working constantly on getting better, you’re doing great. Great teachers don’t spring out fully formed, they grow.

      • I see. Your argument definitely makes sense from/against the “some kids can’t learn” perspective. I think I was a little frustrated after a long day in the classroom too. But thanks for the pointers for this year. Heading into conferences next week, I am starting to see #1 come out in some of my students. And I’m trying to keep #2 a goal as much as possible.

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