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Teacher Guilt

Teacher Guilt is something that afflicts every educator at some point in her career. Teachers grew up in and were trained in a system that set them up to believe certain things about education. Teacher Guilt is the idea that when teachers do something that is not traditional, they feel like they are missing out on doing what good teachers “should” do.

The best way to illustrate this is by giving a couple examples.

First, a school district adopts a curriculum and books that are not a good choice for kids to learn. Let’s say, for sake of the argument, that they are racially biased, portray dark-skinned people in a negative light, if portrayed at all, have few multicultural voices, and the content is too challenging for students in a teacher’s class. Even though Mrs. Jones knows that this curriculum is not a good match for her high-poverty, multicultural class, Mrs. Jones still goes back to the book again and again for her lessons, because she “has to follow the curriculum.” This is intentionally an extreme example, because most educators today understand that they need to supplement this curriculum, at the very least.

One district I worked with adopted a math curriculum that had lots of errors, taught advanced concepts before foundational concepts, and had many typos that hindered the work of the children. The math teacher consistently said for all the years that the textbook was adopted, “This book is no good, and I don’t like using it.” But she still did because it was the adopted curriculum. You see, she couldn’t overcome her teacher guilt and do the right thing.

Another area relates to grades. Great teachers all over the country are still using grades as punishment. I’ll talk more about this later in the Student Experience section, but for now, I’ll leave it at this: teachers give bad grades to students to “teach them a lesson” or “prepare them for the next level” or whatever. Rarely do school district policies outline how much of a percentage of the overall grade should be based on participation or homework or tests. And yet, teachers still feel the need to include all those metrics in a grade. One more example before I close. I’ve talked with many teachers who want to do innovative things in their classroom, but they are worried about the innovation parts taking too long, and not being able to cover all the content. It’s better if they are looking at standards than content, but the challenge still remains. “I’d like to engage my students in a project about how government works,” a teacher might say, “but I need to cover the civil war.” They feel a pressure to accomplish everything but they know they don’t have enough time, and so they feel guilty about it.

What are some other aspects of teacher guilt that you see?