With teacher bashing all the rage these days, we thought we’d show what educators are actually confronting when they step into the classroom each day. In no particular order, here are the top eight challenges teachers face:

1. All those kids!!

In Georgia this May, after state funding for schools was cut by nearly $1 billion, the state Board of Education voted to lift all class size limits. “We don’t have a choice. We didn’t give them enough money,” said state school Superintendent Kathy Cox.

And, of course, it’s the same story in states across the country. It’s tough for educators—but even tougher for those kids who need their attention. “There are a lot of geniuses sitting in the back of our classes, but they don’t get properly taught in classrooms with more than 30 other kids,” said one Los Angeles student in a recent news article.

2. Turning on technology

Students today are technophiles. They love their video games—all fast-paced and addictive—and they can’t put down their smart phones, iPods, and social networks. And educators? They might also love new technologies, but even if they don’t, they realize that technology often is the key to locking in a student’s interest. The challenge is, how? Deitrya Anderson, a Tulsa teacher, puts those phones “to an educational use” through a site called Wiffiti that receives and displays student questions via text message. Others are using Twitter—sending tweets to students to remind them of key points from the day’s lesson or use it as a language arts tool. Even Facebook has its merits. Susan Colquitt, a New Mexico teacher, says she uses it to answer her students’ questions and mentor them.


3. Cyberbullying

Remember Phoebe Prince? Or Megan Meier? Both girls committed suicide after long, humiliating bouts with cyberbullies. Their deaths were tragic and unusual, but many kids are struggling to cope with this particularly virulent form of bullying. According to Pew Research, nearly one in three teens say they’ve been victimized via the Internet or cell phones. A teacher’s role—or a school’s role—is still fuzzy in many places. What legal rights or responsibilities do they have to silence bullies, especially when they operate from home? To more clearly define their prerogative, many schools are writing cyberbullying policies into their handbooks, in effect forcing students and their parents to sign contracts that allow schools to discipline them for Internet abuse. But prevention is the best policy and experts say the answer is more conversation with kids. Peer models—often from older high school grades—can be effective discussion leaders.


“Testing, testing, testing, what is the point of testing? Do we use the data to remediate those who do not measure up? No!” complained Shelley Dunham, a Kansas special educator, on an NEA discussion board. Instead the federal law takes those test scores, which are incredibly flawed pictures of achievement, and uses them to punish schools. (And don’t even get us started on the inappropriate use of tests with students with disabilities….) This year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (better known as NCLB) is up for reauthorization. The Obama blueprint offers more of the same, but the NEA’s Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization would offer multiple measures of student learning, smaller class sizes, adequate funding, and support for teachers—even while insisting on high standards for students. Go to EducationVotes to find out more about this sensible approach.

5. Parent involvement

Often, it feels like there are just two kinds of parents: The ones hunkering in a cave somewhere and the ones camping in your pocket. Unreachable? Or unavoidable. Either way, teachers wish for the kind of parent involvement that supports learning. Elusive parents usually have a reason for their mysterious ways, like language fluency. In New Mexico, teacher Ricardo Rincon asks students to host parent conferences. He also crafts homework assignments that don’t assume parents have advanced skills. For example, instead of asking them to supervise the addition of fractions, they might be asked to ensure their kids read for 30 minutes at home.

6. Your salary

What salary, educators ask. After paying the mortgage, student loan debts, medical bills, utilities, car and food, what’s left? “With pay cuts, furlough days, increased taxes and other bills, for the first time I am falling behind in my financial obligation, ruining a 30-year record of perfect credit,” writes one fed-up California teacher. “I feel my only route is retirement and possibly filing for bankruptcy.” NEA’s campaign for professional pay for teachers and support professionals is trying to change that.

7. Getting healthy

Everybody from Michelle Obama to the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver has turned their attention to that kid who can’t quite fit behind his desk in the back row. According to the federal government, nearly one in five children and adolescents are obese—nearly triple the rate of a generation ago—putting them in great risk of diabetes and heart disease. The Child Nutrition reauthorization bill, which would establish national nutrition standards for school food and provide more training opportunities to cafeteria employees, needs support. It passed the Senate in August and still needs a vote in the House. Some school districts are ahead of the curve. In Oregon, as part of a growing effort to close inequities in hunger and nutrition, using local produce and balanced meals, head cook Rhonda Sand has been slicing up jicama spears and filling trays with mixed berries—“They really weren’t a fan of the beets though,” she told Today’s OEA, smiling.

8. Finding the funding

On the one hand, there are public schools that can’t afford to pay their educators, fix their leaky roofs, or replace their moldy textbooks. On the other, there are hostile legislators who would love to divert the ever-dwindling funds for public education to private schools and companies and a federal government that believes the Race to the Top Fund, a  $4.35 billion reward for states that promise to tie teacher pay to test scores, is the answer. (Clue: It isn’t!) Activism is critical this year. NEA activists will help elect pro-public education candidates—through donations to the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education and participation in local phone banks and door-to-door walks. And they’ll be holding those politicians accountable. “Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Oh, but I’m not political. I’m an educator!’” says Lee Schreiner, an active Ohio teacher. “And I say, ‘Bull! Name one thing in your job that isn’t political.’” To learn more about NEA’s work for pro-public education candidates and issues, visit EducationVotes.

Illustration: David Clark

  • Dr. CurtisBaxter

    For several of these(8)reasons teachers are leaving the profession early. Teachers just want to teach, but with the increasing demand on testing and decreased demand on discipline, teachers choose to leave as soon as they are able to.

  • I think this list should be expanded to include 8 more:
    9) expansion of the privatization & charter-ization of public schooling
    10) rising job loss and home foreclosure among students’ families
    11) attacks on public sector workers’ pensions and collective-bargaining rights
    12) implementation of evaluations made to eliminate seniority and tenure
    13) a data culture that reduces students, educators, and schools to numbers
    14) common core standards that narrow the curriculum.
    15) lack of the arts, health, PE, civics and “new literacies” education
    16) “edu-philanthropy” as opposed to sustainable education investment.

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  • Kim Ireland

    I have to say regardless of what we have to face everyday please remember our students are coming up some of the same things. Educators are great at pointing out hings that are wrong but not always proactive enough at fixing what you can. Make the changes needed in your room, make a difference there, do your best and when your best is not good enough ‘SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON!’ Please don’t get the impression that I work in an affluent, everything is rosy type of school, I work in an urban school, a tough neighborhood with kids that struggle. But, we love them and help them, try to educate them and if it’s not enough then we do it some more.

  • Brad

    This pretty much hits the mark.

    Teachers should have more say in customizing the environment, curriculum and culture of their classrooms. A one size fits all approach from the powers above does not work very well in reality. This is something that needs to be vocalized more and addressed frequently….

  • Are you kidding me, if have of these liberal teachers would stop pushing their personal liberal agenda and started teaching the basics and stopped their cry baby complaints, they may really might start to make a difference. Start teaching and leave the politics at the door.

    To the teacher who is broke after 30 years, you must be a piss poor at financial matters. Come to my town and look at what the teachers make from the town report. 20 years of service and the average salary is over $75k. Oh and did I mention they only work 8.5 months of the year with summer and all the hack holidays.

    Bottom is we Mitt to shake things up just like W did.

  • Make your voice COUNT on the The Student2Teacher radio show http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher. The show promotes the mission of White Apple Institute http://whiteappleinstitute.org and the Veterans Administration Medical Center http://www.va.gov
    The mission of White Apple Institute, a humanitarian organization, is to provide resources and services to differently-abled students and teachers around the world. The radio show, via Internet, is designed to bring attention to a variety of psychosocial issues that impact the success of students and teachers. An additional segment of the Student2Teacher show, “VET2VET”, brings attention to the same psychosocial issues with an emphasis on students who are Veterans.
    The majority of Listeners and Guests on this progressive radio are working and/or studying in education, psychology, sociology, rehabilitation, and related fields. The show broadcasts every Saturday morning from 10am-11:30am

  • Sadly

    My own children want to be teachers. They seem to
    have this natural ability to be in front of a class. They are
    so good. I wish you could see them.
    Unfortunately, as a teacher with the profession under
    attack, I tell my kids and everyone I know to stay
    away from American education. It is falling apart. 
    My children look at me and are very confused since they
    want to take after their parent. Twenty years ago
    would have been a different story. Among other things, I
    remember when there were great district offices which also served as community centers. 
    Today, I hear my principal complain about the staff getting
    older and affording all these experienced teacher salaries. 
    It makes me feel terrible having 20 years in when I should be happy
    having been blessed to serve my community for this amount of time. 
    With no raise for many years and none in site, I too am strapped.
    There is a chance I may lose my home.
    I believe it is just what the president and electrd officials want to do. 
    Yet another attack on their own American people and he wants my vote?
    Retire?! Ha ha ha. 
    I am telling everyone now that I am starting my middle twenty. 
    Most look at me like I am crazy but there is no retirement in the future,
    not for this struggling teacher. God help us all. 

  • Carv Wilson

    Money has always been the central issue for education. This has been true since the founding of education back in the day of Daniel Webster, for Heaven’s sake teachers worked for just room and board back then. I teach in the State with the largest class sizes and lowest spending per pupil, Utah. I teach not for the money, the recognition, nor for anything else, except for the kids. I love to see the lightbulb go on in their heads. That is worth the poor pay, long hours, and sometimes difficult parents and administrations. Finding ways to reach (tech is a great way) our students despite the difficulties is what teachers do best! We have done more with less than almost any historic group I can think of. I love teaching, even though I have to suppliment my teaching addition with a part-time job! I make a difference in the lives of my students. I prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow, by facing and overcoming the challenges of today. Give them the tools they need for the 21st century and they will surprise you time and again with the things they create!

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  • One Kurgath

    challenges of teaching as a profession
    1.Lacks autonomy~curriculum designed by external body,KIE.
    2.Recruitment is biased
    3.Lacks prestige
    4.Poor housing
    5Ethics in client service not strict
    7.New technology
    8.Emerging issues~armed conflicts,ethnicity,teen pregnancy
    9.lack of in-service

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  • Pritika Tarabe

    The students discipline also matters in a classroom as hitting is not allowed, students sometimes take advantage of that and misbehave or disrespect the teacher.Teachers face difficulties in teaching such students but they have to force themselves to.There are many other challenges too for the teachers.

  • Liz Moran Capone

    Teacher evaluation systems ? As in, we won’t have jobs.