The Hard Truth About Teacher Success

by | Oct 15, 2018

Teacher Success is Caught in a Disconnect

There is a tension in education that is rarely addressed – what society sees as a success in schools and what teachers are judged on as a success. The hard truth of the matter is that there is a major disconnect here, with eyes on data and numbers and recognized need for focus on building relationships, fostering culture, creativity, and citizenship. This disconnect influences how teachers see themselves. Educators are spinning their wheels trying hard to succeed in other’s eyes and in their own as well.

Is there a disconnect between how you see your success and how others determine your success?

What makes a good teacher?

A good teacher is one who has a passion for teaching AND a passion for what they are teaching – they get joy from sharing these passions. They want to make a difference by sharing their love for both learning and for the knowledge they share. They want to make a positive impact on the community and perhaps the world. This is the makeup of a good teacher and nowhere in it is anything that is concretely measurable.

(You can read more about the top reasons teachers enter the profession here.) 

How do you, as a teacher, define your success?

As teachers, we nearly always define our successes by our students’ successes. If students are engaged and learning we are teaching successfully. If they are following lessons, learning new ideas, developing as independent thinkers we are doing our jobs.

The Disconnect.

The disconnect comes with how others view our success. Or perhaps better said, how others measure our success. When success is viewed solely through the lens of data we undermine all the wonderful non-measurable work that is done every day in classrooms everywhere. The building of relationships, the fostering of culture, the encouraging of creativity all disappears when the success of teachers and schools is boiled down to numbers alone.

The impact of this disconnect

This disconnect creates turmoil (inward and outward) for teachers. It causes teachers to question their purpose, to question the purpose of education (read more here), to no be confident in their approach to curriculum, to not be sure of their path. Teachers who always wanted to make a difference begin to question how they measure that difference. Is it in the spark within their students, the passion of their teaching, the joy they share in the classroom? Or, is it in data-points and measured proficiencies?

When legislators, administrators, society judge the role of teachers and their success only through the data points, is it no wonder educators can feel like failures even though they are spinning their wheels trying as hard as they can. This leads to occupational stress and burnout. This leads to the teacher attrition trends we are seeing and the decreasing appeal to college students to enter the profession.

It boils down to this:


  • When there is a disconnect between how you see your success and how others determine your success can you really be happy?


  • Can you truly feel that you are making the difference you set out to make?


  • Can you see that you are fulfilling your purpose?


They are all questions we must ask as long as test scores and data points factor into evaluations and teacher ratings.
So what do we do?

We continue doing what we always do. We teach our students, knowing that the data doesn’t fully reflect the diverse needs of our classroom, the tragic stories of their home lives, or the extra mile we go to build a safe and caring environment for each of our students. We collect the data, knowing that it provides us part of the picture and it can inform our practice, but we don’t take it as the only picture. And, we try to remind ourselves and each other often of what we know: that our success as educators is as much in the little moments, the buzz of class fully engaged, the “a-ha” of a struggling student, as it is in the published numbers and reported percentages. And, that our purpose as educators doesn’t falter or change with numbers and our joy doesn’t come from data, it comes from knowing we are making a difference and that we are doing what we know is right for our students.

Looking for more ways to connect with your purpose and reclaim your joy in teaching check out the Joy in Teaching books here.

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