7 Pet peeves for teachers (and how to fix them)

Trish Riley
Trish Riley

We all become infuriated with little things that bother us – especially the moments that inspire that nails-on-the-chalkboard feeling of absolute annoyance. 

These 7 pet peeves are some of the most pervasive for many teachers – but there are ways to reduce the stress.

  1. Interruptions to instruction. Classes get disrupted by PA announcements, and students being called out of class. The best way to manage disruption is to build in some cushioning to your daily agenda. Instead of having a rigid bell-to-bell plan, build in moments where students can work more independently or explore content on their own. That way the entire lesson won’t fall apart when instructional time is cut for everyone.
  2. Being “voluntold” for class coverage. In this unwelcome age of extreme teacher shortages, those left standing are asked to cover for missing colleagues. If the load is getting heavy, keep a record of how coverage interferes with time needed to plan instruction. Then, collaborate with colleagues (who are likely in a similar boat) to think about how a rotation might distribute the work more fairly. If teachers approach leaders with a solution in mind, they are more likely to be open to making changes.
  3. Anything that compromises planning time. Those minutes each day to plan for instruction are precious, but they are often impinged upon. While it can be hard, we need to tell people what bothers us if they continually make demands on our time. If our time continues to be violated, regardless, then explore what is allowed contractually, and what other options might exist for doing the requested work – and make it clear that this time is essential for supporting students effectively.
  4. Phrases like “holiday again” or “short day, short year.” Ah, the people who think teaching is a walk in the park. You know – the ones who have never been teachers. When someone utters any sentiment that implies that teaching is easy, stand proud and tell the truth. Talk about the nights of planning and grading without overtime. About continuing professional development and required training. About how one reason so many teachers experience low morale is that their endless hours of work are not supported by a matching salary. This may not change anyone’s mind, but at least you will feel better for speaking up.
  5. Assumptions about dress and professionalism. Teaching is a highly active job, one that necessitates comfortable clothing and footwear. For anyone who suggests that it’s unprofessional to wear sneakers in a position that involves chasing seven-year-olds around, it’s our job to educate them. Be clear about what the job looks like: hours on our feet without breaks to eat or use the bathroom, not to mention the physical output active teaching demands. Or, just stop the conversation with something like: “What I wear is irrelevant to the quality of my work.”
  6. Unsolicited advice from non-educators. Nobody appreciates being told how to do their jobs, especially if they didn’t ask. For teachers, it is far too common for people to believe they have all the answers, just because they once sat in a classroom as a student. If possible, ignoring what is often well-intentioned might be the best course of action, or perhaps saying a terse and deadpan “thank you.”
  7. Challenges to our expertise. Many teachers feel respected as professionals within their school communities and by their students’ parents or guardians, but only 46 per cent of teachers saying they feel like the public respects them as professionals. When challenged, teachers typically respond with, “Oh, yeah? Want to take my job for a week and see how you do?” Unfortunately, any response will come across as defensive, so as painful as it might seem, a well-placed eye roll might be the most appropriate response to anyone who thinks that teaching is not a job requiring skills and expertise.

It can be difficult not to give into pet peeves for teachers and respond to them productively, but when we are aware of them and have a plan for what to do, they’re not as powerful. There are so many ways that an otherwise happy day of teaching can go sideways with elements outside anyone’s immediate area of control. 

As the old poem instructs us, “Keep your head about you.” And yes (to paraphrase), even when everyone around us seems to be losing theirs – and blaming it on us.

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Trish Riley is a Zimbabwean-born writer and communications specialist. With experience in journalism, and public relations, Trish has been developer and editor of several trade publications and regularly contributes articles for diverse sectors including aged care, animal care, construction and education.