Why We Teachers Try Anyway

Teaching is hard.

And over time, it can become very easy to let frustration and history cause you to stop trying.

I know, I know. Yoda says, “Do or do not, but there is no try.” However, in this case, Yoda was wrong.

In teaching, we certainly have many things we try.

We try to reach every child.

We plan lessons that reach many senses — hearing, sight, speaking, interacting, and touching with their hands. We try to bring the whole child into the lesson. Sometimes, we might even take the kids outside, to a new location, or even on a field trip. And sometimes those lessons might go wrong because we tried something new. But we have to… We have to…

Try anyway.

We try to reach kids who are struggling.

We may sit down beside their desk. We may ask for an extra moment. We work to listen to why they are struggling and turn every sense we have into reading their face, voice, and body language to attempt to know what is going on. And sometimes we find out that we were wrong, and we feel like the child just played on our emotions. And sometimes we realize we were right about something, but the parents — as much as we tried — would not respond to our emails or phone calls. We were just ignored. We feel frustrated and like what we do doesn't make a difference. But it does. And this child is not the last one we tried to reach but didn't. And we try to reach all of the kids; sometimes we reach them, and sometimes we don't. And sometimes, a parent even complains that we are trying too hard, and they just want us to let their child fail and leave them alone. But we have to… We have to…

Try anyway.

We try to plan something fun for the class.

Something that every child will enjoy.Something to make a memory and teach a lesson at the same time. The kids might get loud, and we might make a mess. And sometimes a next-door neighbor of a teacher might come over and say we're too loud because they're giving a test (this is why we try to let them know ahead of time.) But sometimes we let them know ahead of time, but they complain anyway… straight to the headmaster, and we get “in trouble” for a loud classroom. It has happened to most of us, for sure, at some point in our career. If we teach long enough. And sometimes, a permission form isn't sent in, and it is so much hassle to do fun things – the memorable ones that they talk about so much time later. We teach the real lessons of life. And even in the hassle, and trouble, and sometimes the personal grief it causes to plan something fun and engaging, we want our classrooms to be engaging, exciting places. And the longer I teach, the more I learn that the truly transformational lessons can sometimes stand out in ways that draw attention in not such good ways (depending on the culture of your school or who happens to be across the hall.) But here's the thing, no matter the grief or the hassle or whatever we go through, making the effort to plan something fun every so often for every class matters. Even with the challenges. We have to… we have to…

Try anyway.

There are so many things about teaching that are hard.

And over time, we collect lots of heartaches that go alongside the kids we reach — we have some massive failures. And we have kids who struggled, who we helped, and those we tried to help who lashed out. And it hurt so much. And we planned something fun, only it wasn't fun, or the kids got rowdy, and somehow it just wasn't what we imagined.

But there's one thing about the greatest teachers I've ever known.

They tried.

They tried a lot.

They never stopped trying.

Last year, my mentor, Grace Adkins, retired from teaching on her 95th birthday after teaching for 78 years. (See USA Today's article and my podcast interview with her.)

She told me in her 70s, more than 20 years before she retired, that as long as a child needed her, she had a reason to get out of bed in the morning and head to school before the sun rose over the horizon at 6 am.

Mrs. Adkins tried a lot.

She tried to reach many kids.

She tried to help the strugglers.

She tried to plan fun activities.

She succeeded a lot. She also failed a lot. And yet, is trying failure? I don't think so.

Many failures are part of much success

Micahel Jordan missed 12,345 shots in his career and made 12,192 baskets.

So, he missed more than he made, but he tried a whole bunch of shots. He said at one point,

“I've missed more than 9,000 shots n my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Let me ask you this, teacher.

  • If you try to reach every child and only succeed at less than half of them, will you keep trying?
  • Will you keep trying to reach the struggler and the straggler?
  • Will you keep pressing forward?

Teaching is far more important than the game of basketball. Teaching helps kids in life. And life isn't a game.

But I promise you this. If we all, as teachers, keep trying. If we create a culture in a school of trying to reach every child. And even if each teacher misses out many times and reaches less than half, between all of us some of us will reach some of them. And schools where trying to reach children is praised and even rewarded will be a school that reaches more kids.

It is better to have tried at a noble task and failed than to have never tried at all.

Teaching is hard. Teaching is hurtful. But teaching is worth it. We get to make a difference in the lives of children when they need us most. And we teach far more than content; we teach how to overcome obstacles. We teach life. We teach purpose and meaning. And we teach children that their life is worth the struggle, even if they resist. Because they matter. They are each precious and of infinite worth. And if Michael Jordan can try to make a shot and be good at basketball, I'm going to try even moreso to make a shot to reach every child and make a difference in the world.

And that, my friends, is worth a try every time.

I may fail. I may succeed. But I will not fail to reach a child because I refused to try.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Rosie Cornell January 29, 2024 - 8:18 am

Wow this is such a great blog. I am a future intervention specialist, and this is a great reminder for me as I step into a school for the semester. I am feeling a bit anxious stepping into a high school, but I will try anyway, as these students need to be reached and encouraged. It is so easy to get down when I have a student who doesn’t connect with me, but after reading this blog, I know I wont reach every kid, but I need to keep trying regardless because all students need help and encouragement from their teacher

Vicki Davis February 8, 2024 - 3:13 pm

Yes, Rosie! That is true. Good luck and keep trying!

Aiden February 14, 2024 - 2:55 pm

This blog has really inspired me! There are always going to be times when times are tough and we are not reaching students how we want to. As a future teacher, it sounds like it could be quite discouraging. However, the importance to perservere is clear in this post. I will make it my goal as a teacher to continue to make a strong effort to reach my students even

Vicki Davis February 19, 2024 - 3:01 pm

Keep on working to reach the students! They are so important!

Trent Renz February 18, 2024 - 1:24 am

This is a great blog post! As a future educator like myself, this post helps me understand the challenges and beloved aspects of teaching.
I love how you talk about how tough teaching can be and how important it is to keep trying. Even when things go wrong or it feels like you’re not getting through to every student, the effort you put in matters. It’s a reminder that even when teaching gets hard, your impact on students’ lives is worth it.

Vicki Davis February 19, 2024 - 2:59 pm

It sure is Trent! Good luck with teaching!


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere
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