Public-school teachers reveal the 7 hardest things about their job

Teachers say mean parents and low pay make the job more difficult.
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As many students head back to school, teachers will gear up for what can sometimes be a challenging year.

While teaching remains a popular profession, many teachers across the US have gone on strike to protest low pay and other challenges on the job.

Business Insider asked dozens of teachers what they feel is the hardest part of the job. Some teachers chose to answer anonymously or just use their first name. Business Insider verified all identities with school badges and emails.

Many said they struggle with the emotional burden of teaching children going through difficulties at home. 

Read more: Teachers reveal the 7 things they wish they could tell parents — but can't

Other issues include having parents berate them for their child's bad grades, and constantly needing to teach to a standardized test.

Here are what teachers say are seven of the biggest challenges they face today.

[Editor's note: Some of these survey answers have been slightly edited for grammar and clarity.]

Teachers must carry the emotional burden of having to help students going through difficulties at home.

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Many teachers said teaching students going through problems at home takes an emotional toll.

"[The] most difficult part for me is learning about struggles and hardships my students are facing and then carrying that with me," said Andrea, a teacher from Illinois. "When they hurt, I hurt. Teachers care deeply about their students and any concerns we have stay with us well beyond the class period or school day. It's hard to shut this off."

"So many students have so many life situations outside of school," said a high school teacher from California who wished to remain anonymous. "We expect them to come to school and behave a certain way and focus on very abstract things, but many of them are living with so much stress and trauma. For some students, school is the safest, sanest place in their life."


Teachers must deal with difficult parents.

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Morgan, a teacher in South Carolina, said the hardest part of her time as a teacher has been dealing with parents who blame her for their child's bad behavior.

"When I called parents to discuss their child's misbehavior I was often blamed for it," Morgan said. "One mother told me that I was racist and shouldn't be teaching (I'm black and taught a group of predominantly white students). Another told me my feelings were hurt and to 'get over it.'"

The teacher added she received little help from the school's administration on how to deal with parents. "I really had needed more guidance that year," she said.

Teachers say they need to constantly teach for standardized tests.

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Some educators said constantly using standardized tests limited teaching.

"I would have to say that the most frustrating part of teaching would be all of the testing," said Dianna, an elementary school teacher from Nebraska. "It won't let kids be kids and it seems as if you are always doing it."

After Ronald Reagan released a report condemning American public schools for failing to keep students competitive in math and reading with those in foreign countries, the country began using standardized tests to track students' learning. 

Today, students take an average of 112 standardized tests between kindergarten and the 12th grade, according to a 2015 study. Critics say over-testing students does not account for differences in the way children learn and socioeconomic factors driving test performance down

"It is awful dealing with the pressure to teach to standardized testing," said a high school teacher from Texas who wished to remain anonymous.

"It's scary knowing that if you don't teach well, your kids will suffer for maybe years," said an elementary school teacher in Texas who wished to remain anonymous. 

Some teachers struggle with disconnecting after the work day is done.

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Establishing a work-life balance for teachers can be challenging, especially given how attached they can get to their students' well being, said a high school teacher from Illinois who wished to remain anonymous.

"I tend to bring my day home with me and this includes every emotion both I and the students experienced. It can make it difficult to disconnect from work," the teacher said. "It is a stressful job that requires mental and physical stamina."

Students who misbehave in class make the job harder.

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Some teachers said students struggling with problems at home leads to them acting out in class. 

"So many of my students have families who are below the poverty level," said an elementary school teacher from Virginia who wished to remain anonymous. "They come in needing so much more than just being taught, they need attention and sometimes that attention turns into flipping tables."

Brett, a high school teacher from California, also said teaching "disengaged and disrespectful students" makes his job challenging.

Teacher say pay is low.

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"I work in Virginia, and the last time I checked, we are ranked 38th in the nation when it comes to teacher pay," said Fred, a high school teacher. "My district froze my steps for seven years when the Great Recession hit. I should be making at least $12,000 to $15,000 more today based on the scale that I agreed to when I first started teaching. Instead, all we get are 1% or 2% raises here and there. I had to short sell my house, which was extremely difficult on my children."

Some teachers feel overworked.

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A middle school teacher from Maryland who wished to stay anonymous said she feels she does the work of "a five human team that never sleeps."

She has 14 special-needs students, and she must follow a strict individualized teaching program for each student while customizing a lesson plan in three different subjects. She said the work amounts to 42 individual lessons a week, which she says is "not possible."

Plus, she said her school administration does not provide the materials that her students need to properly understand lessons.

"There is no support in the way of creative thinking about planning," the teacher said. "I think we need to take a major step back and ask what is actually important for these kids."

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