Back to Blog

What No One Tells You About Teaching Elementary School

Many times I hear how nice it must be to be a teacher, by people who have no idea why it's fantastic to be a teacher. It usually goes something like this...
We know this isn't the case, but it is a bit discouraging to hear this from others.  That is one of the few things no one tells you about teaching in an elementary school.  Here are a few more:

You will need to use the bathroom, and it will be inconvenient.  Yes, I know teachers are supposed to have a planning time and lunch, but occasionally (weekly) you will not have a break.  It might be because of a meeting, a specialist being out, standardized testing taking place, etc.  Do not leave your students alone to use the restroom.  Even if they are the most well-behaved little group of angels, when you leave is when little Jimmy decides to stab himself with a paperclip.  You need to have a plan in place - call a really nice office staff member, teacher assistant from Kindergarten, or sympathetic teacher next door to watch your kiddos when nature calls.

You will deal with bodily fluids.  It's gross, but it's true.  Even if you are not working with Kindergartners, go ahead and accept that the little people you work with will bleed, vomit, sneeze, break a bone, pee, or lose a tooth.  Even in 4th and 5th grades!  They are people, and people do these things.  Get a box of latex-free gloves from the office and help them out, as kindly as you can while wearing your gloves.  Then... move on.  If you're lucky, these don't happen while you are being observed.  :)

You will love your students.  Every teacher I know would do anything within the law to help their kiddos have a better life.  Personally, I have bought clothes, shoes, books, school supplies, and food for my kiddos over the years.  Be prepared for this, or it will drain your already-drained bank account.  Also, make friends with the school guidance counselor and social worker (if you have them assigned to your school).  They can usually help provide school supplies and backpacks.

You might not adore their parents, but they love your students, too!  Their parents may have different priorities, and education might not top their list.  That's OK   Do what you can to engage the parents, especially in elementary school; improving their opinion of their child's education may change the trajectory of that student's life throughout their school career.  For example, regularly invite parents to the classroom in a festive way.  I've always tried to hold at least one writing celebration each quarter, and parents/family are always invited.  My expectations for parents are posted on the door as they enter the celebration: Please listen to at least 3 students share their writing.  The kiddos sit, and the parents circulate.  That way, parents get to interact with the other children, all children get an opportunity to read to several adults, and parents get an opportunity to see good representatives of "average" writing of this grade level.  Tip: serve some snacks!  This will pay off big, especially if your kiddos serve their adults the snacks.  At our celebrations over the years, the family impact has been huge!  Entire families (parents, siblings, grandparents, and even one great-grandmother) have come to cheer on their child.  It makes for wonderful memories for the families, and I usually just walk around and take pictures of the families together for our class website.  Parents go online to see the pictures, and happen to see the other resources I provide to help their child.  Win-Win!

Public perception is part of your job.  If you spend time complaining to parents about the negatives, it reinforces a stereotype that the schools aren't able to do their job.  Be positive in your interactions, and you will see the benefits.  'Nuff said.

Refresh, Recharge, Renew.  Take the time to find a sense of balance in your life and your teaching.  If you routinely take home hours of work to do nightly, choose a couple of evenings to take nothing home and do something with your family or friends.  If you are burnt out, you will not be effective...

Do not gossip.  News travels very fast in a school, whether it has 100 students or 1,000 students.  Avoid saying anything you wouldn't want repeated, as it will cause drama.  Not the fun sing-and-dance kind of drama, but the kind that ends in accusations and tears.  You have no idea what is really going on in the life of your coworkers, and should not make assumptions based on gossip.  That being said...

Report major issues.  For example, I once worked at a school where a custodian constantly made a group of teachers uncomfortable with direct questioning about their relationships with boyfriends/husbands, plans for the weekend, and how they kept their bodies in shape.  I know - ewww!  Sad thing was, no one felt ready to say anything because they didn't know it was happening to other teachers until one person spoke up, and the situation was fixed.  Be an advocate for yourself.

Filter the information you are given.  Through the numerous meetings, you will be given a large amount of information, including some prescribed methods you "should" use to teach.  Remember that you are a trained professional, and  you are able to take what you are given to best serve the needs of your students.  An example: I worked at a school where the teachers were told, "No more Basals!  Ever!  Use only leveled texts."  This was an issue for these teachers, as the school had not purchased a supply of leveled texts appropriate for the upper grades.  My solution - I leveled the texts found in the basals for grades 2-5, and the teachers were able to use these texts appropriately in small groups to meet the needs of their students by picking and choosing the texts that were a good fit for their students' text levels and interests, and allowing a balance of narrative and informative texts.  Reading levels took off for these students, teachers were not "bound" to the prescribed method of the basals, and everyone was able to do what was best for their students.

Always give your students a method to cope.  Across the socio-economic spectrum, students have issues.  It does not matter where they come from, or what they have happen in their life... if they can't cope with what is going on in their life, help them.  You can set up a system for them to sign up to talk to the guidance counselor, a cool-down spot, or set up a special arrangement with the child individually.  If other children ask about it, calmly explain that you do your best to provide what everyone needs, and we all need different things.  Most students see the logic in that and accept it.  No worries...

Don't fall into the Super Teacher Myth.  Everyone in education should watch this video.
Best wishes to you in your classroom!!  I am proud of you!


  1. Thank you for this post! I am finishing my first year as a teacher and all the facts are right on the money! I especially loved the video because there were times (around October) where I struggled and wondered if this profession is for me, but it takes a lot to break those of us who can work with and inspire 20+ kiddos. :)


  2. Jen,
    I love this! Thanks so much for sharing - I've been at this gig for fourteen years and so often each year feels like my first year. It doesn't matter how long you've been teaching - this helped put things into perspective.

    I love blogging - I do, I do, I do - Buuut....sometimes looking at the highlights {because that's what they are} of other teachers' classrooms sometimes gets me down, exacerbates my frustrations...sometimes I think it's good to show the good, the bad AND the can't be perfect in the classroom nor should you strive to be.

    Thanks again!!!!!!

    Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade

  3. Such a great post!! I've been teaching only 5 years and every year I discover something new about our profession! Thanks again for the inspirational post!! :)

    Sailing into Second

  4. Refresh, recharge and renew - The biggest reason why I love year round schools. I am so grateful to have a break often enough to create new things, to want to go back to work with a big smile and to continue to feel proud of what I do :)
    My Second Sense

  5. Awesome post! Isn't it crazy that one of my top 3 concerns for next year is not being able to go to the bathroom because our TA's are being taken away? I tried explaining this to my family and they really couldn't fathom having no bathroom access. CRAZY!

    Second Grade Math Maniac

  6. Yes, the bathroom issue...and it is an issue, esp. when/if you're preggo.

    I was scrolling through my blogger and saw your poster...that's my font:) Made me smile!
    Deniece, This Little Piggy Reads

  7. Thank you for the wonderful reminders! Even though the days are long and I sometimes spend more time with my students than my own children, I can't imagine doing anything else. This is where I was meant to be!

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

  8. Hi great post! I'm so glad I found your blog, I'm your newest follower
    Science for Kids Blog


Post a Comment

I love to hear from you. Thanks for supporting my tiny corner of the internet.

Popular posts from this blog

Make and Take Literacy Night = Fun Parent Involvement

Teaching Word Work In Small Groups {Grades 3-5}