Chalkboard confessions

By Mahlaqa Saeed
Tue, 02, 24

While the power to shape young lives remains a potent motivator, a worrying exodus of educators leaves us questioning the sustainability of the profession all around the world. You! takes a look…

Chalkboard confessions

Standing at the podium, a teacher ignites a spark in a young mind. It’s a scene often romanticised by inspiration and a life lesson, yet the reality of modern education paints a more nuanced picture of the joys and challenges of teaching that both new and experienced teachers face in their classrooms alike. While the power to shape young lives remains a potent motivator, a worrying exodus of educators leaves us questioning the sustainability of the profession. Read on…

Challenges that Cast a Shadow: The Burdens on Educators

The idyllic image of teaching often clashes with the harsh realities educators face on a daily basis. The most prominent challenge is workload. Instances of disruptive talking, chronic procrastination, clowning around, interrupting lessons, bullying classmates, using insults, disrespecting teachers, defiance, and even hostility are just some of the behaviours that teachers encounter in classrooms, ranging from occasional mild occurrences to frequent and severe disruptions. It doesn’t come as a surprise when teachers often find these behaviours stressful and intolerable, requiring significant time and energy to manage.

A 2022 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that teachers in the United States work an average of 52 hours per week, significantly exceeding the national average. This mountain of paperwork, lesson planning, and extracurricular duties leaves little time for self-care or professional development.

Financial strain adds another layer of stress. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the median pay for elementary and middle school teachers in the US was $62,880 in May 2023, a figure that struggles to keep pace with rising living costs.

While there might not be substantive research-based data for Pakistan, observations indicate that the working conditions are not very different with teachers’ pay scales varying across school levels; mainly due to a lack of regulation in our education system.

Furthermore, the educational landscape itself presents hurdles. Standardised testing, high-stakes accountability measures, and limited resources can stifle creativity and reduce teaching to a data-driven exercise. This can create a pressure cooker environment where teachers feel they are constantly under scrutiny and unable to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Tom Brassington
Tom Brassington

The mental and emotional toll cannot be ignored. A 2021 study by the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 37 per cent of teachers reported experiencing chronic stress, significantly higher than the national average. The pandemic further amplified these anxieties, with social distancing mandates and remote learning adding new layers of complexity.

Tom Brassington is a teacher from Denby, England and co-creator of the Bottled Book; a picture book that supports vital conversations with young people about their feelings. According to him, dealing with poor classroom behaviour of students is most draining for teachers. Not only that, it hampers the learning process as well.

Exodus at the Podium: Why Teachers are Leaving

Despite the spiritual satisfaction that teaching brings, the cumulative challenges of the profession contribute to a concerning trend: teachers are leaving in droves. A 2022 report by the Learning Policy Institute in the United States found that 55 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. The reasons are complex and multi-faceted, often a combination of the factors.

The burnout caused by workload overload, low pay, and constant pressure is a major driving force. Many teachers feel unsupported and undervalued, leading to a decline in morale and a sense of hopelessness.

Furthermore, the changing demographics of the teaching workforce plays a role. A significant portion of current educators are nearing retirement age, creating a natural attrition cycle. However, concerns about attracting and retaining younger generations exacerbate the issue.

Meanwhile, a national survey carried out in the UK in 2022 reported that the rising numbers of teachers and head teachers quitting the profession can be attributed to classroom misbehaviour of students as 60 per cent of school leaders and teachers said pupil misbehaviour had had a negative impact on their health.

In the case of Pakistan, the rising costs of living simply do not match the salary of a private school teacher with financial responsibilities. Therefore, you will either find teachers opting for tutoring services or remote work after their school hours or simply quitting the profession for more lucrative options; especially since most are subject specialists in their fields making them occupationally mobile.

The Impact of Teachers: Making a Difference Worldwide

Research consistently demonstrates that effective teaching is one of the most significant predictors of student achievement and success. Moreover, the ripple effects of quality teaching extend far beyond academic outcomes, shaping students' values, aspirations, and future trajectories.

Sadiqa Afsar
Sadiqa Afsar

When I asked a veteran Urdu teacher Ms Sadiqa Afsar, “What makes a student truly ‘light up’ in your classroom? What sparks their curiosity and engagement?” Her response was, “Students truly light up when they feel a genuine connection to the subject matter. Incorporating interactive teaching methods, fostering a positive and inclusive atmosphere, and acknowledging individual achievements contribute to a vibrant classroom where students are more likely to be curious and engaged in the learning process.”

She continued, “When a struggling student, who had been quietly grappling with a challenging concept, suddenly grasps the idea during a class discussion, the sheer joy and pride on the student’s face not only brings a smile to everyone in the room but also highlights the transformative power of education.”

According to recent data from the World Bank, countries with higher levels of teacher quality tend to exhibit higher student performance on international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Furthermore, research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlights the importance of investing in teacher professional development, supportive school leadership, and collaborative learning communities to enhance teaching effectiveness and student learning outcomes.

This is where we, as a country, lag far behind. Teaching is, unfortunately, taken up more as a hobby predominantly by women and not as a profession. There is no formal degree or training required to enter the profession and that’s what’s creating a wide gap between learning for knowledge and learning for grades.

At the same time, across continents, educators are making a difference in the lives of students through their dedication, creativity, and passion for teaching. From rural classrooms in developing countries to urban schools in industrialised nations, teachers are empowering students to overcome obstacles, pursue their dreams, and create positive change in their communities.

The Evolving Role of Teachers from Nurturing the Foundation to Preparing for the Future

Elementary school is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where every day is filled with moments of discovery and exploration. From uncovering the mysteries of language and mathematics to exploring the natural world through science and social studies, educators have the privilege of igniting the spark of curiosity in their students’ minds.

Meanwhile, middle school educators have the opportunity to make meaningful connections with their students, serving as mentors, role models, and advocates. Research suggests that positive teacher-student relationships are essential for fostering academic engagement, motivation, and resilience in middle school students.

Rasheeda Murtaza
Rasheeda Murtaza

This is where I must share the personal experience of being a parent to a middle schooler and how her English Teacher, Ms Rasheeda Murtaza woke up the sleeping writer dragon in my daughter by creating a classroom environment that inspires creativity and learning; while motivating students to strive to excel in their individual way and pace. Her teaching methods are engaging yet challenge students to rise to their potential.

Middle school classrooms are diverse microcosms of society, encompassing students from various backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. While there will always be a curriculum target that needs to be achieved, educators of today need to embrace diversity and equity, creating inclusive learning environments where all students feel valued and respected. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!

It’s hard to ignore the importance of high school as it marks the culmination of students’ school-based education; preparing them for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in college, career, and beyond. High school educators have the privilege of inspiring students to become lifelong learners, equipped with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for success in the 21st century. Research suggests that fostering a growth mindset, resilience, and a passion for learning are essential for preparing students for the demands of higher education and the workforce.

Ahmed Sewani
Ahmed Sewani

It was my high school English teacher Mr Ahmed Sewani who told me that I could be a writer someday and that I should pursue journalism as a degree. I was an ambitious teenager at the time with my focus on the corporate world. While I achieved my academic and professional goals, here I am, after a full circle of a career, writing about all that interests and excites me.

Joys that Nourish the Soul: Why we Choose to Teach

Despite the mounting pressures, countless individuals still embrace the teaching profession; mainly due to the fact that the intrinsic rewards are undeniable. Witnessing a student grasps a complex concept, the shared laughter during collaborative learning, or the heartfelt ‘thank you’ from a struggling learner - these moments create an unparalleled sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Research by the National Education Association (NEA) in the United States highlights the enduring appeal of teaching: 65 per cent of educators cite ‘making a difference in the lives of children’ as a primary motivator. Additionally, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that teachers experience significant joy from positive student interactions, highlighting the human connection at the heart of the profession.

Nicholas Ferroni
Nicholas Ferroni

Nicholas Ferroni is a revered high school History teacher and an education activist based in New Jersey, USA; who mentors his students with deep personal commitment and care. His social media handles introduce him as follows: “As a kid, I wanted to be a superhero, psychologist, philanthropist, philosopher, actor and comedian... So, I became a teacher.” Nicholas has recently completed 21 years in the teaching profession and despite all the challenges that come with being a public-school teacher and being part of a female dominated profession around the world, he says that the sheer joy of teaching does not let him leave the profession.

“Personally speaking, I entered the teaching profession completely by accident. With a degree in Business Management, I started my post graduate career in corporate communications and I was pretty good at it back in the day. However, being a single parent, I realised that my work schedule needs to match my child’s (mainly due to lack of after school care options) and so I got into teaching; even though my first pay cheque as a teacher was half of my last pay check as a Group Head. By the end of the first year, I realised something else. The joy of those lightbulb moments in class, helping a struggling student reach their potential, guiding students towards rising grades or extended conversations about the application of economic policies could not be measured on an employee satisfaction grid. It has been eight years since then and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young learners,” shares Nicholas.

Seeds of Hope: Rekindling the Flame of Teaching

Paul Emerich is a believer and promoter of the notion of making teaching sustainable. He is a National Board-Certified Teacher, Literacy Specialist, adjunct professor, keynote speaker, and the author of over 40 publications who explores how teachers and administrators can avoid burnout through progressive ideas about teaching, learning, school leadership, and school culture.

Rita Pierson
Rita Pierson

Most importantly, fostering a supportive and collaborative school environment is crucial. Investing in professional development, providing access to mental health resources, and empowering teachers with greater autonomy can go a long way in improving morale and retention of the teacher workforce.

As it goes in the famous Ted Talk by Rita Pierson, “Every kid needs a champion! I believe that as long as there are enough of us believing in this and working towards it, the joys of teaching will always surpass the challenges that come along the way and motivate quality teachers to stay in the profession.”

The writer is an O ‘Level teacher and a former PR practitioner. She can be reached at