Stages of Teaching – Survival

After discussing in our previous post “Stages of Teaching – Fantasy,” and how most teachers fall victim to the fantasy of teaching, this post will examine the second stage of teaching, “Survival.” What is “Survival” mode in teaching? After a teacher realizes that students are not as eager to learn the subject at hand, or perhaps the classroom has gone completely awry with goofy, distracted and uninspired students, the teacher has finally snapped out of fantasy mode. Now the teacher is completely swamped and overwhelmed. But what exactly are they overwhelmed with?

Teaching. Yes. Everything that has to do with teaching has been spun on its head 180 degrees. All the fun activities they had planned, or, what they thought were beneficial and inspiring have gone out the window. The lesson plans are another chore and teaching is done only for the job. The teacher simply gives busy work such as worksheets. I am no fan of grading, but for these teachers, grading is like pulling teeth. They see the students’ progress failing and they blame the students for not working hard. Some teachers get desperate and try to please all the students – an infinite and undying nightmare. They think that if they please the students, through free time or being “nice” all the time, that they will be safe. A teacher is not meant to please, but TEACH!

When pleasing students fails, the teacher undergoes the process of self-preservation. So long as they “teach” and get the material out, even if the whole class is bored out of its mind, the teacher is not willing to do 1% extra of work because it’s a waste of time and resources. This is where the teacher either quits teaching and hates it forever, or, pulls through and continues to improve until they smell success. But in many cases, many teachers, get better at being in survival mode but fail to ever improve. If the system they work in doesn’t monitor them closely, they become “zombie teachers.” They get good at teaching their boring stuff and they even think they are amazing. Thus, they live in an alternative universe where they feel successful because they’ve become hardened and set in their boring methods – thinking that surviving is an achievement but know deep down they aren’t doing anything substantial. I’ve met these teachers who use their years of terrible teaching as proof of their qualification. “I have been teaching for 10 years!” You mean 10 terrible years? It doesn’t matter how long you teach. It’s the impact and the continuous learning you indulge in to improve. These teachers need to be re-inspired. In my personal experience and observation, this horrible and painful stage can last 2-3 years. I have no statistical proof. However, in watching my ex and current co-workers, I can tell when a teacher is swimming for his or her life.


  1. People- You need to surround yourself with inspiring people who will help you pull through. You will need to cry sometimes to get that pain out. You will need to rant sometimes. But most importantly, you will need friend who will help you focus on the beauty of teaching. These friends will not push you back in fantasy mode, but help you move out of survival mode by giving you feedback and positive encouragement.
  2. Trial and Error – There is nothing more painful and effective to learning than one’s trials and errors. You will say ridiculous things. You might lose your cool. You might have slipped up and said something insensitive. Heck. You might even get hauled in for some lecturing by your superiors. Therefore, instead of being extra-uptight in fear of everything that could get you fired, just use extra wise-judgment and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do. Learn from your mistakes and push forward.
  3. Stay Positive – When I was this in stage of teaching, I really hated myself. I would wonder why I was still suffering from this pain. Most of the time, it was because of me. It was because of who I was and people’s inability or choice to understand my unique personality. Thus, I was constantly on the defensive and explaining why I did this and why not that. But I was fortunate enough to have a boss who saw past my blunders, help me through my tough times and see the good in me. Most principals and superiors are very stentorian. You break one rule. You’re fired. They don’t really invest in the teacher yet they expect teachers to invest in the students! Therefore, having a good boss who knows when you’re down and can lift you up is really important.
  4. Hard work – How lame. Right? No. When you put in hard work, you will taste the fruits of your work. When you work hard, even if your lesson ends up a little boring, students can tell when a teacher puts in hard work. But so long as you strive to improve, you will smell success. Students know the lazy teacher who sits, orders students to read the lesson, define the words and answer the questions. I knew of one teacher who always sat and did this same routine. It was pathetic. That wasn’t teaching. That was worse than babysitting. At least baby sitters played games with kids.
Stages of Teaching – Survival

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