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The biggest challenges holding teachers back from personal growth

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

What's holding you back from personal growth?

Learning is a lifelong journey. But along the way, we all face obstacles — both internal and external — that can hold us back from personal growth and success.

I have a soft spot for teachers who have big dreams but are hesitant to move forward with them.

Many teachers don’t move forward with their goals because they’re afraid of change. When you’re afraid of change and fearful of the unknown, it becomes difficult to see what you could gain from the experience. Don’t let fear prevent you from getting started.

First, while this is a common issue that many teachers face, it doesn’t mean that it ’ll cripple you. You can use some simple techniques to get over any issues and fears you may have and work on your personal growth.

Here I’ve gathered and compiled a list of some of the biggest challenges teachers struggle with that hold them back from personal growth. You may identify with just one or two on the list depending on your current situation. Still, whenever you’re facing a challenge, it can be difficult to see past all the obstacles in front of you.

Whatever the challenge, I hope this post provides some clarity on being able to face it head on and keep going.

Fear of change and growth

I’m afraid of failure

The most common thing that holds people back is fear. Fear of failure, fear of being ridiculed, fear of being humiliated.

Overcome the fear.

Fear is a peculiar thing. It's not just a matter of having a potent emotion you don't like. It's a cognitive bias that distorts your thinking in ways that make it harder for you to achieve what you want to achieve, or even to think clearly about what you want to achieve.

And if you think about it, fear is an extremely odd thing. We evolved to be afraid of some things that really are dangerous, like fire and heights and wild animals. But we also evolved to be afraid of things that are actually harmless, like public speaking.


The answer seems obvious: because these fears helped us survive in the environment where we evolved. For example, fear of snakes probably kept our ancestors from getting bitten by venomous snakes.

But there is another explanation that makes more sense considering modern life: many of our fears today aren't adaptations at all; they are leftovers from past environments that got wired into our brains by coincidence.

It's so easy to be a teacher and never grow. It's much harder to be a teacher and always grow. To do that, I think you have to embrace the fact that failure is going to happen, and embrace it in a way that allows you to say "okay, I failed at this, I can still learn from it.

It's funny, because when we talk about teachers in a broader sense, we often talk about them as if they were highly competent people who are almost perfect right out of the gate. And I think what we don't realize is how much personal growth there is in teaching.

Just look at a few of the challenges teachers manage:

  • classroom management,

  • curriculum development,

  • lesson planning,

  • grading strategies,

  • working with students who might not speak the same language at home,

  • or who come from different cultures

  • or who just have different personalities

And then we add into that all of their personal growth aspirations — whether it's learning how to manage money or maybe just learning how to prioritize their own time.

There's just so much growth that happens for teachers across the board.

You don’t need to fear failure. Just embrace it, embrace the fact that even the most experienced educators go through challenges in every facet of their life.

If you understand that, you can be much more resilient.

I’m afraid of criticism

We all go through challenges in every facet of our lives. While we should never be complacent or despairing, this can be understood to mean that if we can get through the challenge we are facing, we will become stronger and better people.

The challenges we face strengthen us. It's okay if you don't believe me because I believe in you and your potential to change your life.

There is a reason the leaders of nations, big and small, choose to surround themselves with other leaders and not just people that agree and nod and smile and tell them everything is just fine. Leaders want people to keep challenging them and keep pointing out mistakes not so they can find fault, but so they can find solutions.

We live in a society that values critical thinking and teaches children to think critically. But we're terrible at teaching people how to be constructively critical.

We criticize people's actions and their appearance and their values and the way they organize their closets. We rarely teach them how to take criticism, and so they don't learn how to give it well either.

What does it mean to take criticism well?

It means accepting, as valid, the core message of the criticism: that you could or should have done something differently than you did. It also means separating the person giving the criticism from the core message. The value of a critique depends almost entirely on its content, not on who is saying it.

It means realizing that even if someone is an idiot, he might still be right about what you could or should have done differently. And it means realizing that just because someone is right about what you could or should have done doesn't mean he's right about everything.

If I am criticizing your cooking, I am not criticizing you as a person; I am only saying that there is room for improvement, perhaps vast room for improvement, in your cooking skills.

It's all about how you take in criticism. If you allow yourself to accept constructive criticism positively, it will help you grow.

You might think about how to avoid criticism, but it turns out that what you should think is how to get more of it. You should think about how to take criticism better.

When someone gives you feedback, ask yourself: "What would I have to be true to reject this feedback as wrong?"

The answer will tell you what kinds of evidence would convince you that the criticism is wrong. Then look for those kinds of evidence.

If the feedback is right and you don't change, then that's on you.

I lack confidence in my skills and abilities

We all have this thing inside us that's a little insecure. If we didn't, we wouldn't have the drive to do anything. But it's easy to let insecurity take over and hold us back from doing something new or taking a risk.

One big problem that teachers have is that they aren't confident in their skills or abilities. They might not realize that other people have the same problem, especially if they're good at what they do.

It can be easy for them to fall into a trap of thinking that they don't know anything other people don't already know, or that if they need help, it must be because they're not good enough at what they do.

They might feel like they've been teaching forever, and if they haven't learned everything by now, there's no point in trying to learn anything new. Or, since learning how to teach takes a long time, maybe they think if they haven't figured it out by now, there's no way they ever will.

But those kinds of thoughts are just self-defeating patterns of thinking.

If you want to become a better teacher, it’s important to realize that you aren't born with the skills you need. Learn them, practice them, and then give yourself time for reflection and feedback.

Just like any other professional pursuing growth, teachers need to be continuously working on their craft. They can’t wait until the end of the year to reflect on what they’ve done; they need to evaluate their work as it’s happening.

Professional success is built, not born. It’s built by focusing on the right skills and applying them with determination and focus. And let me tell you — that doesn’t happen by accident either. It happens through purposeful action, followed by consistency.

I have difficulty with communication and social interaction

A major challenge keeping many teachers behind with personal growth is their inability to communicate with others. To communicate effectively, they need to be aware of the effect that they are having on others. They need to read their audience and adjust their presentation accordingly.

Challenges with communication may be connected to the attitude of many teachers toward their students. Teachers who see no value in their students may feel that there is no reason to communicate with them. Or, they may not consider the time spent interacting with students as something that will help them grow personally.

They might think that student interactions are not important because students are only temporary in their lives; teachers will move on to other jobs and will rarely interact with the same group of students again. But this view fails to recognize how much they can learn from each interaction.

They can learn about how different people respond to them, and can improve what they say next time based on this information. They can also learn about themselves, as they compare how they act around different people.

Teachers who have a hard time communicating with others may feel that their job demands them to be friendly and sociable with everyone. But this is not actually the case. Teachers need only be friendly and sociable with their students, and perhaps other teachers and colleagues on their campus.

If you find it difficult to communicate with others, don't beat yourself up about it, but do seek opportunities to talk to people outside your department.

There are always challenges when it comes to personal growth

What makes great teachers?

Certainly there are a range of factors. But how do we develop the confidence and inspiration to go after those factors and achieve greater things for our work, our lives, and our students?

Probably one of the biggest blocks in overcoming these challenges and becoming an effective and empowering teacher is fear.

For many teachers, we struggle with feeling like we don’t have enough time, as well as self-doubt, anxiety, and fear. But if there was ever a time to dig deep and push past those challenges, now is the time.


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