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Seven Top Pet Peeves for Teachers (And How to Fix Them)

teacher pet peeves

When I was teaching creative writing to high schoolers, one activity we did always got a lot of energy. I would ask students to make a list of anywhere between 10-20 pet peeves in their notebooks, and for the next several minutes, every kid in the room would scrawl enthusiastically. Without fail, students would complain that they wanted more time, that 20 pet peeves wasn’t enough, that they had SO much more to say. And adults aren’t much different, really. We all become infuriated with little things that bother us, those that bring on that nails-on-the-chalkboard feeling of absolute annoyance. For teachers, the exact same pet peeves may not be universal across the board, but we share a lot nonetheless. Here are some of the most pervasive, and what we can do to make them a little less powerful.

  1. Interruptions to instruction. Announced or not, classes get disrupted by endless PA announcements, pep rallies, students being called out of class, and so forth. While nobody can control what is decided outside the classroom, the best way to manage disruption is to build in some cushioning with the daily agenda. Instead of having a rigid bell-to-bell plan (a pervasive error mistaken for strong instruction), build in moments where students can work more independently or explore content on their own. That way, they can either continue learning where possible without direct instruction, or the entire lesson won’t fall apart when instructional time is cut for everyone.
  2. Being “voluntold” for class coverage. In this unwelcome age of extreme teacher shortages, those left standing are asked to cover for missing colleagues, often too many times in a week to be sustainable. If the load is getting heavy, keep a record of how coverage interferes with time needed to plan instruction. Then, collaborate with colleagues (who are likely in a similar boat) to think about how a rotation might be developed that distributes the work more fairly. If teachers approach leaders with a solution in mind rather than just a complaint, they are more likely to be open to making changes.
  3. Anything that compromises planning time. Those sweet minutes each day to plan for instruction alone or with teammates are precious, but they are sometimes impinged upon. Again, anyone in a position of authority who is regularly disregarding this time might be unaware of the imposition. If so, it can be hard to be brave, but we need to tell people what bothers us if they continually make demands on our time. If the leader in question is more difficult and is violating this time regardless, then explore what is technically allowed contractually, what other options might exist for doing the requested work, and make it clear that this time is essential for supporting students effectively. 
  4. Phrases like “summers off” or “short day, short year.” Ah, the people who think teaching is a walk in the park. You know – the ones who have never been teachers. When someone utters any sentiment that implies that teaching is easy, stand proud and tell the truth. Talk about all those nights of planning and grading without overtime. About continuing professional development and required training. About the fact that summer is not paid time off. About how one reason so many teachers experience low morale is that their endless hours of work are not supported by a matching salary. All this might not change anyone’s mind, but at least we’ll feel better for speaking up.
  5. Assumptions about dress and professionalism. Teaching is a highly active job, one that necessitates comfortable clothing and footwear. For anyone who suggests that it’s unprofessional to wear sneakers in a position that involves chasing seven-year-olds around (or similar), it’s our job to educate them. If snarky commentary about something as external as an outfit dignifies a response (which it might not, to be honest), be clear about what the job looks like: hours on our feet without breaks to eat or use the bathroom, not to mention the physical output active teaching demands. Or, just stop the conversation with this simple phrase: “What I wear is irrelevant to the quality of my work.”
  6. Unsolicited advice from non-educators. Nobody appreciates being told how to do their jobs, especially if they didn’t ask. For teachers, it is far too common for people to believe they have all the answers, just because they once sat in a classroom as a student. If possible, ignoring what is often well-intentioned might be the best course of action, or perhaps saying a terse and deadpan “thank you.” However, when someone is being unpleasant, it is perfectly reasonable to push back calmly, but clearly.
  7. Challenges to our expertise. Recently, school board chair Barney Bishop III was quoted in a high-profile case involving the firing of a principal as saying, “Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities, you’re on better drugs than me.” His offensive words might be an extreme example (let’s hope) of the disrespect some people hold for educators, but it is not enough of an outlier in terms of public perception. Typically, teachers come back at similar sentiments with, “Oh, yeah? Want to take my job for a week and see how you do?” Any response will likely come across as defensive, so as painful as it might seem, a well-placed eye roll might be the most appropriate response to anyone who is so unintelligent as to think that teaching is not a job requiring skills and expertise. In a situation like this, a mental shrug is also helpful to shake off the experience, as is a reminder to self that there are plenty of wise, supportive people who don’t believe such a damaging narrative.

It can be difficult not to give into pet peeves and respond to them productively (or ignore them) instead, but when we are aware of them and have a plan for what to do, they’re not as powerful. There are so many ways that an otherwise happy day of teaching can go sideways with elements outside anyone’s immediate area of control. As the old poem instructs us, “Keep your head about you.” And yes (to paraphrase), even when everyone around us seems to be losing theirs – and blaming it on us.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS