Persist in the face of considerable obstacles [W-1]

Control your destiny

  • Assume that challenges to student achievement are solvable
  • Target those challenges which most hold your students back
  • Develop solutions that address the root causes of those challenges
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When things get hard, work harder

  • Refuse to let anything prevent your students from achieving the big goal
  • Prioritize time and effort on the most pressing challenges

Connection to Continuously Increasing Effectiveness: using your mistakes as opportunities to learn

Illustrations are grouped by the proficiency that they best bring to life.

We would like to communicate our deep appreciation to these teachers who are allowing us to learn from their experiences.


As teachers in under-performing schools, it can seem that we are confronted by challenges at every turn. It can tempting for us to either want to throw ourselves head-long into every challenge we encounter, or we may find ourselves struggling to identify which challenges we should take on, and which we should leave be. Both of these situations can result in wasted effort, damaged relationships with important colleagues and “gate keepers,” and accelerated exhaustion and burn-out.


To ensure that you are focusing on the “right” battles, it is best to at least initially focus your energy on challenges that occur specifically within your classroom. Resist the temptation to pour significant energy into discussions with colleagues and your administration about school-wide issues, at least during your first year in the classroom. When weighing whether or not to put energy into resolving a given challenge, consider the following questions: “What are my realistic chances of overcoming this challenge? Will this issue require so much effort that my day-to-day teaching will suffer? What do my students stand to gain if we overcome this challenge? Is this directly related to the achievement of my students? What do my students stand to lose from taking on this challenge? Is there a chance I’ll end up burning bridges?” Finally, before taking on any challenge, discuss your options with fellow teachers, with colleagues at other schools, and/or (if you are a Teach For America corps member) with your program director. While relentlessness requires turning the “only-so-much-a-teacher-can-do” paradigm on its head, it also requires careful forethought about which challenges you should take on.


Given our pressing goals and our limited time with our students, we tend to work extremely hard. Many of us work from early morning to late at night, planning new lessons, grading student work, contacting families, reflecting on our practice, following up with students, offering extra help, tutoring, coaching, participating in community activities, and attending professional development or university courses. Thus, when we encounter countless challenges and roadblocks in our pursuit of student achievement, the chances of feeling overwhelmed or seriously discouraged are increased.


To avoid constantly feeling overwhelmed or hopelessly discouraged (and there will be times when you feel this way, no matter what approach you take), it is important to take a step back from time to time, and objectively consider your situation. As mentioned above, this can be a perfect time to think critically about which and how many challenges you are choosing to engage in, as overextending yourself in these “battles” is a sure-fire path to being overwhelmed. If you feel your energy waning, be sure to take care of yourself – visit W-3 for strategies and testimonials about how to do this.