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Misplacing Hope in Hero Teachers

Saheli March 19, 2016 Education Comments Off on Misplacing Hope in Hero Teachers


Gotham: a dark, stormy city, beset with crime and corruption. There is rampant violence and unrest. The psychopathic and sadistic Joker is on the loose, reeking mayhem on a law-abiding people. But just as the city is about to be eviscerated, Batman swoops in, saving innocent lives and brightening the skies once again. Gotham is the kind of place that needs a hero, and Batman is that singular hero, overcoming impossible odds to save a broken society plagued with institutional failures.

Comic book fans aren’t the only ones who romanticize heroes. The education sector has long celebrated the heroic teacher who makes herculean sacrifices for students in difficult circumstances and helps them recognize their full potential despite the odds stacked against them.

This hope is perhaps best embodied by films like “Freedom Writers” with Hilary Swank or “Lean on Me” with Morgan Freeman, which portray bright-eyed, relentless teachers who overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges with their students. But such a view can be too simplistic.

What are we really saying when we say we need heroes in education? In some ways, we’re admitting that we have serious and systemic problems, that the job is an enormous undertaking and that we need someone with near supernatural powers to do it. But we’re also subtly signaling that the hero teacher is the expectation, and we’re setting too many teachers up for failure by not addressing the broader issues at play.

A recent New York Times article explored this dilemma. The article centered on a recently-published book written by Ed Boland, an executive at a nonprofit education organization, who like many of us bought into the hero teacher narrative. Boland quit his position as a nonprofit executive to teach ninth-grade history at a low-performing public school in New York City. Boland went into the school optimistic about his abilities and excited about the prospect of making a difference, but quickly discovered that he was ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with daily issues such as classroom management and student discipline.

Superhero teachers do exist. They change hundreds of lives for the better over the course of their careers, and as a society we all owe them a debt of gratitude. But here’s the problem: Superheroes are a rare breed. And being a superhero, or trying to live up to that ideal, can lead to frustration and burnout – a kryptonite if you will – especially for new teachers.

And while the popular narrative always shows a hero teacher working long hours alone to serve their kids, in reality teaching is not a solitary pursuit. Rather, the context and systems in which teachers work matters greatly for things like teacher performance, turnover and student achievement.

From the overall functioning of the school to the support teachers are getting on the job, the environment in which each teacher operates can have a huge influence over their ability to succeed in the classroom. Researchers have found that teachers who work in schools with supportive professional environments can improve as much as 38 percent more over 10 years than teachers in schools with less supportive environments. Likewise, in schools where collaboration, both formal and informal, is common and teachers have good working relationships with their colleagues, student outcomes tend to be better. In other words, schools and students thrive when institutions support teachers at every stage of their career.

Expecting individual teachers to be lone caped crusaders fails both teachers and their students. This is partly why more than 50 organizations came together to form TeachStrong, a campaign that calls for modernizing and elevating the teaching profession by improving the systems that support and train teachers. Teachers don’t need capes – they need better support, preparation and compensation in order to best serve their students.

How can we make sure that education is no longer likened to a fictional city in need of a masked crime fighter? Policymakers at all levels must commit themselves to creating systems that attract and retain great teachers. By investing in and supporting teachers at all stages of their careers, we can put the myth of the lone superhero teacher to rest and set about creating real change for teachers and students.

[Source:- US news]

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