The perception of what a teacher looks like has morphed into an unrealistic superhero who stays at school from sunup to sundown, volunteers for everything, and is always available for their students. Maybe it started with movies like Freedom Writers in which main character Erin Gruwell dedicates herself to her students and works a part-time job to fund her students field trips. What people seem to miss in this movie is that she ends up divorced and neglects everyone else in her life. Oh, and in real life she only teaches for four years before leaving and starting an organization to help other teachers. She only lasted four years in the classroom because that life is not sustainable! Yet, somehow we still hold teachers to these standards.
What this teacher superhero persona neglects to consider is the sustainability and retention of teachers. Do schools need a few years from superhero teachers who then burnout, or do they need quality long lasting teachers? (I hope we can all agree on quality long lasting teachers.)
If we want teachers to stay in the profession, we need to stop with the superhero exceptations. From my experience, even the most dedicated teacher takes a few years to really become great. Problem is, too many of these teachers can only last a few years like Gruwell and end up leaving the profession just as they become amazing teachers. They’ve pushed themselves too hard to live up to these unrealistic expectations and tap out of the game, which means schools are losing teachers as they reach their peak.
Another issue is that the expectations thrown on teachers often come with little to no support or guidance besides the push to do more. If we want more from our teachers we need to provide them with more. This means investing in teachers by offering better pay, providing materials, and providing professional development for growth instead of shaming them for not working harder, longer days. Teacher health and wellness must also become a priority.
What it comes down to it, we need to rethink and evaluate our expectations for teachers. Teachers are superheroes in their own right, but they are human too. Instead of pushing teachers to give up everything for teaching, let’s focus on a balance of work and life and support so we can keep our best in the classroom for decades not years.