The Myth of the Superhero Teacher

Man wearing superhero costume, looking up
Man wearing superhero costume, looking up

There is no such thing as a superhero teacher. Well-meaning parents and guest speakers alike often tell us our job is heroic, but it's not. At least, it shouldn't be.

A superhero is someone that consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty. Labeling us "superheroes" is like saying, "We know we expect too much of you, but we appreciate you" and hoping that is an acceptable substitute for adequate support and compensation.

That's why people celebrate the rock star teacher. You know, the one that turns math formulas into songs and test reviews into scavenger hunts. Considering they get all the attention, it makes sense that studies suggest introverted teachers are more likely to burn out. In a culture of high stakes testing and flashy technology, I worry that my profession is sacrificing content for performance.

Hollywood hasn't done us any favors, making our jobs look easy and infinitely rewarding. Sure, there's conflict and a few obstacles in the typical teacher movie, but anything is possible with 90 minutes and a screenwriter. The problem is what you don't see in those films.

You can't fit the amount of pressure teachers feel, our struggle to individualize content meant for the masses, or our many honest failures into a blockbuster. No one wants to see that movie. Even when a film is loosely based on fact, there isn't enough room for our fears and frustrations.

If you want proof, consider this question: What is the key ingredient needed for success in every teacher movie?

It's never a new policy, increased funding, or an overhaul of the system. That one missing ingredient is always a teacher, sending the message that any persistent problem must be the fault of un-heroic teaching.

Teachers are considered superheroes because they do more than they should, often resulting from expectation. One study found teachers work more overtime than any other profession, averaging an additional 12 unpaid hours each week. No one wants us to stop, but they also don't want to invest what it would take to match our work. Instead, they celebrate us and call it even.

I mean, we all want to be that rock star teacher. We want our own Dead Poets Society, to inspire some Freedom Writers, and change a few Dangerous Minds. But we probably won't.

I guess what I'm trying to say is everyone wants us to be someone we aren't supposed to be. Students want us to be rock stars. Lawmakers want us to be magicians. Administrators want us to be superheroes. Parents want us to be them.

Take it from this educator: teachers just want to be teachers, no cape required. I am not heroic and no one should expect me to be. You might mean well when you call me a superhero, but I will never be part of the Marvel universe and that's okay. I never looked that great in spandex anyway.