By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Are you waiting for a super teacher to magically help your child? It's no wonder. From To Sir, with Love to Dangerous Minds, we've been fed a steady diet of brilliant, miracle-working education whisperers for decades. Inexperienced yet innovative, these young idealists take on the bland land of classroom learning and turn it into Hollywood heroics. Now, with a new generation of educators seizing the lectern, we've got aspiring super teachers appearing at a struggling, turnaround, and/or charter school near you (think Teach for America).
But it wasn't until I heard teacher Roxanna Elden demystify "the myth of the super teacher," that I realized how teachers had swallowed that notion – and were trying to live up to it. The myth of the super teacher begins early, Elden told a crowd of education reporters, reformers, researchers, and union types at a conference in Philadelphia on Friday, when they play Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” at graduation to inspire the newest generation of teachers.
Confession of a fallen super teacher
Elden says she remembers clearly the pressure to outperform her first year in a classroom. “I had every intention of being a super teacher,” she recalls. She pushed her class and herself so hard that she lost perspective, adding piles of homework one day (against her training and better judgment) when her kids just would not sit still and be quiet. Later, she realized it was Halloween. “I ruined Halloween for a bunch of fourth graders,” she laments, a breaking point that ended with her sobbing in a Burger King parking lot for two hours. Her book, See me after class: Advice for teachers by teachers, compiles humor and practical tips for teachers; it’s her way of helping others avoid a similar meltdown.
Will all the good teachers please speak up
The myth of the super teacher, where only the elite, caped crusader can get through to kids, is a dangerous one. Recently, the search for great teaching has become a matter of national urgency – but the teacher’s voice is often absent from this conversation. That we’re losing teachers at a pretty fast clip – 40 to 50 percent leave the profession within five years – makes it all the more important for us to listen when a teacher reminds us it’s a profession (not an exercise in perfection) and the myths of extravagant kindness, empathy, wisdom, classroom management, and zero work-life balance, all wrapped into a Hollywood heroine, aren't really helping anyone.