Imagine a world where teachers didn’t have to hear, “you’re a superhero!” and “if anyone can do it, teachers can!” It’s phrases like these that create a false and unhealthy narrative about what it means to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t superheroes. They aren’t responsible for saving the world or sacrificing themselves. This year more than ever, teachers are being asked to do the impossible ( try teaching online and in person at the same time). It’s time to start treating teachers like professionals and stop asking them to take on the superhero and martyr role. Here are five phrases teachers are tired of.
1. “You are a superhero!”
From what I hear, there’s a lot of this going around right now. Apparently, when you teach during a global pandemic, you are promoted to a hero status. (No pay raise! Just merit.) This one makes me uncomfortable. It puts a lot of pressure on teachers. I don’t think anyone wants the burden of trying to fix the mess that is this school year, especially when they aren’t included in the conversation.
If teachers are heroes, then they can save the day, right? Wrong. Teachers are just trying to get through the day, and that is more than ok. That is enough. The stories teachers tell are the stuff of nightmares. Not enough cleaning supplies. Schedule changes left and right. Kids getting COVID-19 and coming to school. Teachers keep showing up for work, but stop calling them superheroes. They want respect for doing their jobs.
2. “Thank you for always going above and beyond!”
This one is sneaky. No one is arguing that people don’t appreciate teachers. Saying thank you is important. But the problem here is that the thank you is followed with an unfair expectation. When I applied for teaching jobs, there was nothing in the job description that read, “know that you will go above and beyond everything that is written here.”
Sometimes we forget that teachers have lives and responsibilities outside of school. Have you ever run into a student at the grocery store and they freeze like they’ve seen a ghost (what are you doing here?!). Teachers are parents and sons and daughters and wives and husbands and friends. They have doctor’s appointments, and need to get the gutters on their house cleaned, and would like to sleep more than four hours a night. So let’s just stop assuming that “going above and beyond” is a given and try, “Thanks. and how can I help?” instead.
3. “If anyone can handle it, it’s teachers!”
I’m not sure who decided that martyr is a synonym for teacher, but once I find out, we are going to exchange some words. This very idea that teaching isn’t a job, but a calling that requires a complete loss of any identity other than teacher, therapist, tech support, or interventionist, has got to go.
And what really gets me is that often when teachers are asked to “handle it,” they don’t have a choice, let alone the resources they need to get it done. Sacrificing yourself for your job isn’t what teachers signed up for. We are setting teachers up to fail and feel like they are never doing enough when it becomes an expectation that they can handle anything. Newsflash: teachers can’t fix systemic problems in education in 2020, yet another reason to stop calling teachers superheroes.
4. “Focus on the positive!”
If you are a glass-half-full kind of person, good for you. We need people like you right now. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a seat at the table for the rest of us. One of the biggest hardships for teachers right now is that they have questions and concerns that aren’t getting answered.
When you send an email asking how your school plans to re-open safely when COVID-19 cases are rising in your community, and you don’t get a response, it’s hard to focus on the positive. Everyone’s anxious right now. We can hope for the best and show up and do our jobs, but expecting teachers to ignore the problems that are affecting their day-to-day and wear a perma-smile is anything but kind.
5. “You’re a teacher? That’s so cute!”
I am pretty sure that when a doctor, lawyer, or accountant is at a cocktail party, and someone asks what they do, this isn’t the response they get. But I know I heard it all the time. There’s nothing cute about getting a master’s degree and studying child development, curriculum, and instruction. I don’t think being an expert in English is cute, but maybe that’s just me. I went to school for six years, passed several certification exams, and student-taught to become a teacher.
Why don’t we get the same respect as other professionals with a salary to match? Comments like this undermine the expertise that teachers bring to their work.
What teacher phrases are you tired of hearing? Come share (and hear from other teachers) in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Also, check out Please Don’t Call Me A Superhero.