The Myth of the Super Teacher & Learning from Failure

Recently, I had a chance to view a presentation by Roxanna Elden, an amazing high school writing teacher.  In this video, she describes the myth of the super teacher.  This video helped me begin to reflect on my four years as a teacher.  I must admit, like Ms. Elden, I wanted to be a super teacher.  I came in with the expectation that if I simply had great objective-driven lesson plans and a detailed classroom culture and investment plan, that everything would magically fall into place and my students would all leave my class as geniuses.  It was not until I took that pressure off that I began to hit my own teaching stride and rhythm.

Check out Roxanna’s video, followed by my reflection below:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/43565010″>The Myth of the Super Teacher</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user9302257″>EdWriters</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The reality is there are great teachers.  Teachers who are amazing at their craft, but this takes years to develop, especially if you choose to teach at a high-need school with little curricular resources and materials, tailored professional development and on-going support.  Nevertheless, when the challenges and hardships that come with teaching are not shared, this creates an unrealistic expectation in the minds of first year teachers.   This unrealistic super teacher myth puts stress and pressure on teachers who truly do want to make a difference, try to do everything right, but cannot account for when things do not go as planned.  And, as any first-year teacher knows many, many things do not go as planned.

To any teacher just beginning your teaching journey, I do not want to sugarcoat my teaching experience as one that was always joyful because it was learning how to overcome the challenges that helped me become a good teacher.  My colleagues and I spent late nights and weekends at school.   In fact, my 2012 New Year’s Resolution was to not go into school on the weekend; and I succeeded, even though I continued to stay late during the week.  In the video, Roxanna forgets to mention that those teachers who do stay up late planning and only get a few hours of sleep do so because they lack resources or the proper training and support to get it right the first time around.  Every school schedule is different.  Some schools allow teachers much planning time throughout the day so little has to be done after school.  Some schools do not give teachers much planning time throughout the day, or use this time for meetings.  To outsiders, my late nights were a choice, to my coworkers we knew that time was not on our side when it came to meeting the demands of being a teacher serving in a high-need school–especially a turnaround school–requires a ton of resources, that teachers have to supply and/or create.

However, in some ways, teachers are super for being able to juggle so much at once–even if they sometimes fail.  Although, I was a teacher, to my students I was better known as known as an alluring actress of the famed characters in the novels that I read, counselor, disciplinarian, role model, and trusted confidant who was a phone call away no matter what the time.  I was also aiming to be an objective-driven guru, differentiation master, data manager, parent home visit scheduler, and push my life to the side and live for my students even on days that I wanted to cry because my lesson did not go as planned kind of teacher.

With little time to plan or even sit down during the day, even Arne Duncan’s Chief of Staff was surprised as she shadowed me this year during my morning block.  She was amazed at just how many little fires a teacher has to put out during a lesson, and she jumped right in to assist.  She was referring to one student who had been fighting a severe toothache and had not been the dentist, another who was struggling with his father’s incarceration and kept asking to speak to the school social worker, and countless other one-to-one interactions with my kids that happened throughout the two hour and forty-five minute block.

So yes, becoming an effective teacher does not happen overnight.  The myth of Roxanna’s “super teacher” who comes in the classroom with little experience, no support and little sleep and flips his/her classroom upside down in his/her first and crushes the achievement gap is not a realistic expectation to set when training teachers.  Yet, the super teacher who juggles multiple hats, learns how to persevere through challenges, learns one’s craft overtime and is part of an amazing school culture committed to student achievement is realistic.  See what many people do not realize is that being a teacher is more than just writing objectives on a board, and delivering lesson plans and aligning tests to standards.  It is about growth, being able to bounce back from disappointment and constantly motivating your students as you are going through the learning process as well.

To all the first year teachers out there, do not stress yourself out if your lesson goes haywire when one student threw a tantrum because he/she was hungry.  Do not get your panties in a bunch if what you thought was an amazing lesson because you spent all night creating it is thrown out the window because your students just did not master it.  Like Ms. Elden said, you can be a super teacher, it may not be every day.  The best teachers know that the most successful people are those who have risen after failing, reflected and tried again.

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Should I say or Should I go? Making the Choice to Leave the Classroom

A few weeks ago, it hit me.  I was really leaving the classroom.  On the last day of school, I began to share this news with other people outside of my school.  My principal is fully supportive and she had known for a few months.  Many people began to ask me why I chose to leave the classroom and whether I decided to leave education, altogether.

TeachPlus asked me to write a piece for their series on teachers who decided to leave the classroom this year.  I feel honored to be able to share my story.  Below is an excerpt:

Unlike most of my friends in my hometown of Bridgeton, NJ, I began life with the scale tilting in my favor. My father was a first generation college graduate who worked hard to ensure that I would not have to struggle like his family did. His life experiences led him to ask me a serious question in my final year of middle school: “Do you want to attend private school next year?” Faced with the decision about public versus private secondary education, I knew what was at stake: get a top-notch high school education that would ultimately lock in my acceptance to a premier college or university, or gamble my future success by attending my sole local high school — ranked the lowest in the county, with a college matriculation rate of about 10 percent.

On that day, I firmly told my dad that I would graduate from the public Bridgeton High School. He didn’t know it at the time, but with that one question, my father lit a fire inside of me that continues to burn for high quality public education for all children.

I left New Jersey with three suitcases and a dream. After college, I started my teaching career in New Orleans, and then relocated to Washington, D.C., where I taught third grade in a district turnaround school. But after four years, I’m stepping out of the classroom. It’s a tough choice, but the reality is that I believe I can make the biggest impact on public education from outside the walls of my school.

Check out the rest of my reflection here.