Teachers Are Not Superheroes
By Sam Stetcher
I have noticed a tendency to call teachers superheroes and it’s been bothering me lately.
If you are one of those people calling teachers superheroes I would really like you to stop. You’re hurting the profession and doing everyone in education a disservice. I’m not saying this because I don’t value teachers. It’s just that I think it’s more important to value teachers for what they are rather than attempt to value them by saying teachers are something they are not. I’d even go so far to say that the more we think of teachers as superheroes the more likely we are to take advantage of them.
I see why you might want to say teachers are superheroes. Great teachers have a substantial set of skills.
The exhaustive list includes but is not limited to:
- Child psychology
- Content area knowledge
- Differentiated instruction
- Human relations
- Conflict resolution
- Social and emotion wellness
- Diversity and inclusion
- Nutrition and physical health
- Standardized assessment
- Formative assessment
- Test preparation
- Brain development
- Time management
- Lesson planning
That’s what came to mind in the first minute or so of thinking about it. If you sit down with the students of a great teacher that list will probably quadruple in a hurry. You might be thinking it’s a list worthy of superhero status. Again, I get why you would think that but you’re wrong.
There’s a very important distinction between the skills of a teacher of the powers of a superhero.
Superman showed up on Earth and had the ability to fly.
Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider and could then climb walls.
Wonder Woman was gifted her powers by Greek Gods.
Batman and Iron Man? Those guys had genius level brain power and unlimited inherited wealth to buy their way into superhero status.
Everything on the list of skills for teachers had to be learned and earned. They had to do research and engage in hours of practice to develop the expertise to apply all of those skill. They were not born with the skills nor did they inherit any unique circumstances which made them preternaturally easy to acquire.
Teachers worked to gain the skills they use every day. Not only did they do the work to develop these skills they did so with a normal human brain and a normal human body, with all the limitations those things impose.
Teachers don’t possess some superhuman ability to acquire and apply all this expertise. They push through to do so with the same difficulty as all non-superheroes. They don’t have a superhuman ability to go without sleep. They simply skip a lot of hours of recommended rest to do what they need to do and then suffer the same impact of sleep deprivation as any human. Teachers don’t have super human bladder capacity. During the school day they get to the bathroom when they can and take a sick day to go to the doctor for a UTI when they need to.
Even if teachers had the superhuman speed of The Flash they couldn’t use it to their advantage because teachers model the behavior they want to see from their students. Teachers can’t model good hallway behavior while going mach 2 on the way to the office to make copies.
I get so frustrated when teachers are referred to as superheroes because teachers do far more with normal human limitations than you can find in the most fantastic comic book account of any superhero adventure.
Teachers make amazing things happen, not with superpowers, but with knowledge and intelligence and caring and grit and courage all while being just a vulnerable as anybody.
Teachers are not bulletproof. They don’t have any such superpower.
Still, without that superpower they have stood between the bullets and their students.
Not as an invincible superhero, but as a teacher.
So yes, I get why you would want to call teachers superheroes. It’s easy to look at what they do and think it’s superhuman. Just remember they are doing all of it while facing the same limitations as anyone else, without the benefit of any uncommon strength or sci-fi technology. In my book that makes recognizing someone a teacher a far greater honor than calling them a superhero.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam has been the Superintendent of East Butler Public Schools in Brainard, Nebraska since 2014. Prior to this endeavor he served as an elementary principal, high school Dean of Students and middle school teacher. He is also co-founder of the school community initiative known as MissionMonday.com which specializes in providing educators, schools, and communities with interventions to foster a positive school culture. He is also coauthor of It Happens in the Hallway and Mission Monday.