Saints or Scapegoats

Over winter break, I saw a couple of local news segments about a teacher who had won an award for her great teaching. The phrases used to describe her:

  • “tirelessly giving of herself”
  • “works late nights and weekends to do whatever it takes”
  • “selfless and saint-like”

My first impression was that she must be a really great teacher… but then, I ┬ábecame aware that I was also slightly annoyed. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.
Why was I annoyed? Was I jealous? Not really. After a little thought, I realized it was the fact that this woman’s entire life was dedicated to the education of students… and nothing else. There was no mention of her own family, or if she even had one. There wasn’t a single word about any of her non-school related activities.

So, I looked around at some other teacher award articles. Did you know that a search for “award,” “teacher,” and “tirelessly” results in 465,000,000 returns on Google? I found many of the same types of descriptions of teachers, and that word “tireless” is found over and over and over.

On the bright side, many awards given recently also feature the words “innovative,” “creative,” and “inspiring.” Now, those are words I can get behind! Some of the these descriptions also mention the families of those teachers, as well as their community and leisure activities. To me, this signals a balance in the lives of these teachers, and I think they are more likely to be successful with students than those who dedicate every minute of their day to teaching.

As I reflect back on 2011, the Teacher-as-Superman/Wonder Woman (or Saint) conundrum, and the backlash on the teaching profession in general, I wonder if our expectations of what a teacher should be gets in the way of helping kids to be the very best they can be. If we perpetuate that myth of a saint-like teacher, there will definitely be those who suffer by comparison and then become the scapegoats for everything that’s wrong with education. Regardless, none of that helps the kids who struggle day to day, either due to home environment, lack of proper nutrition, learning difficulties, or just plain boredom in school.

Looking forward to your thoughts…

(note: I didn’t link to any of the articles or videos of news segments, because I did not want to put any one specific teacher on the spot. It’s not about those particular people… more the idea of what a teacher is or isn’t.)