I’m tired of being a hero.

In my recent life, both on- and offline, there have been numerous news, personal, and professional references to teachers as heroes — going beyond the call of duty, surpassing expectations, “saving” children, and — my favorite — really making a difference. (As opposed to just, you know, pretend making a difference.) Some have been critical of this labeling; others have phrased it as a professional requirement.

Whether I like it or not, that last part is very much true. In my current educational climate, going above and beyond written and stated job expectations is now a practical requirement of being a teacher. Doing more and more and more — more classes, more students, more working hours, more of my money for classroom expenses, more extra duties, more substantial gains in standardized test scores, more being the ass end of more politicians’ scapegoats — has now become just enough to get by, just part of my job.

It’s not that I’m averse to working hard; I like it. And it’s not that I don’t try my heart out for every student, every parent, every colleague who wants or needs some heroics out of me. I fail sometimes, but I always try, and I have been trying at this level for years. To a certain extent I understand why that in itself may be problematic: Teachers are human too, and sometimes what’s perceived as “not caring enough” is in reality taking care of one’s family, one’s self, or other commitments. Also, there is no magic Caring Enough Pill that makes students smarter, solves their life problems, gets them into college on scholarship, and leads to a happily ever after.

I understand that education is hard and that some folks need heroes.

What I’m finding increasingly problematic, however, is that political figures are co-opting both the terminology and the teachers-as-heroes mindset to set defame teachers as people, to set impossible standards for teaching as a profession, and generally to be douchey and advance their own agendas at the expense of the public good. This is not cool, and it hurts us all.

To be clear:

  1. I’m not objecting to the 50-hour work weeks or the fact that I regularly add to that by taking work home over the weekend. I am objecting to the expectation that this is never enough from me.
  2. I don’t resent any of the 34-38 kids in each of my classes. I resent the fact that when I say, “This is not what’s best for students,” the response is, “You’ll just have to work a little harder!”
  3. I don’t take issue with the concept of standardized testing. I do take issue with the implication that I should be held personally accountable for every graphite circle every student of mine ever makes, despite never having had a say in developing said standardized tests (which overwhelmingly test the ability to regurgitate low-level knowledge) to begin with.

In short, some many the majority of politicians where I am have manipulated “hero” terminology to demonize teachers who fail to live up to the politicians’ ever-increasing (and often bad) standards for heroism. This is exhausting, and from it, I feel like a bad teacher and a bad hero. But more importantly, this manipulation is a lie that:

  • Seeks to assign blame rather than correct shortcomings in this system of education (as it is in my location and as it is in many parts of the US).
  • Seeks to assign blame to those who have relatively less power to effect systemic change.

Why is it important to talk about this here, on a yoga blog? On a personal level, I bought into this lie for a long time, with and without seeing what it took out of me, believing that education is going to shit and gone because I, personally, am a bad teacher. That’s tough shit to take home every day, and it’s even worse when it’s not true shit. On a wider scale, I feel a commitment to confront this lie that’s creeping up in my community, seeping into my relationships — with friends and acquaintances, professional contacts, family members, and — eventually, I would predict — with other teachers and parents and students.

There is a freedom in Satya, in truth, and this is mine: I still have a responsibility to reflect on, critique, and improve my teaching practice and its results. The reason for this? There are over two hundred of them, and I talk to them almost every day. But it’s 100% okay to evaluate that instruction with the understanding that I am a human and not any politician’s imagined angel or demon.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

Posted in chakra work, non-asana, satya
3 comments on “I’m tired of being a hero.
  1. Autumn says:

    You know, I’d never thought about the teacher-as-hero in this light before, despite knowing plenty of teachers. I think I’d sort of done the same to them–believed they were doing a great service (which they are) and therefore sort of mentally putting them in a “hero” category. This probably affects exactly no one, as I’d never dream of telling someone she’s not doing her job right (and I don’t have kids so that angle is moot). But you’re right: This deification actually hurts the institution, and the individual. Thanks for making us think!

  2. el says:

    Well, “co-opting both the terminology and the teachers-as-heroes mindset to set defame teachers as people” is nothing new. Reminds me of putting women as a group on a pedestal, which is then used to judge any individual woman as not being up to standards. F.e. the lie of “women are naturally nurturing and self-sacrificial” is used to judge any mother and … every teacher, most of which are women. See?

    You should get angry the moment somebody starts using “hero” language since it’s only a preparation to start exploiting and abusing you. I don’t want my future husband to start praising my selflessness, I want him to share housework equally instead. I don’t want my boss to praise me for being self-sacrificial, I am not a charitable organization! More important, he is well-off enough not to need charity, but in your case f.e. can pay more salary for smaller classes. Of course, everybody loves exploiting others. Without struggle workers wouldn’t have minimum wages either.

    Accepting sacrificial language about X group always turns it into a MUST for the group’s members and is only used to treat them worse, not as “normal” people. It’s true for women, it’s true for teachers, and so on.

  3. I just want to say that I agree with you completely. Teachers should be able to have a normal life outside the classroom.

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