Think about the following educators:
Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver.... Garfield High School)
Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers)
Rafe Esquith (Author of There Are No Shortcuts and Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire)
Joe Clark (Lean on Me)
What do these educators have in common? While their stories are inspiring, what is the message they send not only to the public, but to teachers? Newkirk puts it this way, "In any situation, no matter how difficult, teachers can prevail through the purity of effort, through 'teaching harder.' Even when they are operating alone, in conditions of urban poverty." The teacher is portrayed as heroic, selfless, and larger than life.
I don't know about you, but I am torn by this issue. On the one hand, the stories are inspiring. But at the same time, I often feel like I don't measure up - I don't give enough of myself. Am I selfish if I do not give 110% to my students, neglect my family, and run myself ragged (Esquith and Escalante did this to the point of serious illness)? I must admit, I do feel inadequate when I compare myself to these superheroes.
Think back to what you read during your credential program. Did those texts prepare you for what you experience every day in your teaching? I know I wasn't prepared - not even close! Everything I read was about classrooms and lessons that worked, not what happens or what to do when things fall apart. Newkirk asks, "I wonder if we are not creating the role of 'superteacher,' one more ideal, one without cracks, that can create a sense of inadequacy. Are there silences in the narratives of our teaching? Are we telling everything? Do these consistently upbeat success stories capture the emotional underlife of teaching? I think not." These narratives leave out what Newkirk calls "the dark side of teaching." You know that side; the side that leaves the life sucked out of you at the end of some days, the side that makes you question why you chose teaching, the side that makes you worry if you are doing enough for your students, the side that makes you wonder if you are doing enough for your family - the dark side.
What are the answers to this? Newkirk has some suggestions:
1. Begin with the premise that difficulty, disappointment, resistance, and failures are inevitable in the profession of teaching. Success is dependent on not avoiding difficulty but finding a way to process it.
2. Break down the walls that create professional isolation. Teaching is one of the most isolating jobs out there. Interaction with our colleagues is essential - something Professional Learning Communities attempts to address.
3. Find ways to translate emotionally felt difficulties into something less personal, less emotional, less undermining.
4. Teachers need more opportunities to visit and learn from peers in order to demystify teaching and view someone other than themselves.
5. In order to achieve long term goals, we must focus on the small and immediate. (Al Pacino put it this way: "Forget the career and focus on the work.") As a culture, the large transformative stories are celebrated thanks to Hollywood. But "our pleasure in teaching must come from something smaller."
So what do you think about the portrayal of teachers in popular culture? How do these portrayals affect you and your work? Do you think we adequately prepare teachers for the "dark side" of teaching? If not, how can this be addressed? How can we come together as colleagues and tackle the issues raised by Newkirk?