Sub out “teacher” for “villain” and you’ve got my mindset about this job pretty much nailed. Let’s be honest. We all teach the same stuff. Maybe not to the same kids, but still. Why does the guy down the hall get results where I don’t?

It’s the great paradox of my personality. I can be the most optimistic, laid-back guy. But under that “hey-buddy” facade I’m super-competitive. Like, cutthroat.

Also: Very Stubborn.

Probably not my most attractive traits. But they keep me from pulling the covers back over my head and calling AesopOnline most days.

There’s a teacher meme out there that pops up every now and then amongst the smart teachers I follow: The Myth Of The Hero Teacher.

If you’ve seen “Freedom Writers” or “Stand And Deliver” or “Dangerous Minds“, or read “Work Hard, Be Nice” or any of a dozen other books, you know the story. A plucky, determined teacher, young (or not so young), through sheer force of will reaches the unreachable students and proves It Really Can Be Done.

#confessanunpopularopinion: I kind of dug Freedom Writers. I loved Stand And Deliver. And I have read WHBN multiple times, trying to unlock the secrets.

The beef  that leads to the No Heroes position goes like this: The kind of effort that has to be input to get movie-level output is unsustainable.  JP Fugler made that point in the HuffPo this week:

Hollywood hasn’t done us any favors, making our jobs look easy and infinitely rewarding. Sure, there’s conflict and a few obstacles in the typical teacher movie, but anything is possible with 90 minutes and a screenwriter. The problem is what you don’tsee in those films.

You can’t fit the amount of pressure teachers feel, our struggle to individualize content meant for the masses, or our many honest failures into a blockbuster. No one wants to see that movie. Even when a film is loosely based on fact, there isn’t enough room for our fears and frustrations.

Dan Meyer teed up Freedom Writers for portraying a “false dichotomy between teaching and caring” 8 years ago:

The fact that MTV portrays these caring strategies as Erin Gruwell’s means, end, aim, and goal, while relegating grammar, syntax, and vocabulary instruction to a one-line mention, depresses me even weeks later. Because, let’s be clear, in a culture where the consumer is king, we can only blame MTV so much for representing one over the other. This is how the movie-going public and, more to the point, how teachers want our job portrayed. MTV is merely the closest reflective surface.

I wish I could relate, I do, but I’m with Scott Glenn: this is just a job.

“Just a job”. Truth. Yet ultra-competitive me still tells myself it’s a cop-out. That if I did more, worked harder, planned better, read more teacher blogs, coached more and did Natural Helpers, my students would learn.

I’m re-reading Donna Foote’s 2005 book Relentless Pursuit, a tale of a year in the life of four newly-minted Teach For America core members in Watts. To be clear, my school is Disneyland compared to Locke High School, where the book takes place. But the first time I read it, I saw myself in the hallways and classrooms. The discipline issues, the poverty, the racial tensions, the gangs, the struggle to get control of one class to teach one lesson one day… all of it.

You can take or leave TFA – I’m not trying to tell you the story would have been different if the protagonists had been four kids from any university teacher prep program. The bigger point: I find myself drawn back to the book at least once a school year, when I need to be reminded that my classroom is not a special case. That there are thousands of teachers out there, fighting the same fight, on the daily for their kids.

My kids. Our kids.

I don’t really have to go farther than my phone for additional support tho. Teacher twitter has been a revelation for me. I had a little pop-up conversation with two members of my PLN over spring break, a conversation that started with Justin Aion blogging about Engagement.

That’s not a “blame the kids” thing. It’s the truth. It’s why I have to Teach Different.

What I hadn’t considered is that among all the brilliant voices online, with all my #MTBoS people and everybody else, that sometimes those of us teaching in underserved communities really are out there in the wilderness.

I’ve never had anyone tell me they were glad to find me. We ended up tweeting back and forth some names of teachers to follow, including Chevin Stone in my own building. The theme of the convo was, in the words of Mrs. Phillips, “sometimes I need to hear voices of people who don’t teach privileged kids.”


Thing is, I walk the halls of my school. I see my kids in other classes. I know it can be done. And I’m determined to do it. Even if I’m no hero. Just a teacher.

Mr. Incredible


Is that OK?


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