By Stacey Holmes
I am not Michelle Pfeiffer. I don’t wear leather jackets, and I’m not that thin. I am not Hillary Swank. I do have two jobs, but I don’t wear pearls to school. I am not Morgan Freeman. I’m not patrolling my hallways with bats and locking the doors to keep out the “bad kids.” I am not a hero. I am a teacher.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t love my kids and my school. This doesn’t mean that I don’t spend long hours and my own money and even wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats about the next day’s lesson. I do all of those things, but I am no hero.
I’ve been teaching for 10 years in urban districts across Connecticut. I don’t know when or how being a hero, a superhero none-the-less, became part of the requirements to be a teacher. I am a professional. I have two and a half degrees and a certification from the state the qualify me to do this job, but again, this does not make me a hero.
We know what great teachers can do. We know, from studies like The Long Term Impacts of Teacher: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood, written by Harvard and Columbia economics and business graduate students, that a great teacher can have a significant impact on the outcomes of their students’ lives. In adulthood, students of great teachers are more likely to go to college, make more money, wait to start families, and even live in safer neighborhoods. Teaching is an important, fulfilling job, but we are no heroes.
Connecticut has some of the highest rates of concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth in our country, and with that data comes some of the highest segregation rates too. We cannot ignore the impact that poverty has on our students. But all too often, we do ignore these facts, and instead look to the teacher to be our cure-all. There is no question that the state of urban education in Connecticut right now is unacceptable, but why has the responsibility to fix this problem fallen on the shoulders of teachers?
More than half of all teachers will quit within their first five years. That rate is even higher for urban educators. The pressure is too high. The resources, too low. Teachers have been given an impossible task, and in exchange, those of us that “stick it out” and “fight the good fight” have been given the label of a hero as a way to lessen the impact of the impossible undertaking that has been placed at our feet. I don’t want to be a hero. I want more autonomy in the classroom. I want supplies that will help me do my job. I want social workers and counselors for my kids, and I want it fully recognized that poverty and trauma impacts learning.
I don’t want to be a hero. I just want to be a teacher.