I created the following video with my good friend Trevor Muir, who has partnered with me on the New Teacher Academy.
An Open Letter to New Teachers
Dear new teachers,
There’s a popular idea that to be a good teacher, you need to save the world. That you have to be the best all the time. That you have to live up to the great teachers who influenced you, be like those glorious, brave teachers in movies – that you need to suffer if you want to make a difference. But here’s the thing. Your students don’t need a superhero. They need someone who can listen and learn and grow; someone who can admit their mistakes and move on. Which is way better than a superhero.
You don’t have to be perfect. Teaching is a craft that takes years to master and even then, you’ll continue to make mistakes. And that’s okay.
You are enough.
You’ll hear phrases saying teachers should do “whatever it takes,” but actually you need boundaries and space and rest. You don’t need to show up to every single sports event, sponsor every club, chaperone every single dance, join every committee, or grade every single paper students turn in. You don’t need to be the first person to show up and the last person to leave the parking lot each day.
Teaching is exhausting. It’s rewarding, yes. But it’s physically and emotionally draining. Don’t feel bad about leaving papers at your desk and going home and playing games with your kids or going for a run or having coffee with a friend or watching a movie or going hiking or reading a book that has nothing to do with teaching. Geek out on things that fascinate you. Pursue a creative hobby. Of course you should care for every child and give them your energy and passion. But to do so, you need to refuel and find joy outside of the classroom. Doing so doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you a better teacher.
Why the Superhero Mindset is So Dangerous
- This mindset can be really dangerous when you are teaching in low-SES schools, especially when it robs students of their agency and reinforces injustice.
- The Superhero Mindset leads to perfectionism and burnout.
- You can easily find yourself resentful of fellow teachers and even the students and families you serve. It can easily manifest itself as anger.
- You hide your faults and fail to get help when you need it. Rather than humbly moving on and growing, you deny your faults, because superheroes are expected to be perfect.
- You fail to develop a life outside of teaching. When you pursue hobbies and interests outside of teaching, you often bring in new and innovative ideas into your practice.
- Rest is necessary for creativity. Teaching is an inherently creative endeavor but that requires rest.
- You fail to collaborate. Superheroes work alone (at least that’s what Mr. Incredible says) but teaching is often about waiting, listening, and leaning into each other.
It’s okay to work hard as a teacher. But there’s a difference between working hard out of an internal drive and love for what you are doing and working hard because you’re chasing perfection. And even when you are working hard, it’s important to remember that rest leads to restoration.
Looking for more? Check this out.
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