easier said than done: “the myth of the extraordinary teacher”

it is hard for me to write about my experience teaching in a public school…not only because people who haven’t had the experience don’t really understand (not that people aren’t well meaning, its just that many people have assumptions about the profession since we’ve pretty much all been in the classroom with a teacher at one point or another) but because, especially living in america, it is so closely tied to my person.  this idea that teaching is an art rather than a skill…that how one teaches is their personality and who they are, not simply their method (which is a very american perspective i’ve learned).  and so it hurts all the more to be criticized in this area… i know i shouldn’t be.  i have been learning that we ought not tie our self worth to the work we do…work was never meant to fulfill us that way…it is a never-ending cycle…we can never do enough.  i need to remind myself of truths such as Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

the ideal
the reality

i came across this article in the la times (thanks to both my smarty wife and our fellow education academic friend) today…i was like “right on!”  it really captured some of my sentiments well.  then i decided to read some of the comments.  i was shocked and appalled…confirming some of my suspicions of how deeply misunderstood and dishonored the modern urban teacher is in america, not to mention the inner city classroom.  not that people in any other profession don’t work as hard or face various injustices…its just that this profession, in general, is under a lot of fire (and simultaneously under massive budget cuts) with the worst being assumed about the teacher: schools and students are failing…it must be the teacher’s fault.    as i read some of the comments i had very visceral reactions…like i was being cut with a knife…i felt my blood boiling and my body shaking.   i even posted the following comment on the article in response to some of the comments:


“Thank you for sharing this.  Despite what the teacher bashers (who have never been teachers) say, as a fellow teacher who taught in an inner city school for 8 years (both under LAUSD and Charter), I’ve had many of the same concerns.  If I am reading Ms. Herman correctly, she is not excluding herself from responsibility, she is merely pointing out the faulty assumptions to a simplistic solution. 

Before jumping to conclusions about this teacher, please consider that:

1.) she works for a school that has been recognized for incredible gains in test scores (CBEE, EPIC).   The home school of these students, Jefferson, had an API score of 548 whereas the school she works at (servicing the same community), has an API score of 788

2). she works at a charter school that isn’t backed by an all-powerful union meaning if she is in fact a bad teacher she can indeed be fired because there is no tenure there. 

Yes, many of us work hard at various jobs, but particularly in this job its workers are guilty until proven innocent.  Maybe, this is rightly so, but is it too forward of me to think this may not be the case for Ms. Herman?  Education is a complex issue.  The responsibility lies with all of us (from parent, to student, to teacher, to admin, to government, to citizens) if we indeed live in a democratic society that aims to provide public education that is integrated, equal, and just.”


wow, it is so hard not to take such things personally as a teacher.  i realize that i am so shielded by my bubble of friends and family who value the work of a teacher in the inner-city…so i am very fortunate.  but i also realize that there will always be critics, and usually the uninformed are the loudest

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not looking for pity or trying to position my self above genuine constructive criticism (which is a tremendous folly).  These thoughts are more an explanation of what’s going on inside my head rather than a justification for my attitudes. if anything, i recognize the need to open myself up to a more unflinching view of my self and the profession to which I have dedicated almost a decade of my life. there will be people who misunderstand.   there will be people who criticize (well meaning or not, informed or not).  there are plenty of people who work harder than i do, with less benefit and thanks.  there are people i can and must learn from.  there are real problems with how i view and do my teaching.  God, grant me the right perspective…one that is big, one that is long, one that is honest.  i am reminded of this quote by mother teresa: “if you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”   God may I be humble.


2 thoughts on “easier said than done: “the myth of the extraordinary teacher””

  1. I think part of the reason you also feel so deeply about this is because you truly have a heart of compassion, a genuine burden, for your students. That heart is the double-edged sword in both your profession and mine. It makes things feel so much more personal because we don’t want to become impersonal either. I know I’m not totally addressing the main point that you are making in this post, but I just want to say that I am thankful for teachers like you who allow yourself to feel and live in that place of tension, loneliness, misunderstanding, vulnerability, etc. Bless you, brother.

    1. i hadnt thought of that…not wanting to take things too personal but not be impersonal either…you put it well. thanks for sharing. oh if anything you did address the “heart” of the post! you give me too much credit! i wish i could sincerely say it was all motivated out of a heart of compassion, but, to be honest, it was that my heart of pride was hurt. may He become greater and we become less.

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