Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

I was attending an NCTE conference and when it happened I was in the elevator with an NCTE colleague and several other hotel guests. We hadn’t gone two floors when one of the guests asked us if we were there for the English conference, and we confessed that we were. The guests began some talk about how English was a difficult subject and so they’d better watch their grammar.

After we got to our floor and off the elevator, the colleague and I looked at each other and asked, “How did they know?” But, of course, we knew. We weren’t wearing our name badges. We just looked like English teachers (whatever that look is). We emitted some sort of English-teacher vibe that the guests picked up. What they didn’t notice or acknowledge, though, were our “hero stripes.”

Now, we’ve all read about teacher-heroes (maybe even known a few): the professor who took a bullet at Virginia Tech in order to save his students, the teachers in the what is now Ground Zero area of New York City who quietly led their students out of the building and got each and every one home safely, the NCTE/SLATE Intellectual Freedom Award winner who defended the importance of teaching of Brokeback Mountain even when the objecting parent decided to pull a $3 million grant from the school.

What no one hears enough about, though, are the heroic acts teachers do as they go about the regular business of teaching their classes. We teachers are everyday heroes who dry the tears of distressed kindergartners and those of distraught 9th graders, who ask the right questions to help a stuck middle school writer get unstuck, who listen to the personal sadnesses in our students’ lives and proceed to offer them through literature a look into the lives of others. We are calm when the fire alarm rings, patient when our lesson plans need to be laid aside to handle an unexpected situation such as the death of a student or teacher, and willing to return each day with fresh ideas and ears open to whatever our students might bring with them.

As the TETYC article "Bias and the Teachable Moment: Revisiting a Teacher Narrative" points out, we teachers go home and think about what has transpired in our classes and we change based on what we’ve discovered through this thinking.

We do all this without superhero costumes and usually without recognition, yet maybe our daily acts of heroism cause us to exude some sort of “hero-scent” and that’s what the hotel guests recognized when they pegged my colleague and me as English teachers!

How have you been a hero lately?


Wrensmith said...

I never think about being a hero- it's more about being with the kids day in and day out, meeting their needs...(and there are so many needs to fill before the actual learning takes place). Does that make me a hero? I don't know. What it does make me is an adult who cares. Sometimes, I am the only adult that speaks a kind word or acknowledges their viewpoints and opinions. I really like that part of my job, and I am always looking for ways to help them grow.

Anonymous said...

It's not heroic if you love going above and beyond.

I teach at a boarding school and it's not uncommon for me to come in at night a few times a week to work with my students during study hall. That's not being a hero, that's just being someone who wants to make sure his students have what they need.

mwandersee said...

It's all about perspective, isn't it? To those students who seldom hear a kind word at home or eat a meal with their families, the teacher who acknowledges them as people are heroes. Those of us who work hard to plan interesting lessons that engage our students and meet their educational needs feel we are doing the jobs we were hired to do.

Mrs. N said...

This reminds me of the TED talk from Dave Eggers. Have you seen it?

Anonymous said...

I never think of being a hero - I focus on being there for the kids - exciting them about English - pushing them to expand their boundaries beyond what they've done before and with which they may be comfortable. Although, I do know that some of my greatest teachers have been and remain my heroes - Mr. Olinsky, Ms. O'Connor, Dr. Fischler, Sr. Anne Marie...