In an AITSL symposium in March 2013, I was described as a “hero teacher” by Valerie Hannon and that it was a bad thing. Hannon meant no offence but emphasised that I was a hero teacher because I took the role of change agent in my school, which to her required excessive working hours, sacrificing hours of my life to my job.
This led to a blog post from Bianca Hewes on driving, implementing and sustaining change in the education system. I admire Bianca because she is a hero teacher, a highly effective teacher devoted to her students, and we need more teachers like her. In this blog post I want to throw in my two cents and respond to two issues raised in Bianca’s post: (1) Teacher passion and subsequent workload; and (2) Sustaining change for 21st century learning.
(1) Teacher passion and subsequent workload
Valerie Hannon is right to say that I have a huge dedication to my school and students. She is also right to say I work long hours. I say “long” hours rather than “excessive” hours on purpose. “Excessive” is relative to a teacher’s life circumstances. I don’t have children yet and I have a very supportive partner so I can do the amount of dedication that some people might see as excessive. I don’t see it as excessive. I am not on the verge of a mental breakdown. I am not on the verge on burnout.
For me, teaching is not “work”. Like many other teachers I have a great passion for teaching and live and breathe it. I don’t see how this amount of dedication is any different to Justin Bieber working 16 hour days to be a successful musician. I used to play classical piano as a child. I used to practise piano before school and after school, in addition to many other hours spent on composition and musicianship. No one called me a hero pianist for it. Just like no one calls Justin Bieber a hero performer. All musicians just do it. If you want to be a successful musician, you have to live and breathe music. A musician isn’t what you do, it’s who you are. For me teaching is no different. I don’t see myself as a hero because I see what I do as what I should be doing to be a successful teacher. I don’t impose this on other teachers who contribute to the teaching profession in their own way. But I don’t want to slow down either because other people view what I do as “excessive”.
(2) Sustaining change for 21st century learning
As a teacher, unless you have been living under a rock, you know there has been a push for change for “21st century learning”, and rightly so. However the focus has been on WHY we need to change for way too long. The focus should be on sustaining change. Bianca is right in saying that the lone nut has been dancing way too long and no one is following. Bianca is right to say that is unfair that a small number of teachers keep shouldering the burden of change. The question here is why people are NOT dancing with the lone nut.
IMHO we need the teaching profession to be made up of hero teachers. I don’t mean Justin Bieber teachers who work 24/7 and will burn out in 3 years. I mean teachers who constantly evaluate their practice; teachers who collect data on how effective they are teaching and how effective their students learning; teachers who constantly seek ways to improve their practice; and teachers who reach out to the global profession of teachers to share best practice and support others. Hero teachers are never happy with what they currently have. A particular way of implementing project based learning can always improve. Current teaching and learning programs can always improve. Assessments can always improve. Hero teachers don’t see room for improvement; they make it their priority to improve it.
In the 21st century we need to educate students to become job creators and entrepreneurs. It is not good enough for teachers to ignore the transforming impacts of technology. It is not good enough for teachers not to seek out data that evaluates their teaching practice. It is not good enough for teachers not to be dancing with with the lone nut.