“We need heroes in education. Educators to be household names just like sports have Cathy Freeman and the law has Geoffrey Robertson.”
I’m paraphrasing – terribly – Dr Keith Tronc who spoke passionately and with a laser focus at the ACEL National Awards ceremony last night.
Dr Tronc was honouring my friend and colleague-from-another-campus Andrea Stringer @stringer_andrea who won the 2015 Dr Keith Tronc award for Outstanding Teacher Leadership. Andrea truly does deserve to be recognised in this way (much to her protest!) as she is the type of teacher I can only ever aspire to be. We are better as a profession for having people like Andrea in our midst.
He spoke of how we honour and celebrate so many other professions but we forget to do so for teachers. He spoke about how we need to elevate the status of teachers in the eyes of the community so that we start discussing leaders of education like we do leaders on the field or in the courtroom. Happily, our Minister of Education in NSW the Honorable Adrian Piccoli echoed these statements when saying that we want teachers to get the same reaction as doctor when they tell people what they do. Namely, “wow!”
Part of me was wondering: what kind of teacher would be comfortable with being an education ‘hero’? Many of the people I’m lucky to be connected to in the edu-world would shudder at the thought of being dubbed such a thing. They aren’t in it for the titles.
I’ve been known to resist the cult of personality that has developed around the ‘big names’ in education (often despite their attempts to avoid this) but then I started to think that most families probably do already have a name or two they regularly discuss around the dinner table. Someone who doesn’t have to wear a cape to be a hero. Someone who’s face is not shrouded to protect their identity but in fact is held accountable by and for who they are every day. Someone who helped a young person read a complex word for the first time. Someone who comforted them when they broke down in tears at a family issue. Someone who took their teenage angst and redirected it into a passion project that expanded their mind and showed them life was indeed worth living.
All of us can pinpoint a hero educator who has picked us up (or helped us pick ourselves up) over the course of our schooling. Someone who wasn’t doing it simply to be compliant or keep in line with policy but because they genuinely cared about us.
There’s a danger in a push to become more professional that we actually lose the very thing many young people need us to be: a person. Teaching more than many other professions requires us to put some of ourselves into our job. Many teachers put all of themselves into it and the irony is that often we are employed because of who we are as much as what outcomes we can achieve.
We are not clinical researchers of human behaviour. We are not scientists conducting an experiment. We are not detached from our ‘work’ because our work is about people and relationships. To become distant and detached in education is to sever our anchor to our real purpose. We are not so many other kinds of roles – we are teachers. We are a mix of who we are, who we can become and who our students need us to be today and tomorrow. Sometimes we get it wrong, but we often get it very right.
We don’t need capes and masks to be great educators and heroes to our students, parents and colleagues. We just need to strive to be the best we can be, drawing on the best stories and evidence available to make the best decisions for and with our students.
Someday we might walk into a space and our invisible cape will billow around us, instilling a sense of pride and wonder at what we can accomplish. A real teacher doesn’t need people to see a mask and cape, medals and certificates. What they do and who they are is the real superpower. I’m proud to be connected to so many people who work every day being the heroes our future need them to be.