Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Waiting for Superman or the 'Great Teacher'

A few years ago, a documentary film was produced under the title, “Waiting for Superman.” It criticized public schools, in particular, public school teachers. It followed the stories of a few students and the schools they attended with an emphasis on how they waited to receive the education they deserved. Where was the super-teacher who would save them?

Anyone with a discerning mind could see the privatization agenda behind the film.

The title stuck with me, though, because that part they got right. Everyone is waiting for Superman to show up and save America’s school children, one classroom at a time.

Ignoring the logistic impossibility that 3,000,000 super-people capable of being super-teachers are somehow down on the farm waiting for the call, I want to move on to the new buzz in the teaching world: the Great Teacher.

At the outset, let me confess that I am not a great teacher. Worse, I don’t want to be. Superman doesn’t exist and trying to be Superman is a fool’s errand.

What is the obsession with the Great Teacher? Today in my school email news digest there was a link to a Stars and Stripes article in which teachers identified the Great Teacher who helped them become a Great Teacher. Last July, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund held an event where teachers, students, and others gave their opinions about what made a Great Teacher.

Me, me, me, me, me, it’s all about me. This is what makes me great.

If there is one thing wrong in public schools these days, it’s that we are adult-focused. Our demand for high test scores is a demand created by the need to get good VAM for teachers and principals, rising test scores for superintendents and their staff, favorable publicity for school board members meeting with their constituents and contemplating their re-election campaigns, bragging points for state officials and politicians intent on proclaiming how their policies are working, … it is unending.

Lacking from that list is a focus on the students—the children who go to school every day. We no longer concern ourselves with delivering the instruction that will develop their young lives full of potential and encourage their curiosity to explore the world by seeking out answers to profound questions that will never show up on a reading or math test.

I’m not a Great Teacher and I’m okay with that because there’s no such thing as a Great Teacher. Children are not Waiting for Superman because Superman doesn’t exist. We live in the real world and there is no such person.

Instead, as a mere ordinary teacher, I focus, plan, work, and instruct to deliver great teachING. great teachING, to channel e.e.cummings who never followed conventional capitalization rules so he could emphasize the important words.

That is the difference. Do I deliver great teaching? You cannot get a good answer from me. You will have to talk to my administrators, parents, and students. I can tell you this, parents and students bombard my administrators with requests to be scheduled into or transferred to my classroom.


It’s not about the person being great. It’s not about being extraordinary. It’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That makes all the difference, and no one need wait for Superman anymore.