The hero teacher is a trope that has been around for many years. I first remember coming across it with To Sir With Love which seemed to frequently be the midday movie when I was growing up. That inspiring individual, usually fresh out of university, who by sheer strength of will is able to break through whatever social and systemic barriers exist and turn disengaged, marginalised and failing students into successes.
The hero teacher will be appointed to work in a disadvantaged school, staffed by that other teacher trope, the tired teacher: old, experienced, jaded and uninspired.
Tired teacher knows that students in this school can’t be trusted, won’t learn and aren’t worth caring about. He shakes his head at Hero Teacher’s efforts, knowing they won’t work. But eventually, Hero Teacher overcomes all odds with nothing but passion and innovative teaching methods that no one has ever tried before.
Teach for Australia, a fast-track training program for teachers seems built on this fictional trope. It replaces a 4-year university degree with a short-term apprenticeship style model. The program recruits top graduates from other fields and parachutes them into needy schools to break the cycle of disadvantage.
And then there’s the discourse on Edu-Twitter. The heroic, innovative teachers, making a difference, but having to continually overcome the obstacles put in their paths by those old-school teachers, the laggards
. Old teachers. The ones who are slow to adopt the new ideas, or worse, push back against them. Who sit their students in rows, use worksheets, kill creativity and prefer an industrial model fo schooling.
Everyone wants a hero.
In fact, if one was to judge by the tweets that came from the Visible Learning conference in united states, John Hattie may very well be the hero that education has been holding out for. He channels Martin Luther King and inspires us to dream:
I mean education needs a hero, right?
These tropes may inspire us, but ultimately they divide. They encourage us to think of ourselves, of each other in binaries. Good teacher/bad teacher, inspiring teacher/lazy teacher, quality teacher……
We’re more complex than that, education is more complex than that.
We each might harbour a private fantasy to be that hero teacher, or to find a hero to follow, but it’s a dream. Heroic individuals won’t overcome the systemic issues that create such inequity in education outcomes, and nor will quality teachers. We need to work together.