I Am Not A Hero Teacher

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I’m sorry.


I am not a hero teacher.


I am not stronger than a locomotive.


I cannot jump tall ignorance in a single bound.


I am not faster than a tax-cutting zealot.


Up in the air – it’s a bird, it’s a plane, but it’s certainly not a teacher because we can’t fly.


I am not bullet proof.


If a gunman storms the building and shoots me, I will be wounded and may die.


Giving me a gun doesn’t help, either, because I am not a marksman.


I am just a man.


I cannot stand in front of a class of thirty and give them each my undivided attention. Not all at once.


When students ask a question, I need time to answer it.


When students hand in a paper, I need time to grade it.


During the workday, I need time to plan my lessons. I need time to call parents. I need time to read all the individual education plans, fill out all the weekly monitoring forms, finish all the administrative paperwork.


At the end of a long day, I get tired and need rest.


At the end of a long week, I need time to spend with my family.


At the end of a long year, I need time to myself – to get a summer job, to take continuing education courses, to plan for next year, to heal.


I need a middle class income – not because I’m trying to get rich, but because I’m human. I need food and shelter. I have a family for whom I need to provide. If you can’t give me that, I’ll need to move on.


Sorry, but it’s true.


I’ll tell you one thing I don’t need. I don’t need the state, federal or local government telling me how to do my job. When I plan my lessons, I need the freedom to teach children in the way that seems most effective to me – the professional in the room.


I also don’t need some bureaucrat telling me how to assess my students. I don’t need some standardized test to tell me what kids have learned, if they can read or write. I’ve spent an average of 80 minutes a day with these children for five days a week. If I can’t tell, I don’t deserve to be in the classroom.


And I don’t need my principal or superintendent setting my colleagues and me against each other. We’re not competing to see who can do a better job. We should be collaborating to make sure everyone succeeds.


What do I need? My union, for one.


I need my right to collective bargaining. I need the power to gather with my colleagues and co-workers so we can create the best possible work environment for myself and my students. I need due process, tenure, so I can’t be fired at the whim of the school board or administrators without having them prove my inequities.


I need my work to be evaluated fairly. Judge me on what I do – not on what my students do with what I’ve given them.


And when it comes to the racial proficiency gap, don’t look to me to exert some kind of supernatural teacher magic. I am not a white savior who can make school segregation, racism and prejudice disappear. I try to treat every student fairly, but my actions can’t undo a system that’s set up to privilege some and disadvantage others.


I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re expecting a superhero, I’m bound to disappoint.


And that DOES seem to be what many of you expect us to be.


Seven years ago, Davis Guggenheim characterized the public schools as if we were Waiting for Superman.


Things are so screwed up, he alleged back then, that we need someone with superpowers to swoop in and fix it all.


But there is no superman. There’s just Clark Kent.


That’s me – a bespectacled shlub who shows up everyday in the naive hope that he can make a difference.


According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers.


That’s right – 9 percent.


If you add in everything in the entire school environment – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.), all that only accounts for 20 percent.


There’s another 20 percent they can’t explain. But the largest variable by far is out of school factors. This means parents, home life, health, poverty, nutrition, geographic location, stress, etc. Researchers estimate those count for 60 percent of student success.


Yet we somehow expect teachers (9%) to do it all.


I’m sorry, America. I can’t.


More than half of all public school students live in poverty. No matter how hard I try, I cannot solve that all by myself.


I try to teach children how to read though many are hungry and traumatized by their home lives.


I try to teach children how to write though many haven’t slept the night before, haven’t taken their ADD medication and – to be honest – many haven’t even shown up to school yet.


I most certainly try to get them to pass culturally biased, developmentally inappropriate standardized tests without sucking away every bit of creativity from the classroom.


But much of this is beyond my control.


I can’t help that the federal, state and local government are cutting school funding. I can’t help that my impoverished district has few school supplies, the students enter the building without them because their parents are too poor to buy them. But I can – and do – spend out of my own pocket to make sure all of my students have pencil, paper, whatever they need.


I can’t help that officials at every step of the way want me to narrow my teaching to only things that will appear on the yearly standardized test, that they want me to present it as a multiple choice look-a-like item, that they want me to teach by pointing at a Common Core standard as if that held any meaning in a child’s life. But I can make the lesson as creative as possible and offer kids a chance to engage with the material in a way that connects to their real lives, desires and interests.


I can’t help that kids don’t read like they used to and instead experience the bulk of text on the Internet, Facebook or Twitter. I can’t help that most of their real world writing experience is limited to thumbing social media updates, comments on YouTube videos or communicating through a string of colorful emojis. But I can try to offer them meaningful journal topics that make them think and offer them the chance to share their thoughts in a public forum with their peers.


There’s nothing super about any of it.


But it’s the kind of things teachers do everyday without anyone noticing. It’s the kind of thing that rarely gets noted on an evaluation, rarely earns you a Thank You card or even an apple to put on your desk.


However, when the day is done, students often are reluctant to leave. They cluster about in the hall or linger in the classroom asking questions, voicing concerns, just relieved that there’s someone there they can talk to.


And that’s reason enough for me to stay.


The odds are stacked against me. Help isn’t coming from any corner of our society. But sometimes despite all of that, I’m actually able to get things done.


Everyday it seems I help students understand something they never knew before. I’ve become accustomed to that look of wonder, the aha moment. And I helped it happen!


I get to see students grow. I get to nurture that growth. I get to be there for young ones who have nobody else.


It’s a wonderful feeling.


I know I’m making a difference.


So, yes, I’m no superman.


I have no special powers, no superhuman abilities. I can’t fix all of our social problems all by myself.


But I help to make the future.


That’s why I do what I do.


Thank you for letting me do it.

49 thoughts on “I Am Not A Hero Teacher

  1. Maybe not a superhero, but someone who fights the good fight for public education.

    Yes, we need our unions–we need our unions to do a better job than “concede and retreat”. Public education has been getting hammered for the past twenty years, so much ground has been lost.

    More teachers have spent time in jail for helping students on tests than bankers who destroyed the economy.

    Keep up the fight!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When I was teaching (1975-2005) I worked between 60 to 100 hours a week for the same monthly salary – there was no overtime pay. I taught five classes for about one hour for each class or five hours a day for twenty-five hours a week for forty weeks, but most of the time I worked was planning, correcting papers, doing grades, calling parents. I took work home every night during the school year and seldom if ever finished correcting the work turned in, in one day.

    Teachers get a few national holidays off, two weeks around the New Year and another week around Easter. On those paid days off, I took boxes of work home to correct and caught up with my work. I loved those holidays because of that.

    In the district where I worked, we were paid only during the regular school year – no checks came during the summer break so summer was not a paid holiday. Some districts take a teacher’s annual salary and divide it to 12 checks. The district where I worked did not do that.

    According to Salary.com, “The median annual Public School Teacher salary is $54,428, as of June 28, 2017, with a range usually between $47,517 – $62,838, however, this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors.”

    If we take that $62,638 and divide it be 10 checks that breaks down to $6,263,80 a month before taxes, and the deductions for the teachers’ retirement fund (I think that was 8 percent of my gross pay) and union dues.

    A teacher in a district earning the same pay but paid 12 months a year receives $5,219.83 gross pay each month before all the deductions.

    And those numbers are the high end of the average national salary scale for teachers. Most teachers do not earn that much.

    Let’s look at how much the average teacher earns per hour. If I worked 60 hours a week, for one month that is 240 hours. How much did I earn for an hours work? About $26 before deductions.

    But what about when I was working 100 hours a week, I’m pretty sure that I worked the 100 hour weeks more than the 60 hour weeks. That’s 400 hours of work a week. Then that hourly pay drops to $15.66 before deductions.

    In 1975-76, I worked full time as an intern in an urban residency.

    Between 1976-1979, I subbed for less than $100 a day. With the average school year running 180 days that meant if I worked full time, I earned less than $18,000 before deductions.

    My first year under a contract was 1979-80. My first annual pay was about $14,000 a year before deductions. But since I was working under a contract and belonged to the teachers’ union that came with medical care and I paid into the retirement fund.

    My last year of teaching in 2004-2005, I taught an extra class and was paid $45 a day for that one extra period and I taught summer school that year. Summer school ended in August and I left never to return to the classroom.

    That year because of the extra class and summer school, my pay was about $80k. It took me 30 years to climb the salary scale from $14k to $76k without the extra classes and summer school. It was a long, slow climb from the starting pay to the ending pay.

    When I retired, I took a 40-percent pay cut and left without medical because teachers in this country are treated like throw away ass wipes by our leaders. During those thirty years, teachers were blamed for everything that someone thinks is wrong in the United States. We were blamed for the prison population although we had nothing to do with that because the largest prison population on the planet came about due to the war on drugs that started with Nixon and was doubled by Reagon.

    The reason the U.S. does not do will on student high stakes tests used to punish teachers and close public schools is because of poverty. The corrupt, greedy psychos behind the war on America’s public schools claim that child poverty is not an excuse.

    A 2013 Stanford Study proved that lie was wrong.

    The report also found:

    “There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.

    ” Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.”


    The United States has the highest childhood poverty rate in the so-called developed world and it is that rate that drags the standardized test scores down. If the U.S. is doing better teaching children that live in poverty than all the other countries that take the PISA tests how and the hell can America’s public school teachers be doing a lousy job?

    Public school teachers in the United States are doing an incredible job without the support they deserve and without the proper funding.

    Any fool, crook, liar, and fraud that claims America’s public school teachers don’t care about the children they teach should be in prison for life without parole. Why in the hell would those allegedly uncaring school teachers take their yard earned poverty wages and spend some of that money on school supplies so the children they teach have materials to work with and learn?

    “The Education Market Association says that virtually all teachers wind up paying out of pocket for supplies, and it’s not chump change, either. On average, most spent nearly $500 last year, and one in 10 spent $1,000 or more. All told, a total of $1.6 billion in school supply costs is shifted from parents — or, increasingly, from cash-strapped districts — onto teachers themselves.”

    Every decade, America’s public school teachers are taking about $16 billion out of their pockets to make sure the children they teech are not neglected when it comes to learning.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loco-Motive

    On Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 11:42 AM, gadflyonthewallblog wrote:

    > stevenmsinger posted: ” I’m sorry. I am not a hero teacher. I am not > stronger than a locomotive. I cannot jump tall ignorance in a single > bound. I am not faster than a tax-cutting zealot. Up in the air – it’s > a bird, it’s a ” >


  4. In this post you state that “I’ll tell you one thing I don’t need. I don’t need the state, federal or local government telling me how to do my job”. In a previous post you have said that democratic control is a fundamental assets of public schools and the lack of democratic control a fundamental problem with charter schools.

    How is there democratic control over public education if no level of government should tell you how to do your job? Perhaps you could elaborate and explain how these two ideas are compatible with each other.


      • Steven,

        Perhaps you could articulate the difference between micromanagement, which you think should be off limits to democratic control, and management, which you think should be subject to democratic control. Is curriculum content something that should be subject to democratic control? They way that you evaluate students?

        I note, for example, that you explicitly reject democratic control of your appointment as a teacher, saying that “I need due process, tenure, so I can’t be fired at the whim of the school board….” and you have very specific requirements about how you are evaluated, suggesting that you would reject any democratically elected body that thought differently.

        Drawing a line between those things that you think should be democratically controlled and those things that you think should not be democratically controlled would be helpful for folks in understanding your opposition to charter schools that are not run by locally elected school boards.


      • Teaching economist, democratic control is not a good in itself. It is good only in so far as it is just and fair. This is basic ethics 101 stuff. I suggest you read John Stuart Mill.


      • Steven,

        It is becoming clear: you think democratic control is essential when it is virtues. When democratic control is not, it is best to educate children in schools without democratic control. Schools like charter schools.

        You will have to forgive me. I was taking your argument that democratic control was an essential feature of public education seriously. My mistake.


      • Teaching economist, I’m shocked you don’t know this. Democracy is not an end to itself. It is a means to finding just solutions to political dilemmas. When it does not give you a just solution, it should be ignored. For instance, if everyone voted in favor of rape or murder, those actions would not be just simply because they were the result of a free and democratic vote. The result is legal but not ethical. However, in many situations, democracy gives us a just course of action because it gives everyone a voice. It is better that all people in a community get a say in how the community’s tax dollars are spent than if you leave that decision up to a government appointee who is not accountable to the community. To speak to the article in question, if elected officials decide to fire someone without cause or without proving justification, that violates the worker’s rights. It is unjust and therefore should not be followed. This is why we have things like courts.


      • Steven,

        This is good news. We can ignore the fact that charter schools are often not democratically controlled. It will be more difficult because we will now have to look at each school before we praise or condemn it.


      • Teaching Economist, are you trolling me? Democracy should not be followed if it violates justice. That is in relation to specific decisions not the overall way in which you should best govern a school. In what ways does having a school governed by duly elected officials violate anyone’s rights?


      • “Teaching Economist, are you trolling me?”

        Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. That’s what he does. TE thinks he’s oh-so-clever with his little reindeer games, but he’s not interested in any kind of serious discussion, just “scoring points” with tangled “logic”, goalpost moving and other assorted fallacies. Don’t attempt to engage him seriously. Just laugh and move on.


    • TE, you make no sense. What in what Steven said means “We can ignore the fact that charter schools are often not democratically controlled”?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rebecca,

        Steven says that “Democracy is not an end to itself. It is a means to finding just solutions to political dilemmas. When it does not give you a just solution, it should be ignored.”

        Steven wants schools to be just, and that might come about because there is democratic control or might come about because there is not democratic control. We need only look for schools that are fair and just. I would add effective in educating students, but we need to ask Steven if, in his view, this is important as well.

        I do agree that Steven’s position that the important thing is a school be just and fair, not democratically controlled, is a distance from his position a couple of posts ago when he stated “I think lack of democratic control is a fundamental problem of charter schools and a fundamental asset of public schools”. I think through our discussion he has figured out that he actually does not think democratic control if fundamental to a school, rather being fair and just (and hopefully effective) is what is really important.


      • TE, I know that Ayn Rand types don’t believe in democracy because they don’t believe in any kind of government at all, but there are more kinds of government than a democracy/republic. It’s a totalitarian government that would have non-professionals trying to tell professionals how to do their job, and that’s never going to work well. And due process for workers is part of the democratic process.

        The main idea of democratic control is that there be transparency about financial transactions so that taxpayers know that school officials aren’t embezzling the money. With democratic, not totalitarian, control, if people think officials are corrupt or incompetent or make unjust policies, they can protest or vote out the public officials in control.

        As Steven says, democracy usually “gives us a just course of action because everyone has a voice.” So it’s better than having someone make decisions “who is not accountable to the community.” That’s what happened in Flint.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rebecca,

        To some extent, democratic control is all about having non-professionals telling professionals how to do their job. That is probably a good thing in the long run.

        Steven separates the idea of democratic control and transparency in this post https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/school-voucher-industry-strikes-back-were-segregated-no-youre-segregated/#comment-10480 Government production does not necessarily lead to transparency, government regulation of private production can lead to transparency. It is a grave mistake to assume one always leads to transparency, the other never leads to transparency. The list of public school embezzlment cases is longer than that of charter schools, but perhaps that is because public schools have been around longer and the budgets of public school districts are much larger.

        Individual rights are an important limit to democratic control. Wealthy parents can exercise these rights by having their children educated in a manner that they deem appropriate, whether is it Montessori, progressive, Waldorf, a language immersion school, etc. The children of poor parents go to schools that the majority of people in the district think is good enough for the children of the poor. The most visible example of the failure of democratic control to consider the rights of the minority is East Ramapo, NY, but there re many others.


      • No government functions well if non-professionals try to tell professionals how to do their job. Present federal administration a case in point.


      • Rebecca,

        I, for one, am comforted that the commander in chief of our armed forces is not required to be a
        Professional military officer, that the mayor of my town is not required to be a professional police officer, and that members of my local school board are not required to be professional educators.

        The difference between the current federal administration and previous ones is one of judgement.

        But this is far from the original topic of how much democratic control is required to make a school acceptable to those that require some democratic control over schools. Some Wisconsin charter schools are a useful starting point because there are websites that list the specific differences between the charter schools and the other schools in the district. For example, some charter schools are allowed to develop their own teacher evaluation system, select the teachers for the school and deselect teachers (the charter school can not hire or fire teachers, that remains in the hands of the school board.)


      • TE, Yes, having ordinary citizens doing oversight and giving direction to the formation of goals is the hallmark of a democracy. But if the non-professional commander in chief tries to dictate specific military tactics and strategies to generals in the field or tries to direct them to do something that is not militarily feasible, it’s not going to have a good end. That’s what Steven was saying about micromanaging.


    • Aw, aren’t you cute? Bless your little heart (and I do mean *little*).

      So, IIRC, you work at a public university, no? So do you think there should be any democratic control over this public university? Does that control extend to having an elected official (or representative of said official) standing in your classes and telling you minute by minute what and how to teach, how to evaluate your students, etc.? Where are the boundaries of democracy for you, dear TE?


      • Dienne77,

        I do work at a public university and have been employed there for over a quarter century. The model of democratic control used in my state involves a board of regents appointed by the governor (this is not universal, Michigan for example elects members of their board of regents) and having the state legislature approve the university budget. While members of the legislature do not stand in my class, interns in state legislature’s offices have stood in my colleagues classes and there have been legislative hearings based on the interns reports of the content of those classes, so that probably qualifies as a representative of said official.

        There is, of course, a difference between traditional K-12 schools and post secondary education that is relevant to the issue of democratic control: students choose to attend my university and within the university choose to take my class. With traditional K-12 schools, students do not get to choose the school (and are guilty of the crime of theft of services should they attempt to go to school outside the district) and in general do not choose the teacher of the class. Given that the government determines which school a student will attend and which teacher the student will have in a classroom, I think it appropriate that there is more democratic control over traditional K-12 education than there needs to be when students can choose the school/instructor.

        I think that choice can substitute for democratic control and allows for less uniformity in approaches to education.


  5. I appreciate the honesty of your post. It is the opposite of self-pitying, simply describing the situation as it is and what makes it challenging on a day to day basis as well as what makes it rewarding which keeps tipping the balance. Been there; done all of that – for more than four decades. No regrets.. Check out my website http://www.howchildrenlearn.org.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Steven, you may not be a superhero, but to me you’re a hero. You are one of the clearest and most incisive, insightful, powerful, caring voices out there. Thank you for all you do every day for students in school, as well as out of school with your writings and advocacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] This inability to properly communicate, organize, and manage schools is going to end up having an irreversible affect on our district. Families will leave. Whether it’s private school, charter school, home school, or out of the district doesn’t matter, it all has the same consequences. I feel as if there is ample evidence that we are entering a crisis phase, other don’t seem to agree. What can’t be argued is that we are undercutting the hard work of our teachers. Their skills and dedication continues to mask gaping wounds, but for how long? As Steven Singer pointedly points out in a recent blog post, they are good, great even, but they are not super heroes. […]


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