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Stop Expecting Educators to be Superheroes: Impact is Possible while Honoring Humanity

educator well-being self-care teaching Oct 30, 2023
stopping unrealistic, superhero expectations on teachers to support educator well-being and more impact on children

by Katie Raher, PhD

I recently saw a billboard with a local school district trying to recruit teachers with a picture of an adult wearing a superhero cape, trying to pull at people’s desires to make an impact. 

Y’all know I’m all about making an impact on children, and I’m hopeful that more folks join the field (and that people in the field get better taken care of). 

And… underlying message of the billboard advertising: When you become a teacher, we expect you to be a superhero. 

Not just at Halloween, but all dang year. 

This got me thinking about the superhero expectations we put on educators, me included.  

Now back at my UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education graduation, there were 3 people invited to give speeches – one faculty rep, one person graduation from their masters program, and me as the PhD speaker.  

 Even though we were given no direction on our speeches, were told to talk about whatever we wanted to share with the graduates, and didn't collaborate with each other in any way, there was an accidental thread that ran through all of our speeches. 

That educators are superheroes.  

Now don’t get me wrong – educators are seriously amazing and indeed super and heroic on so many levels. 

AND after seeing the level of compassion fatigue, burnout, and demoralization rampant in the field, I’m here to say that I’d like to rescind anything I said in my speech that would make educators feel like they have to be superheroes.

Superhero status implies you have to save the world from villains, natural disasters, long-term effects of pandemics, school shooters, and so much more.  

Superhero status implies that your humanity should be ignored. 

Superhero status implies that you need to work at all hours of the day and night to save others.  

Superhero status implies that even when you’re tired, you need to put your cape on and push through. 

I no longer want to contribute to the narrative that “good” educators are those who kill themselves to live up to superhero expectations. 

I no longer want to be part of a narrative that puts impossible expectations on educators. 

I’m here to declare that you can be a good educator by honoring your humanity. You can be a good educator by setting boundaries to protect your energy. You can be a good educator by having compassion for yourself when your interactions with students or days don’t go as planned.  

You don’t have to super.  

You simply have to be you.  

You are the only you who exists on this planet. You are the only you with the exact set of strengths, values, experiences, knowledge, interests, and inner wisdom anywhere at all.  

And your students and colleagues need YOU, not a perfected, superhero version of you. 

And that is enough. You are enough. 

And I want to say thank you for all you are to students. 

Yes, they may sometimes have a hard time socially, emotionally, behaviorally, academically.

And yet you show up and hold space for them most every day (and take mental health days when needed so that you can be present for them when you are there). 

You bring your unique gifts, experience, knowledge, and love to them.

You make things better because you are you.

You don’t have to save them. You don’t have to be everything to everyone.  

So hang up the cape. Trade in non-stop speed, muscles, and self-sacrifice for slowing down, resting, and self-compassion. Take time to know yourself and your needs. Set boundaries. Speak your truth. Honor you. Be you. Love you.  

Because this is the true foundation of loving students, connecting deeply, and healing any wounds that have happened in the past. 

Having educators who are supported and celebrated in feeling well is what will prevent us from needing so many billboards and recruitment efforts for new teachers in the first place.

Let's take care of the educators we have.

Let's create a paradigm shift in what we expect from those who enter the field.

Let's make sure we start with you, so here is your permission slip to honor your own humanity. 

What do you think of the superhero expectations that are put on educators? 

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