Every job, to some extent, involves “faking it until you make it.” The older I get, the more sure of this I am. No one who comes straight out of college can do any job as well as someone who’s had thirty years of on-the-job experience. As a college student, I see all too often that people feel pressure to elevate their own experiences. Everyone is extremely quick to paint themselves as the gifted intern, the one the office couldn’t live without, the prodigy who set an impossibly high standard.
I understand the usefulness of this narrative. In fact, I endorse it, to a degree. I think people should take ownership of their successes, and they should absolutely emphasize them. If you don’t believe that you’re a competent, successful worker, no one else is going to, and your work life is going to suffer as a result.
What bothers me about people exaggerating their successes is that it makes it easier for new hires to think that they are defective. They know that their experiences are nothing like the fairy tales that their colleagues tell, so they start to believe that they are inadequate. I think that this is dangerous, and it could discourage new teachers from entering the profession.
This phenomenon is discussed in the aptly-titled article “I Lie About My Teaching” from The Atlantic. The author tells the story of one of his colleagues who enters the teaching profession, is excessively hard on herself, and is fired after three months despite being no worse than any other new teacher.
What further complicates this matter is the teacher savior complex that is always portrayed in the media. In some of the most beloved and inspirational movies of our time, like Freedom Writers and Dead Poets Society, the teachers engineer remarkable turnarounds in all of their students, changing their worldviews permanently. Teachers may feel inadequate when measured against these teachers, real or fictional, whose achievements seem larger than life.
I think that people in every profession, but especially teaching, shouldn’t be afraid to talk about failure. The only way that teachers will ever get better, and students will every really learn more, will be if teachers can understand what they do can improve on and learn to correct their mistakes.
Teachers also shouldn’t spend so much time comparing themselves to other teachers. Every classroom is different, so teachers need to know that what works brilliantly for one teacher may fall flat for another. Teachers should be able to learn from each other, but they shouldn’t convince themselves that some teachers are just simply always going to have success while others are doomed to fail.
I think one of many reasons why prospective new teachers may be dissuaded from the profession is that teaching has a reputation as a hard, draining job where you’re expected to be amazing and inspirational at all times. If we want people to be excited about teaching, we have to be realistic enough to understand that not every day is going to go well, and that it’s okay to struggle. Teachers shouldn’t have to lie about their lives just to feel satisfied in what they’re doing. The reason people become teachers is to make a positive difference in kids’ lives, and those little victories, no matter how small, should be the realistic focus of how a teacher talks about their job.