Real Teaching Isn’t Like the Movies

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.

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2 Responses to Real Teaching Isn’t Like the Movies

  1. liznels says:


    This is an excellent post that brings up a really good point. I have heard from numerous teachers that say that going in to their first year of teaching, they thought that they would be amazing and have so many new, innovative ways to teach, yet struggled to keep up with the basics in the day-to-day craziness that is a classroom. I think unrealistic expectations and a desire to only tell and talk about what is good – to tell about the “Instagram-worthy” experiences is a large part of this. If teachers and society discussed the hardship and the ordinary of a profession whether it’s teaching or business or something else, then I think that individuals would be more prepared for reality in these jobs. Perhaps starting these discussions – talking about what is hard and why it is so – would actually create better professionals. What do you think the best way to start these conversations is?


  2. kbuffett says:

    This was an excellent post, Geoffrey. As you mentioned, this phenomenon transcends beyond the field of education — I would argue that it is pervasive across pretty much all professions. In thinking of my own internship experiences, I have always found myself feeling inadequate at some point or another because I felt that I was not living up to the idealized version of myself that I had presented to my supervisors during interviews.

    It is human nature to paint oneself in the most positive light possible — and I think many professionals (including educators) are guilty of doing this in communicating their experiences with others. This tendency is absolutely detrimental for budding professionals who feel as though their shortcomings or failures are unprecedented — after all, if their bosses and peers had never shared their own experiences of failure, how are they to know mistakes are not only accepted but expected?


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