'Please don't call us superheroes'

Yes, teachers will keep working through lockdown – but we are ordinary human beings with normal fears, says Sarah Mullin
3rd November 2020, 12:18pm


'Please don't call us superheroes'

Coronavirus & Schools: Why Teachers Aren't Superheroes

Here we go again. From Thursday, we will be in a second national lockdown. Not that you'll be able to tell from the inside of a school, where all year groups will keep coming in.

In his speech to the nation, Boris Johnson praised teachers for their dedication in keeping schools open. Meanwhile, the supermarket chain Morrisons is offering teachers and school staff 10 per cent off their shopping bills, as a way of saying thank you for working throughout this challenging period. 

All those who work in educational settings are incredible - there is no doubt about it. During the first lockdown in March, teachers were regularly hailed as superheroes - often by parents, struggling to educate their children at home - as we worked in innovative ways to care for the children of key workers, while also supporting the learning of children isolating at home.

Coronavirus: We're teachers - not superheroes

Obviously, praise and recognition are very much appreciated. But the narrative of the superhero teacher is not necessarily helpful. Here are five reasons why.

1. We do not have a Kryptonian physique

Unlike Superman, teachers are not from Krypton, with the associated superhero physiology. No: teachers need to sleep, they need to eat well, and they need to be able to unwind and relax. 

With teachers reporting signs of burnout and work-related stress, it is more important than ever that the wellbeing of all those working in the education sector is given serious consideration. 

When teachers feel supported, appreciated and have optimum levels of wellbeing, they are more likely to thrive in their jobs, which, in turn, will have a positive impact on their students. 

2. We don't have nerves of steel

Although we love our jobs, it is important to acknowledge that teachers are not superhuman. There are teachers who are genuinely frightened about the very real possibility of contracting Covid-19 themselves or about spreading it to vulnerable loved ones. 

Teachers are proud to be part of our wonderful profession, and are ready to fulfil our duties diligently during lockdown. But many teachers are genuinely struggling to consider how they will navigate these worrying times, when it is considered safe to spend the day in a school filled with children, yet it is against the law to go for a coffee with our nearest and dearest. 

3. We are qualified professionals

We are not born with superpowers. Teachers spend years studying to become fully qualified. We then continue to grow and develop as professionals by learning from one another, completing additional qualifications and investing in CPD throughout our careers. 

As hardworking, dedicated members of staff, it is disheartening for us to see so much teacher-bashing online. Social-distancing measures have been difficult for everyone, including teachers, who have had to adapt to a whole new way of working. And it is work: it is a job, not a superhero's responsibility to save the world.

So, while the sentiment behind calling teachers superheroes is lovely, what teachers really deserve is respect and recognition for being highly qualified and experienced professionals.

4. We have other responsibilities, too

In addition to completing out-of-hours marking, planning and preparation, many teachers have caring responsibilities, a home to maintain and appointments to attend. 

It is, therefore, important for teachers to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries, so that we can juggle our roles and responsibilities effectively.

It is also important to consider that, while many teachers feel that teaching is a vocation - that they have been called to the profession in order to make a difference to the lives of others - we also have mortgages and bills that need to be paid. And so we deserve to receive a salary that reflects our worth.

5. We cannot do this on our own

Teachers are able to do the jobs we love because we are part of a team, working together to support one another. From our teaching assistants to the technology team, our caretakers to our cleaners, and our admin staff to our school cooks, we could not do our jobs without the commitment of our loyal colleagues. 

We are also aware that children perform best when their teachers, parents and carers all work together with the child to ensure they achieve their potential. 

Teachers cannot work in isolation. The best resource we have in education is the skills and experiences of one another. When we all work together, amazing things happen. We are not mysterious masked figures, acting alone.

As teachers, we do our best to ensure that, when children leave school, they will do so as confident, articulate and well-rounded individuals. It is important for children and young people to see that we really are not superheroes. We are partners, parents, friends and neighbours, just like everyone else. 

Being a teacher comes with a lot of responsibility: we are the profession that creates all other professions. So, while words of praise do make us smile, what teachers really need is the time, funding and support to be able to carry out our roles effectively.

Sarah Mullin is a deputy headteacher and doctor of education student. Her book, What They Didn't Teach Me on My PGCE, is a bestseller on Amazon. She tweets as @MrsSarahMullin

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