By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
It’s time to put these five teacher myths to rest. These are not the myths that others believe about teachers, but instead are the myths that teachers believe about themselves.
Take a minute and see if any of these sound familiar:
- Teachers are trained to always put others first.
- Teachers accept low pay because we are “In it for the outcome, not the income.”
- It’s okay to feel exhausted because that is how good teachers are supposed to feel.
- A good teacher works every night and on weekends to keep up.
- If you complain then you must not like your job and therefore don’t like your students.
The truth is, I fell for many of these myths during my 32 years of teaching, and now that I am retired and doing a different job I have learned how the rest of the world lives and works.
Teacher Myth 1: Put others first
Anyone who believes that teachers only work 185 days a year has not been a teacher. Society expects teachers to be available 24/7/365. Employers expect teachers to go above the required hours and meet new demands no matter what. Students and parents expect immediate replies to emails. I even had a teacher tell me a parent emailed over Christmas break at 10 p.m. and emailed again at 8 a.m. asking why she had not responded.
Unfortunately, teachers fall prey to this expectation all too often. We tend to think if we aren’t always putting our students and their families are first, we are not doing our job. We think we cannot say no to an administrator to take care of ourselves or family. We think if we aren’t always available, we are letting down society.
Let’s look at reality. Back in the dark ages, when I started teaching (1987), these demands were not there. We worked our contract hours and yes, we did work at home with lesson planning and grading, but no one bothered you at home. Parents, students, and administrators did not call. There were no emails or texts. Once you left the school building you were left alone. It was understood that if you needed to contact a teacher, they contacted the school during school hours and the teacher called back during their prep period or after school. Yes, those were the good old days.
As technology “simplified” teaching, it created a host of new problems that have continued to mount, and teachers responded as they felt they were expected to by putting others first. In the process, they lost their personal time and the separation between home and work has blurred completely. As a result, teachers feel drained and exhausted because they never truly get a break.
After working the past six months outside of a school setting, I have learned that in the “real world” it doesn’t have to be like that. I sign in online each day for my job, and when I am finished for the day, I click a little button that says away and that signals to the team I work with that I am unavailable. When the weekend comes, I click away and never look at an email or assignment again until Monday. It has been very liberating.
I challenge you to fight back from this myth of putting everyone first by setting boundaries and sticking to them. Turn off your email and notifications after hours and on weekends. Reclaim your family time and watch your outlook improve.
Teacher Myth 2: Teachers are “In it for the outcome, not the income”
Of course teachers care about their students but the idea that you cannot be caring and also make a living wage is outrageous! I spent the last eight years of teaching without a single raise. The duties and expectations increased but not my salary. Time and time again, public school teachers feel the brunt of budget cuts and political decisions that are beyond their control.
The general feeling of this teacher myth is teachers don’t really care how much they make, they just want to help their students. This myth makes teachers and society devalue the work that teachers do. This notion has also led to a decrease in teacher satisfaction, burnout and a teacher shortage. It is ludicrous.
Currently, there is no incentive to remedy this because the only people affected are teachers. While teachers have little redress for this, they do not have to volunteer for extra unpaid duties and or do extra work for free is an expectation and an obligation. When teachers finally refuse to put in unpaid time not only will some frustration ease, it will send a clear message to administrators, school boards, parents and politicians of what actually gets done for free. When others feel the impact of things left undone, real change can start to take place.
Teacher Myth 3: Good teachers are supposed to feel exhausted
Somewhere over the years it has almost become a rite of passage or a merit badge of martyrdom to be an exhausted teacher. According to this teacher myth, being exhausted shows how hard you work and how much you care.
Here is the reality: no one is paying attention except your tired, weary body. No one is waiting to congratulate you for working yourself to exhaustion. No one will give you a raise or even mention it on a teacher evaluation.
The second reality is this. If you are exhausted, you are more susceptible to physical and mental illness. You are more likely to burn out and quit.
Instead of falling for this myth ask yourself what you need to do so that you aren’t exhausted. Do you need to:
- Take a mental health day?
- Leave your school computer at school?
- Say no when you are overextended?
- Turn off social media?
- Go to bed earlier?
Here is the final reality: if you are exhausted you won’t be a good teacher because you won’t be functioning a peak performance. This can cause relationships to suffer, decision making to go awry, and to experience shorter attention spans and less patience. That is why it is imperative to take time for yourself.
Teacher Myth 4: A good teacher works every night and on weekends to keep up
If you walk out the school door without taking home a cart or bag full of papers to grade every night you must not be a good teacher. If you recycle a test or reuse a past lesson plan you must not be a good teacher. If you spend a whole weekend not thinking about school or doing school work you must not be a good teacher.
STOP! If you have had those thoughts (haven’t we all?) then it is time to reprogram this myth. You don’t have to work every night and on every weekend to be a good teacher.
Number one, you will never be caught up until the last grade is turned in at the end of the year. Never, so quit beating yourself up!
Number two, there are lots of good teachers who have learned to create balance and not spend every waking moment working on things for school. If they can, you can too. Whether it is time to just be realistic with your expectations or to let go of a perfectionistic personality, once you realize that you can be a good teacher and not devote 24/7 to teaching, you will feel much better.
Teacher Myth 5: If you complain then you must not like your job and therefore don’t like your students
One of society’s biggest teacher myths is that teachers in all of their good deeds must also love every single minute of their job. There isn’t a single career in the world in which anyone loves every minute. You will see this myth rear its ugly head if teachers complain about their salary, talk about how many hours they work, or say they aren’t ready to go back to work after a vacation.
Teachers seem to be judged on a different scale, but here’s the truth. You can love your job and still not want to leave the comfort of your home and family after a break. You can love your students and still dislike some aspects of your job. You can complain about the long hours working at home yet still not want to do any other career in the world. When others forget that teachers are people too, you may need to gently remind them.
It is easy to fall prey to the teacher myths society has heaped upon teachers, but it is time to put these five teacher myths to rest.