Teachers are not all saints, nor are they all slackers. — These are just two of the myths that social studies teacher Aaron Pribble tackles in this motivating, uplifting talk about what it is really like to be a teacher in America today. Aaron Pribble is the author of Teacherland: Inside the Myth of the American Educator.
5 Teacher Myths and How to Dispel them
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e260
Date: February 23, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Aaron Pribble @aaronpribble, author of Teacherland: Inside the Myth of the American Educator. He is a high school social studies teacher in California.
So Aaron, as we talk about Five Teacher Myths and How to Dispel Them, what is the first teacher myth?
Aaron: Well, I’m going to say that the first teacher myth is all teachers are saints.
Myth #1 – All teachers are saints.
By saints, I mean that every single teacher’s going to win Teacher of the Year. People have seen movies like Stand and Deliver with Jaime Escalante, or Dead Poets Society with Robin WIlliams — that THAT’S what it means to be a teacher in America today.
Vicki: And that’s a myth. How do we dispel it, because… you know, that is a myth in my classroom. I’m certainly not a saint.
Aaron: Right? And you know, I hope that I think that we all aspire to sainthood, or at least to be Teacher of the Year if not a saint.
I think that one way we dispel it is by painting a realistic picture of what it’s actually like in the classroom — the embarrassing moments when we try to improvise and be human, some of the hardening moments. I think if more and more teachers tell their story, and we get to see a more realistic picture of what it’s like, then maybe some of those myths will start to slip away.
And if I could kind of foresee the second myth, if I could transition into the second one, I’m going to say that the other side of that coin is that if teachers aren’t all saints, then they must be slouches.
Myth #2 – All teachers are slouches
People probably remember that famous New Yorker article or essay about the rumors that the best parts of teaching are June/July/August, that teachers are hard to fire, and that teachers take advantage of their time. I think that that’s equally a myth as well.
A great way to dispel that myth, that teachers are really either saints or slouches, is by highlighting the good work that we do. One of the things that I love about your podcasts so much is that it’s practical, it’s quick, and it showcases a variety of teachers across the country doing really interesting things dayin and day out.
Vicki: Well, and you know, teachers aren’t slouches. We work 99% of the hours of every other profession — except we do it in ten months!
Aaron: That’s so true! That’s so true!
Vicki: You know, I always say in the summer, “No, I’m not resting. I’m healing.” Because that’s what it takes!
Aaron: You know, a related point, if I can just add on, is like what it means to grade. The notion that teachers can get all their grading done, you know, within the day. It’s just unrealistic. It’s not true.
So if you think about grading an essay, and an essay takes five minutes to grade because you want to give some feedback. You don’t want to just slap a grade on it. That’s five minutes per paper. One class you’ve got 25-30 papers. You’ve got five classes of that. That’s a whole day’s work right there!
So when are you going to do it? You’re going to do it in and around and in between and on weekends and at night and stuff like that. That’s just the way it goes.
Vicki: It is! It takes forever!
OK, what’s our third myth?
Aaron: Alright. Well, related to grading papers, I suppose, the third myth is going to be that teachers only teach their curriculum.
Myth #3 – Teachers only teach their curriculum
When we talk about teaching, we talk about perhaps standardized tests, or proficiency scales, or standards, at least. And that’s true. I’m a social studies teacher, so if I teach a law elective and U.S. History, the units and the curriculum really matters. But I think it’s also really important to teach the whole child.
You know, this notion in education of in loco parentis, which is Latin literally for “in place of the parent.” We are kids’ parents — guardians at least — when they come to school.
It’s really important to know that when they walk through the doors, it’s not just about the content. It’s not just about their minds. But it’s about their hearts. The whole child. It’s really important for us to keep that in mind, I think.
Vicki: Little things like, “How do you get along with the person sitting next to you?” and “How do you respect others?” and “Do you pick up after yourself?” I mean, these are all things that help you be more successful in life.
Aaron: Just to tell you one quick story on that… I had a kid who I really liked. Really promising, star of the football team, but you know, really quiet and really shy. His nickname was Smiley. All the kids called him Smiley. So I started to form a relationship with him through sports, and he’d stick around after class, after this law elective.
And then he kind of peeks his head in one day and asks me to help him write a letter to the judge because his dad was about to be sent to San Quentin State Penitentiary.
My heart was at once both full and broken for this kid. Here is is, trying to learn the curriculum, the stuff that’s going on in the classroom, and he has to worry about his dad being sent away to prison. It just reminded me that we are about helping young people succeed in life. There’s a lot that goes into that.
OK, what’s our fourth?
Aaron: Our fourth one is that teachers don’t always just teach in the classroom. It’s not just about the curriculum. It’s also that things happen outside of the classroom that I don’t think a lot of people understand as well.
Teachers need supervision points. We chaperone on dances. (What the heck is it like to chaperone a dance?) Or a spring concert, or a choir concert or something like that.
Myth #4 – Teachers only just teach in the classroom
There are a lot of facets of our job, especially when it comes to teaching, that happen outside of the four walls. Perhaps it’s an exchange trip, like taking kids to France or Dubai, for example, or maybe just down the road. But that sort of experiential learning is part and parcel of what we do every day.
Vicki: Some of the greatest teaching moments have been hosting Special Olympics Bocce Ball at my school, where the kids are the officials. Or you know, taking kids on trips overseas. Or you know, sometimes on a field trip. I mean, there’s so many opportunities to teach.
OK, what’s our fifth?
Aaron: I alluded to it earlier. Our fifth and final myth is that the best parts of teaching are not, in fact, June/July/August. Those are not the three best parts of teaching. It’s wonderful to have summers off, but it’s a truly meaningful and remarkable profession. We work hard, but I think we get back much more than we put in.
Myth #5 – The best part of teaching is not the time off, but we do need it
I had a wise mentor teacher a while ago say that, “If you don’t take a Saturday, and you don’t take a Sunday, you’re going to be no good on Monday.”
And I think the same thing is true for summers. It’s a time to rejuvenate, and also to reflect on our practice. You know, the school year’s like a season. And at the end of that season, win-lose-or-draw, you celebrate. Then you reflect on your performance over that past season.
Then you’re refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. But I tell you, for all of the breaks that we have, the breaks are nice, but they would not nearly be enough if you didn’t love what you’re doing.
It’s a real honor to be a teacher in the classroom, and I hope that people will understand what it’s really like in the classroom — to paint a fuller picture so that we can appreciate the jobs that we do.
Vicki: Dude… Aaron, I’m going to tell you what I told my pastor this Sunday. “You are a toe stepper!”
“If you don’t have a Saturday, and you don’t take a Sunday, you’re going to be no good on Monday.”
Oh. My. Goodness.
And all of these myths, I think, are important to talk about and have conversations so that we understand the reality of what our profession is.
You know, our profession is beautiful. Our profession is wonderful.
But our profession is tough. Wouldn’t you agree?
Aaron: Yep. It absolutely is. It’s tough but rewarding. The turnover rate in education is actually quite high.
It’s something approximating a third to a fourth of the teachers drop out within their first five years.
It’s not, believe it or not, because of the long hours. Teachers are willing to do that. It’s not because of the kids that they don’t get along with.
It’s because of loneliness and isolation.
You know, a lot of times, it’s one adult and 20-30 kids in the classroom.
I think that one of the things that we can do to really improve our profession is to increase the collegiality and the collaboration to get teachers working together, so that more people will stay in the profession, and more people will continue in this great profession throughout their career.
Vicki: Such great words because I know beginning teachers who feel very alone.
And I know more experienced teachers who feel alone.
I’m not sure why sometimes it seems difficult to build bridges with other teachers — whether it’s just the profession, or whether we are all kind of like king and queen of our little domain, or what.
Vicki: But you know, Aaron, we have to do better.
Aaron: I agree.
Vicki: We have to be better friends, better colleagues. We have to be more encouraging.
I think you have really shared some powerful things about the profession of teaching.
All of you listening, teachers, I’m proud of you.
Thank you for teaching. Thank you for giving your life to this incredible profession. Thank you for doing all of the things that people notice — and all of the things that people don’t notice — for these kids.
It is worth it. They are worth it. This is an incredible, fantastic, remarkable profession.
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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Aaron Pribble is the author of Teacherland: Inside the Myth of the American Educator. An award-winning instructor whose work also includes Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League, Aaron teaches high school social studies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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