After two years and hundreds of hours of interviews with teachers from public and charter schools across the nation, Katrina Fried distilled her conclusions about what she calls “heroic” teachers in a book called American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom.
Her conclusion: Heroic teachers—that is, teachers whose students exhibit high test scores, high graduation rates, and high levels of engagement—are diverse in their teaching styles, yet they also share a common set of beliefs that other teachers don’t.
Below you’ll find five of the twelve distinguishing features of heroic teachers Fried describes in her book. If you would like to read the other seven, blogger Dana Truby has posted them here.
What distinguishes teachers from heroic teachers?
Heroic teachers follow one major rule—but they also know when to break it
Heroic teachers consistently follow one major rule: Be prepared. Yet heroic teachers are also flexible and willing to modify or even scrap plans and start from scratch. As Fried puts it, “Great teachers are human barometers—attuned to the shifting moods of their students and amorphous qualities of their surroundings.” Because of this, heroic teachers know when to throw out the rule book and follow their instinct.
Heroic teachers place essential human needs at the forefront of everything they do
Great teachers know that taking the time to foster a classroom culture that’s built on mutual respect and tolerance sets the stage for authentic learning.
Creating a vibrant classroom culture means that there must be, as one of Fried’s interviewees puts it, a “synergy in the room…a familial atmosphere” that places essential human needs at the forefront of everything students and teachers do.
Heroic teachers bring their passions into the classroom
Your passion for rock and roll, Shakespeare and post-modern art may not be a part of your curriculum, but heroic teachers find creative ways to bring their passions into the classroom, regardless of what they are.
Why? Because they know that teaching what they love has the power to influence the culture of a school. Take Daryl Bilandzija, one of the teachers Fried interviewed for her book: His commitment to environmental stewardship moved him to turn a half-acre of his school’s campus into an Edible Learning Garden, which has transformed the identity of Odyssey Charter School in Altadena, California, and “put it on the map.”
Heroic teachers never teach to the test
Teachers’ assessments may be directly tied to their students’ performance on state-issued exams, yet there is not an educator among the fifty profiled in Fried’s book who approaches his or her curriculum with the primary end goal of achieving high scores.
Heroic teachers know they can’t do it alone
The vast majority of classroom heroes profiled in Fried’s book know that mentorship and collaboration are integral parts of becoming the best teachers they can be. As one of Fried’s interviewees puts it, “Success does not occur in isolation.”
Teachers often make the mistake of thinking that they have to do it all on their own, but heroic teachers know—and are not too proud—to tap into the expertise of their colleagues and mentors.
You may not know this, but Marygrove's MAT program offers a course dedicated solely to the topic of Teacher as Everyday Hero. To learn more about our program offerings, click here.