Top Ten Education Myths (Part One)

Letterman Top TenI don’t do many numbered lists, but I notice they’re going out of vogue and figured that was the perfect time to do one more. It’s like wearing cargo shorts, or getting excited about Kings of Leon. 

Go on – judge me.

Anyone in education for more than a week is deluged with clichés and presumed bits of wisdom which rarely play out as promised. They’re not usually malicious, but neither are they reliable. Like a mirage, perceived substance vanished when you’re most desperately relying on them. 

In an effort to reduce the volume of sand in our collective edu-eyes, here’s the first half of my Top Ten Education Myths Countdown.

Top10ten#10 – The students will make you crazy. There are certainly times that my students leave me frustrated, bewildered, or even frothing towards neurosis. They can be a difficult lot, no matter how many inspirational memes you retweet each week. 

That being said, it’s not the kids who truly hold the power to undermine your sanity – it’s the adults. The higher up the ladder, the more likely they are to zap you with the crazy ray when it’s least welcome and not at all necessary. 

If you’re not nodding in silent assent as you read this, thank your leadership effusively and often. They’re the exception.

Piano Lessons#9 – The teacher students like the best is the best teacher. This is not without elements of truth. It’s difficult to reach kids who DON’T like you, and teachers who are comfortable with and care about their students tend to give more, and get more from them. 

But a teacher may be wildly effective because they’re consistent, know exactly what they’re doing, and demand big things of those not accustomed to being considered so very full of possibilities. They may receive ZERO Starbucks cards at the holidays but deep thanks from former students years after they’ve moved on and have a little perspective.

Conversely, there are very ‘cool’ teachers who are strong on the bonding but weak on the ‘challenging’ or the ‘knowing stuff’. Correlation is not causation –you may know many good teachers who are totes down with the kids, but that doesn’t make it a ‘rule’.  

Sleeping Teacher#8 - Teachers are afraid of accountability / Teachers’ unions are there to make sure their members aren’t held to any real standards. We, as a profession, are largely culpable for this perception. There are few things more horrifying to watch than a teachers’ strike on the news – horrible slogans, bad hair, and chants beginning with “2, 4, 6, 8…” 

You’d think we were collectively thrown off of American Idol during Hollywood Week and just couldn’t accept that our slow, tender version of “All About That Bass” just wasn’t up to snuff. 

But think about your elected leaders – the ones who make you go nuts on Facebook or Twitter with their inane comments and proposals. Better yet, recall the most difficult relationship from which you’ve ever had to extricate yourself, especially if it involved being judged or misconstrued – the more irrational the better. Ask yourself if you’d want that person in charge of your income, your profession, or your major life decisions. How about letting them tell you how to raise your kids? No?

That’s what it’s like when people with zero track record of having any idea what they’re talking about continue to insist on telling us what good teaching looks like, how to handle our students, etc. And they have power over our meager lil’ paychecks as well. 

It’s enough to make those horrible slogans seem encouraging. 

Teacher Martyr#7 - Teachers have it easy / Teachers work longer and suffer more nobly than any other profession in the history of mankind. We may overreact to tired old cracks about ‘having summers off’ and whatnot, but far sillier are our efforts to establish that we do, in fact, martyr ourselves in ways that leave slackers like Gandhi and Mother Theresa bathed in shame and inadequacy. 

There’s that email showing what we’d make if we were babysitters (something in the hundreds of thousands annually), and all those tortured tales about our 60-hour weeks and the resulting personal dysfunctions. “Yeah, but did MLK every have to buy his own SCHOOL SUPPLIES?!?”

I’m not saying no one does it that way – just that it’s not the norm. Nor is it healthy for extended periods. Sure, I put in plenty of hours before 8:00 and after 3:00 prepping, grading, and occasionally trying to learn a few new things.  

But then I go home. I read books. I watch hockey. I have a family. So should you.  

Bad Children's Books#6 - Such and such kids won’t learn no matter what you do.

Maybe. Or maybe I just suck and haven’t tried the right thing. Maybe if we could find a better setting – more structured, less strict, different peer group… Maybe if more of our faculty looked like him, or more of our curriculum mattered to her. 

Then again, maybe not. Sometimes it’s not us – it’s them. The moment this becomes an excuse to write them off, however, you’re doing it wrong. 

Don’t beat yourself up over every kid you can’t reach – chances are their issues go way deeper than you can spelunk in an hour a day with 152 others to inspire. But if that ever stops bothering you, eating at you, making you question everything you thought you liked about yourself… well, then you suck. 

Time to let you in on a little secret. 

I know exactly what my Top 3 are going to be, but I’m torn about #4 and #5. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know what YOU’D put on this list before I finish it in a few days. Comment below, or email me if you prefer. 

Bonus points if your suggestion is already one of my Top 3.

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