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What does it mean to be a teacher? In honor of teacher appreciation week, a K-12 teacher’s personal reflection on four qualities that make teachers superheroes

“I don’t wear a cape. I teach.”

“Teaching is my superpower, what’s yours?”

I never liked seeing these slogans on coffee mugs and t-shirts. It makes me feel uneasy when teachers are referred to as superheroes. Teachers, afterall, aren’t superheroes. I should know, I am one. I don’t live in a secret lair or have villainous archenemies.  Most teachers I know can’t fly, shoot webs from their fingertips, or crack a lightning lasso. To me, this imagery was setting up normal hardworking teachers for failure.  

How can you live up to the reputation of being a superhero? Being compared to Superman and Wonder Woman may seem flattering but it is also a heavy burden.

Teachers are human  

Teachers, just like everyone else, were not prepared for the onslaught of a global pandemic.    We too were caught unawares and underprepared for the massive changes the COVID-19 required. Like the rest of us, teachers are not immune to worry, illness, and exhaustion. We are mothers and fathers worrying about the health and wellbeing of our children. We are sons and daughters taking care of aging parents. We are colleagues supporting our coworkers as they navigate totally uncharted territory. We are friends lending a helping hand and a listening ear.   

Teachers worry 

We worry about the wellbeing of our students and our own families. We are not without faults. Teachers have good days and bad days. We have hopes, fears, dreams, and shortcomings just like everyone else. We make mistakes. We get frustrated, worried, and weary. Especially now. 

What makes a superhero?

As I thought more about the idea that teachers are superheroes, I decided to get a little expert insight. When asked what makes a superhero, my seven-year-old daughter, without hesitation replied “Superheroes are strong and they help people.”  My eight-year-old daughter nodded in agreement and added “Superheroes make the world a better place.” 

As this unprecedented health crisis sweeps our world, there is no doubt that teachers are answering the call to action. And as much as I want to refute the notion of teachers being superheroes, teachers keep repeatedly proving me wrong. 

In honor of Teacher Appreciation week — four qualities that make teachers superheroes:

Teachers display exceptional strength

Without warning or preparation, teachers have worked tirelessly to shift their entire curriculum online overnight. Stripped of their ability to connect with students face to face, teachers are conducting countless online meetings every day to ensure all their students’ voices can be heard and questions can be answered. 

Teachers innovate

Innovative teachers are using tape and binder clips to hang sheets as makeshift green screens so their students can travel the world (virtually). Many teachers lacking any formal training, are embracing new technologies to elevate the student voice during distance learning. In a time that calls on teachers to don their superhero capes 24/7, teachers are exhibiting amazing fortitude. They are not faltering under the new responsibilities. Teachers are using their great strength to rise to the challenge. 

Teachers help people

Teachers are delivering materials to doorsteps to level the playing field for students with less access to technology. When bookstores are closed and resources are limited, teachers are using snail mail to get reading material into the hands of their students. Donning masks and gloves, teachers are distributing hot meals to students who rely on school for their daily meals.    

Teachers make the world a better place

Teachers are organizing virtual birthday parties so students feel loved and connected to their classmates. Teachers are sending handwritten notes to students just to say they miss them.  Teachers are singing songs, wearing costumes, and telling jokes just to make sure their students smile despite the many new stresses that are present in their daily lives during this uncertain time. 

I was wrong

I realized I was the one who got it wrong, sort of. The mugs, t-shirts, and colorful posters were right all along. Teachers do have many of the qualities associated with superheroes. But, I was right about one thing. Teachers are decidedly human — maybe it is their super humanity that sets them apart. Perhaps, teachers aren’t superheroes but rather super humans. 

During a massive global health crisis, teachers across the nation have demonstrated an elevated aptitude for caring deeply and serving humanity. This is worthy of celebration, not only during teacher appreciation week, but every day.  

Lory Peroff

Lory Walker Peroff is a fourth grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow alumna who believes writing is not only enjoyable but essential. She lives in Honolulu with her husband, two energetic and curious daughters, five chickens, two ducks, and one peahen.