The Dangers of the Superteacher Model

Superhero_AThere is a certain type of book in which superteachers are held before our eyes as the example to follow. They work all hours, organise wonderful trips, create their own resources, produce professional quality theatre and musical extravaganzas . . .

I am sure such people exist, and I don’t want to criticise any of their wonderful work, or question their dedication and commitment. But they do not make good role models for other teachers, and they do not show the way forward for large scale school improvement.

Most teachers are seeking some kind of balance in their life between work and other things. I have five young children, and this obviously means that there are many things I must do outside work. Work cannot swallow up my whole life, and it should not. There is a moral imperative for those with families to achieve some kind of reasonable trade-off.

But there is another problem with the superteacher model. It focuses our attention on the extraordinary achievements of one individual, when what is needed for large scale school improvement is a corporate model of excellence.

It should not require an extraordinary charismatic individual to achieve discipline in a classroom. With proper school-wide systems and firm support from senior management, it should be perfectly possible for an ordinary person to do this, just by working faithfully and consistently and applying the practices which the school has corporately agreed. A teacher who quietly gets on with their job and obeys the rules that the school has put in place will not write any bestselling books, but this is the kind of teacher who, in the right school setting, will be able to go on working faithfully year after year, making a difference to the lives of countless young people.

Equally, individual teachers creating their own wonderful resources from scratch is not the model for large scale school improvement. Corporate agreement on high quality resources that are proven to work is what is needed. Once resources have been acquired, they must be consistently applied across the school, so that pupils can make steady and coherent progress. There’s no glamour in this, just faithful hard work and quiet commitment to duty.

Thrilling extracurricular activities can also be a serious distraction. Full time teaching is a demanding and difficult job, even in a school with proper discipline systems and agreed-upon resources. It should take up all of the working hours of a conscientious teacher (all of the working hours, not all of the hours God sends). If a teacher is expected to do large amounts of jazzy extracurricular activities, one of two things is happening: either their teaching is suffering, or they are being required to work unreasonable hours.

So we don’t need charismatic revivalists who trumpet their extraordinary efforts. We need an army of quiet, conscientious and dutiful teachers who are determined to improve education on a large scale, not just in their own exceptional classroom.

Further reading:

We Need Good Schools to Help Us Become Good Teachers

Traditional Methods Can Be Simple, Sustainable and Effective


3 thoughts on “The Dangers of the Superteacher Model

  1. Absolutely! There are a couple of other issues with the SuperTeacher model which are bothering me at the moment.
    One is about the moral effects of holding up SuperTeacher as something to emulate. For most of us, especially if we have out-of-school lives and families, there are simply not enough energetic hours in the day. The only way to get close is to cut corners, or put on a show when people are looking. Once you start on that line, how can you stop?
    I also have to wonder whether the focus on differences between SuperTeachers and NotSuperTeachers is the place where there are we can improve the learning for pupils- rather than, for example, making the curriculum better structured and more content-rich.


Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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