You Have Superpowers! Use Them!
September 29, 2021
September 29, 2021
By Jill Nelson
At the year-end luncheon when I retired three years ago, my principal asked me to say a few words. I happened to be wearing a t-shirt that said, I’m a Teacher! What’s Your Superpower? It expresses what I have felt for everyone who works at a school. We all play a role in the education of the children and in our future. Here’s part of what I said:
I am so proud to be part of this staff. We work in this amazing, difficult, joyous, stressful, meaningful job, while many “out there” don’t understand why or how we do it. I’ve learned to treasure the praise and validation, when it comes, whether from the kids, parents, colleagues, or the community. It doesn’t come as often as it should.
But I believe without a doubt that teaching is a calling. We’re drawn to this profession by mysterious forces—some say a higher power, some say conscience—but somehow, we know this is where we belong. We stay here, despite the difficulties of the job and despite sometimes getting public criticism. Why do we keep doing it?
Perhaps, simply put, we are superheroes. We have power beyond belief, and the actions we take (or don’t take), no matter how small, affect the future of a child, a family, a community, our country, our world. Accept that. Own it. It’s quite a humbling supposition. Once you do own it, it can feel daunting. But I have three tips to sustain you, tips that have worked for me.
Use your superhero powers for good. Focus on the positive in your students and your colleagues. Hold each other up. Believe the best about yourselves, your students, their families, and each other. Stop trying to find out who is slacking; believe that everyone is working just as hard as you. Make a commitment to stop gossiping. It ends with you, and you call it out in others if you hear it. Gossip kills any organization, whether it’s work-related or personal. Cast it out of your life, no matter how delicious it may seem. You can do that. Remember? You have superpowers! You are a teacher.
Even superheroes say no sometimes. I had a mental health crisis when I was pregnant with my beautiful daughter and found myself in a psychiatric ward one weekend. While I was there, each medical professional who interacted with me, probably about 10 total, said the same thing: “Oh,” [say that part like a light is coming on…Oooohhh] that is such a stressful job.” I’d always say, “No, I love teaching!” It’s true—I do! I’ve been fortunate enough to teach for 31 years, exactly what I’d wanted to do since I was 7 years old. I kept arguing about the “stressful job,” but one of those professionals gifted me with the ability to see it as both: a stressful job and a job I love. So, remember this: Saying “No” to something does not mean you’re unsupportive. Recognize your limits and do something self-care related every day. You cannot use your powers for good if you’re broken. And you do have superpowers. You are a teacher.
Form alliances with other superheroes. Join your professional associations—and I’ll give a personal plug here—especially your local education association, its state affiliate, and the National Education Association. You are worth this small investment of money and time. If nothing else, it means you’re not alone in that classroom, office, cafeteria, bus. There are tens, thousands, millions of people who support you. Share the workload with your colleagues. Respect each other’s creativity and effort. Believe you can learn something from every person you encounter. Be part of something bigger than you. Speak up! Speak out! Work to make those alliances stronger, healthier, and more effective. You can do that. You have superpowers! You are a teacher!
After I retired, I worked for a year as a substitute teacher and a year as an infant teacher at a daycare. Doing that filled my love tank and re-energized me to return to my first love, teaching. I’m now thrilled to be back as a high school reading specialist.
And I still believe we have superpowers!
Nelson, a Loudoun Education Association member, is a reading specialist at Dominion High School.