heroic teachersAfter 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. 

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Great points Karen. Its truly said that if you put your passion into the things you do then those would work like miracle for yourself and the peoples attached to your profession as well. So as we see that being a heroic teacher is being valuable to ones passion and profession. Any education catering to the needs of human would always be a praised one and the one doing the same would be considered as an outstanding mentor.


Thanks for sharing these five important characteristics that distinguish heroic teachers from other teachers.  The link to the other seven provided a nice piece to complement your's.  Appreciate it.  This resource will come in handy for some of my work at the Center for Teaching.


Thanks, Bob and Oscar for reading and commenting!

Thanks for this post I will definitely go and look at the other attributes for a heroic teacher. My favorite teachers in school were the ones who always showed their passions and tried their best to incorporate many different styles of teaching and learning. I don't think I would have done nearly as well in school if I did not have those influences in my life. I can only hope that one day these will be the qualities that are exhibited in my classroom. I think also it is crucial to understand that a teachers job is collaborative and not individual. If we try and bear the whole load on our shoulders we will surely falter but if we encourage one another, learn from each other and work together we will be able to accomplish so much more!

I think one more thing I would add - for current heroic teachers and those looking to be one:

Becoming a heroic teacher takes time and it's not a point of arrival so remaining a heroic teacher requires practice.

Well put, Dave. Thanks for sharing!


I loved your post! Especially the pointers for heroic teachers. "Teachers find creative ways to bring their passions into the classroom, regardless of what they are." I LOVE this. I have a passion for China and although it seems a little unreaslistic and irrelevant to American Culture, thinking about incorporating some Chinese Culture and decorations into my classroom and teachings really inspires me.  This also brought an idea to my mind. What if we found out what our students were passionate about and we had days that were dedicated to each of them. Incorporating things into OUR daily plans that accomodated to what lit THEM up. :-) Just something to think about! There is nothing more beautiful than listening to someone talk about something they love and then letting them teach you all they know about it! :) 

"What if we found out what our students were passionate about and we had days that were dedicated to each of them."

I love this idea, Meredith!

Thank you for this post. I am currently a student studying Middle school education so this post was very helpful to me. There were two points that really stuck out to me. The first was that "heroic teachers never teach to the test" this stuck out because I think that it is really easy to just teach to the test and not try to go above and beyond that. this is a good reminder that being a good teacher is much more than a test score. The second item that stuck out was the line that said "heroic teachers know they can't do it alone". This really hits home for me because I am a very independent person and i am not usually good at asking for help. I think I need to remind myself that asking for help is not a sign of weakness! If I ask other teachers for help I will be able to provide my students with a better education and it would be selfish of me not to.

Thanks for sharing, Caitlin!!



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