Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A favorite education professor probably told you that being humble is a trait of an effective teacher. They probably read a 2011 ASCD article about “what makes for an effective teacher” and shared it with their students.

They probably also shared the notion that a great teacher continually puts others ahead of themselves. Dave Stuart, Jr. of Teaching to the Core actually offers many great suggestions about how being a humble teacher can protect our sanity.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][bctt tweet=”But being humble is hurting teachers. ” username=”EducatorsRoom”]

Claire Autruong of recently shared an article on “Humility: The Positive Trait that Holds Talented People Back at Work,” and I can’t help but continually make the connection to teachers’ personas while reading it. In the article, Autruong argues that being humble makes one invisible, makes one a doormat, and makes them feel stuck at their job (and she also shares some great ways to counter such feelings). Sound familiar, fellow educators?

Karen MacDonald, Maine’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, shared that she believes that “teachers are humble creatures.” And they’re wrong to be. They are relentlessly diligent workers. In class, teachers make “up to 1,500 educational decisions each day… serving the complex needs of 20+ students at a time.” Educators are carefully carving up the minutes in their day to answer emails from the night before, grading assessments, entering the grades, updating their websites.

The burdens in school are numerous. They need to prepare for the upcoming day, crafting lessons from the past or from scratch, making connections to ever-changing students’ lives and vernacular, ensuring that they’re meeting the standards that the state sets for them, while also meeting the higher standards that they set for themselves. This occurs between the 5+ classes and upwards of 200 students they teach during class, as well as the other times they personally set aside so they reteach.

Outside of school, teachers are expected to meet certain requirements that they’re qualified to teac . States expect so much professional development, and one would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t just exceed the expectations, but does so with true valor and investment. They earn M.Ed. degrees. They attend community events to support their students. They make phone calls after school to parents and speak with their colleagues about their curriculum.

Teachers are among the hardest working individuals on the planet. Yet, since they stay so humble, you’d never know it; instead, we allow others to speak for us, perpetuating a myth of a teacher who works 7 daily hours only to kick back for the summer. The idea of the dedicated teacher is nothing more than a mirage to the non-educator.

And that’s OUR FAULT.

Why? This cultural perception is one that will end only when we decide to speak up. Here are some ways you can do that:

1 – Tout students’ accomplishments in your classroom – how can others not cheer when students do some great things in our classrooms?

2 – Praise colleagues’ success to anyone who will listen – as MacDonald stated, teachers’ breakfast is often humble pie. If you don’t sing their praises, who will ever hear them?

3 – Nominate colleagues for awards – There are so many awards to provide teachers, and even The Educator’s Room would like to honor 30 of our greatest who stand at the front of the classroom which you can do so by clicking here.

4 – Nominate yourself for awards you feel you deserve – sometimes you just need to go out on a limb and nominate yourself for an award that you feel you meet. Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” The only shots teachers often take come from snide comments posted at the end of local newspaper’s online articles

5 – Continually wave a banner of the great things you do in your classroom – it will give you clout when you want to share the negative monsters you have to slay that get in your way of accomplishing even more great things

This is not an invitation to exert pride, which Stuart properly states is the opposite of humility. A teacher’s humility is something that should be admired because humble people are always easiest to work with and be around. Just don’t let it define our entire profession.


Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global...

Join the Conversation


  1. This is a very interesting article. I can attest to the truth of the methods you suggested. After getting a mediocre review for a lesson I thought was spectacular, I put in for an award for my students and school. We not only got the award, but in the process light was shone on what I’d been doing with my students in class and all the acknowledgement I felt I needed to confirm what I knew–that what my kids and I were doing was great work– came flooding in. I work with some amazing educators and have nominated them for awards and will continue to do so because in the school it seems administrators are afraid to praise excellent teachers.

  2. I agree with you, Jake. I’d say, for those of us who value humility, a good thing to do is to think about it as taking pride in our profession and the work that we do rather than thinking of it as being personally prideful. I know way too many teachers who don’t realize how great they are, and this is problematic–and not just in terms of self-esteem. For one thing, if you don’t recognize how great your ideas idea, you don’t share them. That’s a big loss. For another, if you can’t promote the work that you do, you don’t get valuable support from your co-workers, administrators, and the public. With support, we can do so much more. And that support takes many forms. It can include assistance with projects too big to handle on your own; it might include permission to attend conferences or to try something that seems out of the box from your administrators; or it might be financial support. Great article!

  3. Although I feel fulfilled as a professional educator and have had many successes, I perceive the phrase “humility hurting teachers” largely due to the under payment and under valuing of teachers in our culture. Rather than recognize ring to the party, the vast wealth of experience veteran teachers bring to their students, many districts would rather hire new, less experienced teachers so they can pay them starting wages. We also work teachers so hard and pay them so little recent statistics put the average teacher’s career at only 5 years. Couple these facts with a frequent and rigorous pattern of teacher evaluations and little power being sandwiched between parent and administrator. You have an equation for feeling like you really don’t count much for the money earned. Oh, did I mention student loan payments?

  4. Great article, Jake. The proposal I am sending in for that NEA symposium is related to this very idea: that there is greatness in our profession already that needs to be recognized, supported and applauded. Too many times our professional organizations have come off as perpetuating a face that is needy, whiny and begging forgiveness for us teachers and schools not being good enough- but promising we really truly want to be better. Especially when Van Roekel was still executing his brand of “pragmatic” leadership, I can’t tell you the number of NEA Today magazines that went directly from my mailbox to my trashcan because of the covers shouting that take.

  5. As a teacher-in-training (after having worked for a large corporation for 15+ years), with memories of my own student days, and memories of my own non-teacher days, I’d like to add that humility is not a moral virtue (or vice), but a *tool*.

    When teachers teach in a humble way, they *choose* to take on a humble persona.
    The (assumed) authority they possess, the (natural) power they exert, as director of the classroom, grading, and the livelihoods and carreers of their students, are actually quite imposing (wether the students know and notice or not). With great power comes great responsibility however, and adopting a humble pose, is often beneficial to teaching.

    Admitting your own limits prevents making an ass of yourself when mistakes get made (and they will be made). Accepting and respecting your students’ shortcomings or boundaries will also make them feel safe and valued. Showing humility in word and action fosters a humble outlook in life, which grow sensible, curious, respectful, growth-mindset adolescents and adults later.

    This persona is not who you are —or are supposed to be— in everyday life with your colleagues, school board, friends or family.

    When defending one’s profession or carreer, teachers can and must boast their successes, especially if they need to adjust for public opinion’s skewed views. To me, however, the teachers I most fondly remember, respect, value and appreciate today, are the teachers who had a humble persona *in their classroom*. They taught me that language is a wonderful, shimmering, everchanging communication device, that nothing in science is ever set in stone, that the world is a wonderful place to (re)discover, that learning an art is never “done”. And also that teachers are human, approachable, and valuable guides in life.

    No boasting, know-it-all, “accomplished” teacher has ever connected with me, as a “humble” teacher could.

    So-called “humble” teachers were however a pain-in-the-ass to their respective school boards, were the first to speak up in public when values were threatened, were active in public debates (wether it be lgbtq+ rights, defending students in conflicts with school boards, or being active in NGO’s or Good Causes).

    No humility there!

    Often they had non-school pasts, teaching being a later (true) vocation in life. They always saw their students as “equals” in value (even though they never forgot the functional difference: these were not a student’s “buddies”, they were still their teacher first!).

    Humility isn’t a virtue. It’s a tool. Whether it is second-nature to you, or a learned/adopted behaviour is another thing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.