Teaching Profession

The New Taylor Swift Song That’s Become a ‘Teacher Anthem’

By Madeline Will — May 02, 2024 2 min read
Taylor Swift performs as part of the "Eras Tour" at the Tokyo Dome on Feb. 7, 2024, in Tokyo.
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Taylor Swift’s new album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” has 31 songs about the complexities of love, loss, and other emotions. But there’s one song in particular that has been hailed as “a teacher anthem.”

“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” is an upbeat pop song with potent lyrics about masking heartbreak with productivity. “‘Cause I’m a real tough kid, I can handle my s—,” Swift sings. “They said, ‘Babe, you gotta fake it ‘til you make it,’ and I did.”

The song recounts Swift’s experience performing night after night at the record-breaking Eras Tour despite feeling “miserable” after a tough breakup. (“I was grinning like I’m winning, I was hitting my marks,” she sings, “‘cause I can do it with a broken heart.” ) For teachers, though, the lyrics represent pushing past challenges, both personal and professional, to do their best work for students.

After all, teachers are performers, too.

When Madi Saenz-Payne, a high school English teacher in California, heard the song, she thought of the time when she learned in the middle of the school day that her grandmother was dying. She pushed her feelings down and put on a brave face for her students.

“You really have to pretend sometimes that what you’re teaching is the most important thing in the whole day, when we’re whole humans, too,” she said. “We have lives and breakups and family problems and deaths. ... You really can’t unload your stuff on 14-to-15-year-olds, so you have to put your smile on and keep teaching until the bell rings.”

And teachers have a lot of work-related stress and feelings of burnout that they have to contend with while still showing up for their students every day. The EdWeek Research Center’s inaugural Teacher Morale Index stands at -13 on a scale ranging from -100 to +100, a finding that suggests that on average, teachers feel more negatively than positively about their jobs.

Many teachers have lip-synced the song’s lyrics, “I cry a lot, but I am so productive—it’s an art,” on social media, declaring them an accurate description of a teacher’s life.

The song feels especially resonant after the last few years of pandemic-related turmoil, said Corinne Altham, an elementary school librarian in Maine. It was heartbreaking to teach remotely, then through masks, and not feel as if students’ needs were fully met, she said.

“We had a lot of heartbreak, but we pushed it down and got through it,” she said.

One of Altham’s favorite parts of the song is when Swift sings, “You know you’re good when you can even do it with a broken heart.”

The lyric reminds her of her own skills as a veteran educator: “After a while, you know you’re good,” she said.

For Andrew Martin, a 3rd grade teacher in Florida, the part of the song that resonates the most is the outro. Swift exclaims with a laugh, “‘Cause I’m miserable! And nobody even knows!” Then she sighs: “Try and come for my job.”

Teachers “are exhausted and put down, but then every one of them gets in front of students, and they put on a face, and just like the song says, … nobody’s going to know,” Martin said.

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Custom illustration by Taylor Callery showing a glitchy rendition of Taylor Swift split with a collage of pixelated non recognizable images which show the idea of a "deep fake' version of Taylor Swift while a young female is shown in the background holding a phone and looking over her shoulder at T Swift in the background. T Swift is breaking apart with subtle use of pixels.
Taylor Callery for Education Week (Image of Taylor Swift: AP)

It feels like public criticism of teachers has become sharper and more common since the start of the pandemic, he said. Student misbehavior has increased, too, making it harder for teachers to do their jobs. And teachers are still “digging through the academic hole” that emerged as a result of the pandemic, Martin said.

“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” sums up the experience of teaching in the face of those systemic challenges, he said.

Said Martin: “I want to scream it on the way to work a lot of times.”

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