Why Is the Only Way Up to Go Out?

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I tweeted this message out the other night and the response was tremendous.  I began teaching in 2005 and many of my friends have already left the classroom.  Almost all of them are still in education, but they are no longer teachers.  My friends are principals, vice-principals, supervisors, coaches, curriculum coordinators, professional development coordinators, and every other title in the education world.  Many of them were phenomenal teachers and it saddens me to know that they are no longer bringing that enthusiasm and expertise to students.  That’s part of the reason I have no interest in that world.  It’s not that I don’t want to take on a leadership position…..I would love that!  But there are few options for teachers who want to remain in the classroom.

It made me feel better to learn that I am not the only teacher who does not plan to enter administration in the near future (or ever, at this point). During the conversation on Twitter it became clear that talented teachers  crave leadership positions.  So then why is it that the only way to move into a leadership position in education is to move out of the classroom? The Atlantic took on this issue a few days ago in “Great Teachers Don’t Always Want to Become Principals“.

I think that part of the reason teachers are not given the same respect as other careers is because many members of the general public view it as a stop-gap.  There are two choices, in their eyes: if you are a great teacher then you teach for a few years (ideally under 10 years) and move into administration, or if you are a bad teacher you stay in the classroom.  I can’t tell you how often I am asked when I plan to get an administrative position and when I respond with “never”, people just stare at me. “But you are a good teacher!” they often say.  That means I shouldn’t stay in the classroom?

And I’m not knocking those who do move into administration!  All of my friends are fantastic at their new jobs, too.  I just hate that the only way to take on a leadership role is through that type of position, the one that removes you from the classroom.

I’ve already completed by National Board Certification but most districts don’t even treat that as equivalent to a masters degree, so there aren’t a lot of leadership opportunities available.  There are some national opportunities, but most of them involve leaving the classroom for a sabbatical at the least and forever in some cases.  That’s not what I am interested in.  I want to stay in the classroom and continue working with kids!

How can we allow teachers to take on leadership roles (not necessarily entirely new positions) and still keep good teachers in the classroom?  I know of some districts that create hybrid positions and I think that’s a great idea.  Teachers spend part of their day in the classroom, teaching their students, and the other part of the day running professional development and mentoring other teachers.  To me, that seems perfect.  It allows new teachers to learn from master teachers while also keeping those teachers in the classroom part-time.  Lots of districts have professional development coordinators who are solely administrators but I’d love to see those become hybrid positions.  Spend the morning teaching (the same type of classes you would normally teach, with consistent kids) and the afternoon planning PD, running PD sessions, and working with other teachers.

I know if that was an option I’d gladly take it at some point.  But I can’t see myself leaving the classroom completely, because teaching is my passion.  What about you?  What type of leadership position do you think should exist for teachers who want to stay in the classroom?

Why I Stay

A few weeks ago, my friend Beth Shaum asked  if I would share why I stay in the classroom, despite the current teaching climate and  teachers leaving in droves. I kept thinking about it and drafting a response, but eventually the email fell  into the abyss of my inbox and I was swept up in taking care of my husband, who was having surgery at the same time.  I never did get my response to her.  But that’s ok.

Beth didn’t need my response, because she received so many beautiful photos and reasons.  She shared her final video this weekend and it’s something that every American needs see.  Teachers, from all over the country, teaching everything from elementary school to high school, share deep and heartfelt reasons for remaining in a profession that’s slowly becoming one of the most negative careers one can choose.

Over the weekend, I shared why I became a teacher, despite being told I was wasting my potential by doing so.

But today I want to share why I stay.

Despite the vitriol.

Despite the standardized tests.

Despite the unions.

Despite the budget cuts.

Despite the mandates.

Despite the disrespect.

Despite the other options.

I stay because what I do matters and it makes a difference.

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I work hard to ignite a passion for reading in my students.  I introduce them to tools they can use after my class to continue reading and finding books.  Sometimes, years later, they contact me to talk about books. They are engaged.  That’s why I stay.

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I try to make writing fun and authentic.  Blogging, poetry, challenges– anything that provides an audience beyond me.  And now I have a classroom full of bloggers, some of whom are reaching out to other bloggers. They are writers. That’s why I stay.

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I create readers.  I create writers.  And there is no job in the world that can make me happier.  I owe my students a thanks for being so awesome.  They are wonderful people and citizens. That’s why I stay.

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Me and some students in central Mexico

I travel and share information about my students with children in other places.  And I bring back ideas and information for my students, who then make connections between their lives and the lives others are leading across the globe. Those connections will make them better global citizens. That’s why I stay.

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Monarch butterflies at the El Rosario eco-preserve in Michoacan, Mexico

I am a reader, a writer, and a citizen scientist.  I want to share my love of nature and science with my students and show them that anyone can participate in science, even if they don’t choose science as a career.  That’s why I stay.

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Watching the Newbery awards announcement with my 6th graders a few years ago.

I am a life-long learner. I love getting students excited about learning because I am excited about learning.  And when they leap out of their seats or squee in excitement I can’t help but get excited, too. That’s why stay.

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Donations for the children’s hospital– Valentines put together by middle schoolers.

The world is a big place and not everyone is as blessed as my students.  Everyone needs to reach out a hand to help those around them.  As a teacher, I can bring those opportunities to my students and help them become compassionate leaders.  That’s why I stay.

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A book can change a child’s life.  With a classroom library and the wide range of books I am always reading, I can help students find that special book.  That’s why I stay.

Not because of the tests. Or the mandates. Or the races to the top. Or the children not left behind. Not because of the curriculum. Or the meetings.  Or the time spent at home preparing lessons and grading papers.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum

That’s why I stay.

Because of the books. Because of the writing. Because of the changes I see my students leading the world towards.

Because I believe in my students.

Teaching isn’t perfect.  It isn’t fun everyday and sometimes you just want to give up.  But in the words of the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”.  I decided a long time ago to be that someone.

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