Monday, February 20, 2017

#SOL17 Does Moving Up Always Mean Moving Out?


"It seems such a waste of time
If that's what it's all about

Mama if that's movin' up
Then I'm movin' out"
- Billy Joel, "Anthony's Song"


In the education world, I've noticed that most of the time, to advance professionally, you need to leave your role of being a teacher. To move up, you have to move out. You can become an instructional coach, a dean, an assistant principal, a principal, a director, an assistant superintendent, or superintendent. You can become an independent consultant or work with other consultants, visiting schools and working with teachers. You might become a professor and work with college students who wish to become teachers. There doesn't seem to be a way for a teacher who wants to stay in the classroom to advance professionally by way of different title, salary, or prestige. 

Being a classroom teacher is challenging. I teach third grade, which means I teach my 25 students every subject. Literacy, of course, has many components, of which I am responsible: reading (decoding, comprehension, fluency), word study, writing, handwriting, speaking, and listening. I also need to teach students WHY they need to be literate- why it matters in a democracy, and spark their love for reading and writing. I need to be a role model and share my passion for reading and writing. I also need to plan small group instruction for students with similar needs- often 6 different groups of children. This would be a daunting task alone, but literacy is not the only subject I teach. Math includes concept development, fact fluency, and problem solving. I need to teach social studies and science, character education, and integrate technology. And that is just curriculum. Somehow, I also need to create a caring and safe classroom community, encourage risk-taking and persistence, and differentiate my teaching to meet the needs of diverse learners. I need to get to know each student, communicate with families, refer students who have academic or behavioral concerns, and consult with the special area teachers who provide my students' services. I need to assess my students in every area, find the time to grade the assessments, and use them for the purpose of more targeted instruction. In every subject. 

I am with my students all day, except for 40 minutes when they are at a special and then 40 minutes when we get lunch. Most of the work I need to do to be ready to teach needs to happen after school. But of course, there are often meetings, tutoring, or clubs, which often does not leave much time at all. This translates to a full work bag that travels home with me every night. Like many other teachers, I come home to a family that is waiting for me. In my case, a husband and a 6 year old son and almost 4 year old daughter. By the time the family responsibilities are done for the night, there is rarely energy to take out that full work bag and make a dent in it. It travels back to school, heavier for the guilt that has been added to the bag. 

Some days, it feels very hard to be a classroom teacher.

And I'm sure there are impossibly hard days in other positions in education- but my pride says, at least those positions are ones that are higher up the hierarchy. You are seen as somebody who knows something more than the typical classroom teacher if you are the coach, the director, the administrator. You are the "lead learner." And you get to go to the bathroom whenever you like!

So, if you are a classroom teacher who wants to advance in your career- where are you to go? The answer seems to be  "out of the classroom." But once you are out, the longer you are away from the day to day teaching responsibilities, can you really understand what it is like, have empathy for the sheer impossibility of the expectations? 

Sometimes I wish there was a way for everyone who has left the classroom for a leadership position to come back to it for a year or even a trimester. I think there would be so much more empathy and understanding for those in higher positions to see how the different curricular mandates really fly in a classroom of real children. How a teacher who cares so much and wants to make a difference and is earnestly trying her very best... still finds it near impossible to do everything a teacher needs to do. 

I am a classroom teacher. It's what I've always wanted to be and who I am. I don't want to move out, so there will be no moving up for me.

What are your thoughts on the idea that teachers need to leave the classroom to advance professionally?