I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I wrote this post about the (hilarious?) adventures of my very first job interview in Manhattan as an instructional coach. I also can’t believe that next June will hold my 20th high school reunion. Time flies and all that.
I want to make a confession here. With each passing year, a growing part of me worries that not being in the classroom hurts my credibility as someone telling teachers not only how to improve their work but to ENJOY it more. Sometimes I hear a little nagging voice saying, You’re not in the trenches, so who are you to advise anyone on anything? What, you enjoyed teaching so much that you stopped doing it? And the world of teaching has changed so much, so quickly—what if I’ve become arrogant, out of touch, outdated, and irrelevant?
As a young teacher, I thought I’d be in the classroom forever. But that perspective changed in a single day in 2009. It was three months after The Cornerstone was published, and a local charter school principal invited me to conduct a workshop on classroom management. His teachers’ work schedule was the same as mine, so in order to accept, I’d had to ask my principal’s permission to to leave my students and use a sick day. That was the first red flag that being a teacher and a consultant might not be compatible for me.
I’d structured the day so I spent the morning giving PD and the afternoon doing individual classroom consultations, helping teachers apply what I’d taught them to their own unique situations. Two of the teachers actually cried during our consultations because they had felt desperately alone and were so grateful that someone was finally offering them some specific support and encouragement. I knew that sense of isolation well and cried with them. That was probably unprofessional, but I was touched. Deeply.
I drove away from the school that day exhilarated, knowing that I had just made a positive difference for not only my own students, but for an ENTIRE SCHOOL. This whole teaching teachers thing? Oh, yes, it was definitely for me. That I knew.
But I also knew immediately that I was not going to be able to help teachers on the scale I wanted to while still giving 100% to a classroom full of kids who were depending on me to show up each day. Some teachers can—and do—pull it off. But I know my own limitations, and it just wasn’t possible for me to be an excellent teacher AND an excellent author, blogger, speaker, consultant, curriculum writer, and all those other jobs I was trying to squeeze in between 10 pm and midnight.
I wanted to make the biggest difference I could for teachers and impact as many students as possible. And so I had to make a choice: to stay in the classroom and focus on helping 25 kids, or leave the classroom and potentially impact the way hundreds of thousands of kids learn.
And honestly, after 11 years of teaching, I was ready for the change. I thrive on new challenges—those of you who have followed me since the inception of this site in 2004 will remember that I taught in 7 schools in 2 states during those 11 years. Changing to a different role in education fit my pattern perfectly. I knew I’d miss working so closely with children, but I also knew I would love my work with teachers in the same way I used to love being in the classroom.
In my mind, I am still a teacher. I’m just not in the classroom. I view my role as an instructional coach and educational consultant as an honor and a calling. I believe that those who are in the classroom desperately need the support of instructional coaches and mentors–people who have been in the trenches, but now have the time and opportunity to support other teachers without needing to rush back to their own classrooms and put their own students first. I have the privilege of making the support of other teachers my #1 priority. Who could begrudge me of that? And why would I ever berate myself for it?
Ironically, now that I’m out of the classroom, I think I actually have MORE to offer teachers than when I was in it. A few years ago, my experience was limited mostly to my own four classroom walls: now I get to visit teachers and schools all over the country. I get to talk with teachers in small rural schools and problem solve with those in big urban districts. I work with high school teachers all the way down to PreK. I feel like I have a better understanding now of what it’s like to be a teacher because I get to spend more time than ever listening to actual teachersinstead of being isolated in my own classroom.
The posts and books I write aren’t telling anyone to stay in the classroom. I’m not sitting back on my couch in the morning relishing the fact that I get to work from home a lot and make my own schedule while telling teachers how to do their jobs. I’ve written extensively about how teachers can make the choice to leave and how to transition into other roles if they so choose, and just last week, I shared a 30 minute podcast about launching your own business as an edupreneur. A huge part of my job in empowering teachers is giving them hope and helping them find the right role in education so that they can enjoy their work and make a difference for kids.
I’m also not telling anyone how to do their job. I’ve always espoused the philosophy that there’s no one right way to teach. I try to share my experiences from a place of humility and from the position of a learner: here’s what has worked for me, here’s what I’ve seen work for other teachers, tell us what works for you. I don’t write about any mistakes I haven’t made myself, or any principles I haven’t had to learn in my own practice.
My goal is to share strategies I’ve learned and continue to learn about making teaching more effective, efficient, and enjoyable. And that “enjoyable” piece? It’s been my main focus over the last three years, and I’m pursuing it with even more intensity. I’m rapidly nearing the final draft of my book Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Love Teaching Every Day…No Matter What. I don’t think enough influencers are talking about how to make teaching enjoyable and inherently fun. I want to see more conversations about meeting the needs of the whole teacher, more consideration toward how school policies contribute to or detract from teacher motivation, and more realistic advice for how teachers can tap into their passion for their work and ignite that same passion in students.
I can’t change ridiculous school policies, or repeal standardized testing, or reduce class sizes, or make any of the other systemic changes that would help teaching feel less insurmountable. But I can share practical resources to make the day to day stuff a little less frustrating and little more rewarding. If I can give you some ideas for making a connection with that seemingly unreachable kid or shave 20 minutes off a mundane task so you can focus on something more meaningful, then I feel like in some small way, I’ve made a difference. I’ve helped a teacher somewhere keep a smile on her face for her students and end the school day on a higher note than if she hadn’t read my words.
In my mind, I will ALWAYS be a teacher, whether those I help are little kids or other educators around the world. And so I choose to silence that voice in my head that questions whether I have the “right” to give advice to teachers about their work. This isn’t about advice. My job, as I define it now, is to empower, support, inspire, and encourage other teachers. I just don’t think there could EVER be enough people doing that…and I’m honored to take on that role.