I used to think I would teach forever, mostly because I never wanted to be an administrator. In my mind, a principal’s daily schedule revolves around the most unpleasant of school-based tasks: dealing with irate parents, nagging stubborn teachers, disciplining out-of-control kids, attending hours of boring meetings, and creating budgets with a quarter of the money that’s needed. DO NOT WANT. But aside from the increasingly sparse curricular support positions (which are highly coveted yet poorly regarded, with district workers holding the reputation of lounging behind big desks downtown and creating extraneous demands), I simply didn’t see many other options in education. The status quo demands that educators contentedly bide their time in the classroom until retirement, passively watching as allocated funds shrink with each passing year while expectations increase exponentially. A master’s degree could earn a small raise, and a coaching or supplemental position may provide possibilities for growth and a paltry stipend. But where are the opportunities to truly excel in this field? What are the options for advancement?
I initially pursued teaching because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life, and I stuck with it because I’d rather get paid less for doing something I love than sell my soul to corporate America. But for the last few years I’ve been wondering…are those REALLY my only two options? Are the terms positive impact on education and financially lucrative career mutually exclusive?
At the first teacher in-service I attended, my jaw hit the floor upon discovering the workshop presenter earned more in a day than I earned in a week. Especially since the workshop sucked: it was impractical, patronizing, and irrelevant. Teachers work too hard for some know-it-all business major to waltz in and tell them how to do their jobs, I thought. I want to do this, and I want to do this right.
Professional development emerged as my niche from year one. I spent hours each day frequenting education websites and message boards to get new ideas. When teachers posted questions, I enjoyed sharing what I’d tried, and loved reading their replies: It worked! Thank you so much for your ideas! The same type of questions were posted repeatedly, so I started compiling my suggestions on a website where I could direct teachers to photographs and documents I’d already uploaded. The site took off with over 500,000 hits in its second year and grew to over 50 pages of free resources. Next I created a blog. After that, a classroom management book. And finally, my very own workshops and in-services.
Helping other teachers had become my real passion, bringing far greater satisfaction than I was getting from working with students. I could touch the lives of 20 kids a year in my classroom, but through professional development, I was able to impact tens of thousands of children around the world each year as their teachers grew into more confident, effective educators. And this, THIS is what gave me the courage to forfeit tenure and quit my job: the desire to encourage and support teachers, and earn a good living while I’m at it.
I’m not sure there are many opportunities for this in Florida, but in New York–where my husband lives already–I was blessed to secure consulting work in several capacities, which I’ll tell more about in a separate post. One of my positions is as Educational Editor for BrainPOP, Jr., in which my primary function is to ensure that their lesson plans, movies, and activity features are developmentally appropriate and genuinely useful as teaching tools. I’m also working for a consulting firm as a teacher mentor, providing ongoing literacy and math coaching to selected teachers. I visit their schools regularly to model lessons, observe and provide feedback, develop lesson plans, help assess student work, create materials for their classrooms, and basically support their professional growth in every way I can. And in addition to these two jobs, I’ve got that whole Cornerstone Classroom Management book-blog-website-workshop thing going on, too. So yeah, there’s that.
On my last day of teaching, I got a little misty-eyed driving out of the school parking lot and called my husband. “Guess what, sweetie! I’m not a teacher anymore!” I could hear in his voice that he was smiling. “Wow, that’s right.” He paused and thought about what he was saying, which is something I don’t do enough and part of the reason why I love him. “Actually, honey, you’re still a teacher. You’ll always be a teacher. You just don’t have your own classroom anymore.”
I am a teacher. I work in classrooms all over the world, some physically and some virtually. I’ve broken free from a system that wasn’t designed to support the goals I’m trying to accomplish, and created my own path. To be clear, I am also free from the paid holidays and no-cost health insurance the system provided. The path is not without its drawbacks. Especially since I’m only at the beginning, in a place where my earning power and opportunities are still limited…but somehow that’s the most exciting part. In the classroom, I knew exactly what I’d be doing and earning ten years from now: it was guaranteed, but it was also limited. The possibilities on this path are beyond what I can envision now…and since I know it’s my path, the places it leads will be divinely designed for me.
Though the educational system is broken in many ways, I know that my efforts to support the teachers and students who are caught in it are worthwhile. At least so far. My worst fear is to be seen as playing the “expert” who makes the demands of teaching more frustrating and exhausting instead of less, or be misperceived as one of THOSE people who don’t quite believe that teaching children is the toughest and most important role in our field (even harder than—gasp!—giving PowerPoint presentations at faculty meetings or bemoaning the lack of technology integration to other change-makers in conference halls). I’m just holding fast to the message I live, and the message I pass on to teachers every day:
There are always more possibilities than what you see now. Additional options exist. Things don’t have to be done the same way other people have done them. There are multiple solutions to every problem. It’s never too late to change something that’s not working. It’s okay to try something different, and it’s okay if it doesn’t go perfectly. What would you like to accomplish? What end result do you want to see? Let’s find a way to make that happen.
What are your thoughts on promotion and advancement in our field? If you’re a teacher, how long do you plan to stay in the classroom? What do you see as your opportunity to advance and excel? Are there other roles you’d like to see made available to educators?