Just a teacher

After nearly 3 decades working in schools, with over half of that time as Technology Director or Principal, I’m starting out the new school year with a full-time teaching load and no administrative role. The reactions I’ve had from people are illuminating and have given me much fodder for reflection.

“Why do you want to be just a teacher?” This is the most common reaction I’ve had from people: disbelief that I would want to “step down” from administration and return to the lowly role of teacher. As in all other industries, the further one “rises” into the levels of administration the greater the pay and prestige.

However, if you look at education from the point of view of our most important stakeholders – the students – the teacher has the greatest impact, good or bad. Sure, counselors help them get into the best universities. Principals make the rules and shape their school culture. Superintendents or Heads lead the whole school into new directions and constructions. But for the typical student in any school, it is his/her teachers who make their school experience successful, enjoyable and worthwhile.

“What about your career?” Many are shocked at this “backwards” step away from the traditional career trajectory towards bigger and more prestigious roles. The expectation is that you keep on striving until you reach the pinnacle before you retire.

At this point in my career, I’m less interested in more and bigger ambitions and want much more to spend my time on the most important things. I entered into education to make a difference in the lives of children, and I continue to do so. Instead of shaping policy and directing curriculum, however, I’m now focusing on specific students and their development. It’s less broad an impact, but deeper and more meaningful.

“Are you enjoying the lack of stress?” This reaction amuses me the most! Having worked as both principal and teacher, I know that there is no stress greater than that faced by a teacher who wants his or her students to learn, grow and succeed. Every day, every class I’m struggling with issues such as “Am I reaching all the students?” or “Can I do better?” and “If I don’t succeed, neither will my students!”

I am absolutely delighted to be “just” a teacher this year. My students impress me every day and I feel renewed in my commitment to education. My career arc has bent in different directions than that of most teacher/administrators, but I am proud of the direction it is going. As I’ve told my students, “I’ve been promoted to full-time teacher!”

Happy New (School) Year!


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