A Cautionary Note To Burgeoning Teacher Leaders [The Eagle vs The Hummingbird]

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

Dear burgeoning teacher leader,

Congratulations. You’ve been chosen / selected / promoted to a position of leadership in your school. Whether you’re an instructional coach, an assistant principal, or a lead teacher, your achievements up to this point merit applause. I hope that the benefits and challenges of the position you’re about to undertake in your current post have been outlined for you. If not, rest assured that it’s going to be hard as hell, starting with your attire and ending with your aptitude for the job. But someone needed you somewhere and so I suppose they saw something in you that the school or district needed.

Yet, if you’re coming from the classroom, I should caution you: you’re trading in intimacy for effect.

When people talk to me about the possibility of becoming an administrator, they tell me that I’m taking my talents to farther reaches, from the 30-60-90 of the classroom to a possible 300-500-800 students at a time. While this is true, the true test is finding the balance between improving the teaching quality of a school and getting to know the students this affects.

Last year, for instance, I had an easier time with teaching while in the role of math coach because I already had the core group of kids for 3 years as part of my homeroom (I begged for this, too). In those three years, I also taught the majority of the 8th grade by then, so walking into different classrooms and doing demo lessons was second-nature. Yet, It was difficult keeping up with learning how to be a math coach while ensuring that all my 8th grade students got what they needed from me.

Thus, we didn’t do as well as we could have academically with that group of students. My relationship didn’t suffer as a cause of this growth into teacher leader, but it didn’t help when I was consistently absent for random reasons.

By comparison, in my role as 2nd year math coach, I handled my responsibilities much better. I worked harder to keep up with my class’ academic needs. I visited classrooms more often. I delved deeper into curriculum and pedagogy. I even did a bit of the disciplinary and administrative matters in the building as well. On the surface, it’s been a very successful year. Yet, because of the energy needed to do all those other pieces, I didn’t devote 100% of my emotional energy to the students in my classroom and it showed. I wouldn’t want to put the blame squarely on my shoulders, but too often, I found myself detached.

It wasn’t because I wanted to be distant, but there’s only so much energy we as humans have.

When you’re strictly a classroom teacher, you can just worry about your own students. The paperwork mounts, but your part is more specialized and focused. As a teacher leader, you’re not just worried about the brains learning, but also the brains teaching, and the brains working to support those who are teaching and learning, all simultaneously. Plus, you’re asked to do this within the confines of a web of rules only meant to complicate not simply your work (here’s looking at you, Charlotte Danielson).

Once you trade in the one-room key for the master key, you’re also pulling yourself away in a way that people don’t get. The difference between an eagle and a hummingbird is not just in its size, but also its purview.

Jose, who will be seeing his students for the last time tomorrow … and wishes he had one more day …