What Does “Teacher Leader” Mean to You?

20140209-105448.jpgThe term Teacher Leader seems to have become a part of the education lexicon over the last couple of years. There are blogs devoted to the topic, chats on twitter, books on the subject and countless articles appearing on websites like Edutopia and EdWeek. Whenever I see something with Teacher Leader in the title, I invariably click on it. I have been asked to take on leadership roles at my school. I have led committees, demonstrated teaching practices for colleagues, and organized school-wide events. As the first teacher in my school to use the Reading Workshop model, I have become the ‘go to’ person for my principal as our District moves all of us in that direction. I guess you could say I am a Teacher Leader.

But I’m not comfortable with it.

I recognize that a good portion of why a resist the term is because I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be in charge – afraid of failure, afraid of blowback from peers, afraid of resentment. These are my issues and I’m working on them. Stepping into a leadership role means having a thick skin and a certain knack for ignoring negativity. I’m working on it.

But, there’s something else that just doesn’t sit right with me when it comes to the idea of “Teacher Leaders”. Those of us who are devoted to our profession and constantly seek to improve our practice know the amount of time and effort it takes to be an excellent teacher. Many of us devote weekends, evenings and holidays to planning lessons, researching techniques and reading up on our content areas. Being an outstanding teacher takes time – and I don’t mean that in the sense of years in the job – I mean it takes UP time – hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the summer.

The irony of “Teacher Leadership” is that we are taking outstanding teachers who already work incredibly hard, and putting even more on their plates. They are expected to take on a larger workload, endure possible resentment from peers, and lose time in their own classrooms – and their reward – the unofficial title “Teacher Leader” and nothing more. At least that seems to be how it works in my District. And this is what I am trying to find out when I click on all those ‘Teacher Leader’ links. Is my District the exception, or the norm? Could it be possible that all across our country we are asking our best and brightest teachers to assume leadership roles, to work harder and sacrifice more, for nothing but an unofficial title and a sense of altruism?

Being the purveyor of positivity that I am, I prefer not to dwell on what is wrong with our profession, but focus on a solution. Right now we have the opportunity to restructure our profession.

Currently, educational structure at the District level is comprised of Teachers and Administrators. You are either in the classroom, or you’re in the office. There is no in between. Opportunities for advancement exist only for teachers who see the title “Principal” or “Adminsitrator” in their future. Perhaps it’s time to think about a layer of ‘Teacher Leaders’ that work in between Principal and Teacher. These outstanding teachers could be selected to work with teachers and students, to advance practices, support learners (both students and teachers) and implement change. Principals would have more time to focus on administrative tasks and teacher leaders would not feel the pressure of having to run their own classroom while they support their colleagues. I know this happens to some degree now under the title of “coach”. But I would like to see it implemented in a more formal way in every District in the nation.

Talent in any profession should be recognized and rewarded. I know I would be extremely interested in a position that allowed me to focus on teaching practice, curriculum and implementation, that didn’t remove me completely from classrooms, and provided me with the time and resources to do my job well. I don’t want to be removed from what’s happening on a day to day basis in our classrooms, but I want to be an agent for change and growth.

What does “Teacher Leadership” look like in your District? Do you see changes ahead? Am I way off base?! I’m eager to hear from you. Please comment below.

Have a great week and keep on reading!