I'm Still a Teacher Because of Teacher Leadership
Last December I was ready to walk away from teaching. Truthfully, I was probably ready to walk away in November, but I felt I owed it to my students to remain at least until the semester ended in December. I figured I could re-enter the engineering field and not be nearly as exhausted and run down as I was as a teacher. Fall semester is our program’s most difficult semester, and last fall was even more insanely intense than usual because of the number of roles I was juggling. I didn’t feel effective in any of my roles; I was always struggling to deal with that day’s crisis or pending deadlines. Something had to give but I didn’t see anything changing for the following year. Leaving the teaching profession was the only viable option I saw. Things improved briefly in November when I found out I certified as a National Board Certified Teacher, but that enthusiasm quickly faded as I started preparing for finals and the end of the semester. My husband supported my decision to leave teaching, but we were both leery of me making such a big decision when I was feeling so run down and stressed. I decided to stay until the end of the school year.
Throughout this time I was having frequent conversations with my principal. She wanted to find ways to support me and the success of our program. During one conversation we decided to list every possible solution we could think of, regardless of whether we thought it was realistic. One of the solutions was for me to teach fewer sections in the fall to allow dedicated time for the other activities. This would require hiring a part time math teacher and allowing me to have a “full-time” job description that was different than the other “full-time” teachers. We discussed and thought about it for the better part of winter semester. Would the director approve it? Is the shift beneficial to both me and the program? How would the other teachers react? Would those duties constitute a full-time job by themselves or would I need to add a few more things throughout the year? What supports would I need to be effective in this new role? What exactly does the new role encompass? How would we avoid “mission creep” in the new role?
We continued to discuss these questions and answers. By the time spring semester arrived my feelings toward teaching had mellowed from dread to ambivalence. As contracts for this year were offered in May and June I found out the shift in my job description had been approved. Now the real work began - other staff was told of the change, planning for my new role began in earnest, and the excitement returned! I can’t say for sure, but I am fairly certain I would have left teaching this summer if this shift in my role didn’t happen.
Thirteen years ago, I was a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering when I purposefully decided to become a middle school math teacher. I intentionally taught middle school before accepting this high shcool position at an early middle college. I expect my students to be successful and I expect myself to provide the supports necessary for that. I facilitate my students’ learning instead of lecturing at them. We focus on reasoning and proof, communicating ideas, connecting ideas, representing our work, and problem solving, not just rote memorization. I am active in NCTM and the MI NBCT Network, and I am now a MI EdVoice Fellow. I actively seek professional development activities both in and out of school.
So - what does it say that I was willing to walk away from this career last year? Retaining highly accomplished teachers is a serious issue and can only be solved when teaching is considered a profession by educators, policymakers, and society at large. Teachers need to be given the opportunity for effective professional development that addresses specific building and district issues. Teachers need to be supported in their development of leadership skills, if for no other reason than students watch and learn from us every day. We may model fantastic relationships with students and families, but our students are also watching us interact with our colleagues and administrators. We stress a growth mindset with our students, but that will only be partially effective until the educational system also implements a growth mindset within itself. As as society, we can not afford to lose highly accomplished, enthusiastic, and effective teachers, and we must continually seek ways to retain these people in the profession.