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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Just a Teacher

By Zachary Champagne — July 11, 2011 2 min read
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Note: Zak Champagne, an award-winning teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, is guest-posting this week.

I have been a classroom teacher for thirteen years in Jacksonville, Florida. I have taught hundreds of students, received numerous awards for my teaching, completed an advanced degree, and have only just begun to master the craft of teaching. As a result of my successes I have been offered countless “opportunities to grow” in this field. Those are the facts. However, it must be clarified that these “opportunities to grow” have all included me leaving the classroom. Whether it is as a curriculum specialist, school or district based coach, or principal, none of those are the path I feel that I must take as a classroom teacher. Currently, there is little room for growth socially or financially for me to stay in the classroom. In fact, the opposite is the norm...the only way for me to advance is to leave the classroom, the very place where I feel I can make the greatest impact on students.

So many of these opportunities began with a conversation that starts with something similar to, “Zak, you are too good to be just a teacher.” And, quite frankly, I have always taken offense to that statement. Please don’t misunderstand me: many of these opportunities came from people that I thoroughly respect and I do not believe their intention was for those words to be portrayed as demeaning to teachers. However, we as a culture tend to pay much lip service to the importance of teachers...yet we also view the only next step for a teacher is to pursue the path of an educational leader. This road would take me out of the classroom...the exact place where I have experienced much success and impacted hundreds of students.

After all, I got into this because I love working “directly” with students. Trust me, I understand that I could potentially impact students in a larger and less direct way by working with teachers and/or leading a school. I have heard that many times as well. However, for me there is something to be said about having a direct link to a classroom that is mine. My classroom: where the students know me as their teacher, where I can work with their parents and families, teach them on a daily and consistent basis, grade their work, work with them before and after school, and do what I believe I was called to do.

The answer to this predicament is quite simple, yet with the bureaucracy of unions, local school boards, archaic pay scales, and state government it becomes exceedingly complex. The answer lies in a classroom teacher career ladder. There must be a step “up” both socially and financially for classroom teachers who prove that they are successful in advancing their students academically and make a difference in the lives of students. This path could provide opportunities for these teachers to mentor other teachers, share best practices, research educational practices, and write, all while still having a classroom of their own. The complexity comes in trying to combat a system that has been in place for hundreds of years, one that has many paths out of the classroom and only one to stay in...unfortunately, a system that pigeonholes exceptional educators to become “just a teacher” in society’s eyes.

--Zak Champagne

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.