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Opinion
Education Opinion

Leadership, Like Teaching, Is Harder Than It Looks

By Starr Sackstein — March 12, 2019 3 min read

My first years of teaching were a disaster area. I’m not saying there wasn’t anything salvageable, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t pity the students I had during that time because they certainly didn’t get the best of me.

So much of what happened was created in survival mode and so the pure enjoyment and understanding of how to nurture learning just didn’t exist yet.

No one could have properly prepared me for teaching. Like parenthood, you can read books, watch movies, and ask questions, but at the end of the day, actual teaching or parenting can’t be learned in that way.

The fact is that you can never really be prepared enough for what happens when you become a teacher.

There is a lot to be said for teacher programs and the certification qualifications that come with it, but even if you ace those exams and come in the top of your class in the programs, that doesn’t ensure your success in the classroom.

What you need to be good as an educator is empathy and compassion and the ability to read the needs of those around you, and I’m not certain you can learn those things in a classroom. It takes exposure, risk-taking, making mistakes,and reflecting and then trying again.

When I finally got the hang of teaching, I certainly had a lot of judgment for those I worked for. Leadership looked a lot easier from the classroom than it is for real.

Much like being a teacher, I couldn’t have known what to actually expect as a leader from my experiences as a classroom teacher, which is a testament to some of the leaders I’ve had. I’ve learned in the last year and a half, a good leader protects his/her team from unnecessary concerns and shares what is most important in a way the team can comprehend and not resent.

Leadership is not for the weak of heart. It’s hard to work with adults. It’s hard to be away from kids in the capacity of being a teacher. Each day as a teacher I woke up excited to see what I’d learn and explore. The kids make it worthwhile. Leadership is also worthwhile but different and much harder than it looks.

If it looks easy, then the leader is doing a phenomenal job of spinning plates and making it easier for the team to do what they need for kids. That’s the art.

One major takeaway I’ve experienced in both positions is that nothing is as easy as it looks. A masterful teacher or leader seamlessly orchestrates movement and inspires risk-taking behavior. They accept responsibility instead of blaming others and are always looking for better solutions so that students win.

At the end of the day, it is all about the students, no matter which position you are in. It can’t be an us vs. them experience, it has to be an us for them, us being educators (leaders and teachers) and them being the students. That’s what kids deserve.

If we are going to present the best versions of ourselves, we have to stop pointing fingers and work together. Being an educator is hard enough without the internal struggles that go on, so we need to work together to make the most of the resources and time we have.

Consider the following before judging another educator, regardless of the position:


  • What are you seeing? Do you know the whole story?
  • What are the intentions of the judgment? Do they stem from personal challenges and/or projection?
  • What is that person doing well? How can you recognize and build on that?
  • If you notice something out of place, have you asked to help before you started blaming?
  • Explore what your part in any situation is and own it. Then approach the situation from a solution-oriented role instead of an accusatory one.

Every educator does this job for a reason. Instead of assuming the worst, inquire about their why. Knowing why someone went into education can really help put things into perspective. If you’re a noneducator, a parent, and/or other stakeholder watching from the outside, try to get involved instead of just passing judgment on what you think you see.

We simply can’t allow good enough to be good enough for our children. We all must work together to create a more conducive learning environment.

How can we work together to make education less of an “us against them” mentality and more of an inclusive experience that eases the already hard circumstances we all have to navigate? Please share

*Picture created by Tara Martin

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.

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