Career Advice Opinion

Creating a Multi-Layered Teaching Position

By Ariel Sacks — March 20, 2013 2 min read
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Ariel Sacks

I promised I would teach for at least ten years. Now, in my ninth year, I may never want to leave the classroom. Working directly with students is where the action is in education, and the challenges and rewards inherent in this work keep me engaged year after year.

No one teaches in a vacuum, though. There are several layers that surround and impact our teaching lives. Often, these layers don’t connect, which frustrates teachers and stunts progress. My dream job is a hybrid role that would provide the dedicated time and space to focus on each layer—and work on connecting them. It may sound like a lot, but you asked for my dream, right?

Layer 1: The Classroom. In my dream job, I would continue teaching English Language Arts, probably in (my all-time favorite) 8th grade. I would continue my quest to create a truly constructivist, experience-based classroom. Building on the developmental-interaction approach I studied in depth at Bank Street College, I’m committed to co-creating with my students an inclusive learning community that allows them to reach their academic potential.

Layer 2: Professional Dialogue and Development Among Teachers.. For part of my day, I would be in dialogue with other teachers and educators about teaching practices—at my school, virtually, and through writing. I want to discuss with other teachers who are implementing student-centered methods in our various school contexts, amid the shifting educational landscape. These conversations and the professional experiences and reading that fuel them are an integral part of true professional development. At the same time, this kind of discourse about the work also fuels the development of the profession.

Teachers must be agents of our own professional development (just as students need ownership over their learning). On one hand, more teachers are sharing great practices through a variety of teacher-leadership and “teacherpreneurial” avenues. On the other hand, the structures of our profession still create a lot of top-down initiatives that can clash with the very students we serve or take us away from what helps our students most. I want to help identify and develop policies that encourage quality, innovative teaching and the authentic spread of teacher expertise. This part of my day would require that I advocate at school and local levels or beyond for the conditions and structures we need to do our best work.

Layer 3: Professional Pathways for Teachers. I cannot engage in layers 1 and , without voicing the need for more flexible professional pathways for teachers that allow us more self-determination in our careers. In my dream hybrid role, I would be one of many practicing teachers developing a presence within several layers of the education world simultaneously. Having a diversity of such roles for teachers is one of the few things that will propel the widespread progress educators at all levels dream of seeing for our students.

Ariel Sacks, a frequent contributor to Education Week Teacher, has been teaching middle school English in the New York City public schools for the past 9 years. Her new book entitled Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach, will be published by Jossey-Bass this year.

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