During my first seven years of teaching I found many opportunities for leadership in my school. I chaired a department, led a family engagement team, and served as our school’s educational technologist. Of course, I taught full time too, often preparing for three different classes each day. But I didn’t mind. I loved the work.
Looking back, I didn’t take on these extracurricular responsibilities with career advancement necessarily in mind. I had no intention of leaving the classroom anytime soon. I did the extra work because I enjoyed having a role in determining the direction of my school. In some ways, I felt like my teaching had more purpose when it was attached to my work outside of the classroom.
However, there were times when my plate was too full. I fell behind in grading. My lessons weren’t as prepared as I would have liked some days. I didn’t get enough sleep. I began to understand why so many hardworking teachers burn out so fast.
Two years ago, when I began working with a group of early career teachers called the New Millennium Initiative, I entered a new sphere of teacher leadership: the policy world. While always interested in education policy, I had always felt detached from it. I didn’t have the time to try and understand it. But the more I learned, the more I realized how important it is that teachers have a place at the table. And when the Center for Teaching Quality offered me a chance to work in a hybrid, teacherpreneur role this year (half time classroom teacher, half time policy work), I jumped.
Hybrid roles are not uncommon in schools. There are many teachers who split their time between teaching and leadership work, which could include anything from mentoring colleagues to coordinating professional development. Hybrid teachers are always grounded in the realities of classroom teaching and learning, and rightly so. The more traditional career moves into administration, full time coaching, or district office roles, can both benefit students and be fulfilling jobs, but there is always a risk of losing sense of how complex day-to-day teaching really is.
What makes my position this year truly unique is the focus on policy. Along with two counterparts in Denver area schools, I am exploring what it means to take teacher leadership beyond the walls of my school and even my district. I am still committed to my students and have no plans to leave classroom in the near future. And my plate is still overflowing. But I am engaged in work that will hopefully lead to policy solutions that make sense for students and teachers.
Noah Zeichner is a teacherpreneur, dividing his time evenly between teaching social studies at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle and supporting CTQ’s New Millennium Initiative.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.