First Person

I'm Leaving the Classroom for Leadership. And I've Never Felt More Internal Conflict

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Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My mother often tells people I started teaching at the age of 5, after I entered kindergarten. For years, she would find me alone in my room, pretending to teach the alphabet or numbers or grammatical rules to invisible students. When I was older, I graded imaginary papers from behind my desk, dreaming of the day I would one day have a classroom of my own.

At school, I saw how teachers interacted with one another, with my fellow students, and with the surrounding community. I knew that these people were community pillars and their work was important. Teachers seemed like superheroes to me (and they still do).

I wanted to be a leader, both in the classroom and in the community, like the teachers I knew. I felt like I was called to be a teacher—as if the profession had chosen me. By 10th grade, I had started taking the necessary classes to one day become a high school English teacher. And within six years, I'd reached my goal.

But recently, I made a choice that will take me off this path that I've long thought I was destined to follow. I've decided to leave the classroom and become an instructional coach in my district.

While I know I'm ready for new challenges, I'm also worried. I worry I'll lose the teacher identity that is so important to me. I fear feeling like I'm abandoning the students I love.

A New Calling

For the past six years, I’ve taught all grade levels of high school English. I’ve taught every type of learner, from kids in freshman-level compensatory classes to upper-level Advanced Placement English courses. I’ve made incredible relationships with both colleagues and students, and I have loved being in the classroom.

By about year four of teaching, though, something started to feel like it was missing.

Over time, I had been given more of a leadership role in my school. I had started mentoring brand new teachers and hosting student teachers, and I enjoyed helping them learn the art and craft that is teaching. Through coaching them, I felt the slight tug beyond the classroom.

I was feeling pulled to something new that had captivated me. I wanted to support teachers.

Just a few years later, I was finishing my master’s degree in education, a task I had undertaken both to better myself as an educator and to have opportunities for advancement in my district. Almost serendipitously, opportunities for instructional coaching jobs were opening up at the same time. This was my chance to pursue that small dream that had emerged.

But the conflicting emotions that I felt as I looked out at my students, kids who had become so much a part of me, nearly ate me alive. I felt that by even entertaining the idea of an interview, I was abandoning them. But I still had that inclination tugging at me to give this new dream a shot. I knew if I were offered a job, I would take it.

I was ready for new challenges. I relished the moments when colleagues would come to ask for help or feedback. I was excited to hear their ideas and offer guidance and support. And nothing was better than hearing their success stories when something that we had planned together worked well for their students. I loved helping them feel empowered.

Facing Tough Decisions

Now, as I’m about to start my first year as an instructional coach, I still don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around how this next chapter of my life and career will go.

I’m branching out, and it scares me. The decision to leave the classroom was the hardest decision that I’ve had to make thus far in my life (and I feel certain that's not hyperbole).

Part of me feels like I’m betraying the teacher in me, betraying the dream of that 5-year-old boy so captivated with teachers. But the other part of me, the less guilty part, realizes that I’m not betraying that dream. I know that I achieved that dream, and now I’m moving on to a new one.

When I told my students I had accepted an instructional coaching position, some of them cried. I cried, too. I wondered if part of their sadness stemmed from a place of fear. For them, my departure could be a reminder of the one they’re soon to take themselves when they leave high school—one that will undoubtedly leave them faced with tough decisions.

What I told them was just as much for their comfort as it was for mine: It’s okay for new dreams to emerge and to evolve. And it’s definitely okay to pursue them.

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