As I consider the meaning of teacher leadership and the shape it might take for me as I move forward in my career, I look to the “giants” in my life, on whose experience and wisdom I rely. One such person is Madeleine Ray, my advisor and instructor at Bank Street College. She taught me—and reminds me often–that a teacher is, first and foremost, a group leader. As a leader in my own classroom, it’s my job to know my students as thoroughly as I can and to put their needs first. In the face of difficult conditions, which often seem to ask that I push aside or downplay the needs of my students, I must demonstrate the courage to stand up for them and for what I know to be true.
As I develop a voice within the larger space of the teaching profession, another “giant,” on whose wisdom I draw, is my father, Frank Sacks. As a young man in the 1970’s my father was among a minority of people who believed that diet was far more influential to health than was commonly realized at the time. After earning his MD and paying his dues in the ER, my father has spent the last thirty years exploring the relationship between diet and health through both research and practice. Many of the things he initially suspected about the connections between diet and health turned out to be true and have now entered the realm of conventional wisdom, but he emphasizes, it took many years to find all that out. My father’s career path was also not conventional for either doctors or researchers. Since he was carving his own way, one of his biggest challenges was maintaining focus on his original purpose and not getting distracted along the way.
One afternoon in my father’s kitchen, after I had recently finished my undergraduate studies, I told him I was considering temping in an office while I figured out what else I wanted to do. He frowned. “Is temping in an office something you’re interested in?” he asked. No, it wasn’t. He and I both knew I was interested in teaching. He said, “Whatever doesn’t help, hurts,” a piece of advice I have never forgotten. My father was right. Temping in an office did hurt! I lasted only one day; shortly thereafter, I began my first teaching position.
When I was asked by the visionary people at TLN to write this blog, I was excited, but frightened. I worried about how to balance the time and mental space needed for both teaching and writing. I was scared of what people might think of my ideas and of my words being misunderstood or misconstrued. Then I thought, “I don’t help anyone by declining an opportunity out of sheer nervousness.” In fact, in some way, I hurt my chances of making a difference in the lives of children if I cannot show courage in my own. I ask my students every day to be courageous in their studies and to stand up for what they believe in.
So here I am, going public with my teaching practice…