I’ve written before about wanting–now or at a later point in my career–an opportunity to teach part time and be a leader in education part time. Sometimes I want that leadership role to be in my school, other times I would like to be an advocate for teachers and students education at the policy level, and still other times, I’d like that leadership piece to be focused around education writing. At any rate, recent experiences have me thinking about this further. (Also check out Tweenteacher’s great post about hybrid roles.)
Part Three of the 2009 Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, which tackles the career pathways of teaching, has some interesting results on hybrid teaching roles. Basically it finds that 56% of teachers report that some teachers in their building “combine part-time classroom teaching with other roles in their school or district,” but only 37% of teachers who took the survey said they would be interested in such a position. The number was slightly higher–42%–among newer teachers (1-5 years).
Even though 37% is a very significant number of teachers, I still wonder, why didn’t more teachers express interest in these roles, given the variety of opportunities that could be combined with classroom teaching? Also, on might conclude that teachers who have more experience in public schools more set in their ways and therefore less interested in such roles, but that has not been my observation of the experienced teachers I know. Many are actively looking for a way to expand their careers. Some teachers who are approaching ten years experience feel stuck in their positions and mention that their skills are unrecognized in their schools. This leads me to believe that teachers with more than 5 years experience may not really be less interested in hybrid roles than newbies–rather, they are more wary of how realistic or fulfilling these roles will actually be in practice, based on what they’ve seen at their schools.
Currently at my school, with six years experience, I have a version of a hybrid role–just multiply it times two–and take away the part about teaching only part time. What I mean is that I am a full time English teacher. Then, I’m the 8th grade team leader, facilitator of team common planning time and serving as a liaison-to-administration. Third, I am middle school English department chair. I facilitate regular meetings for both of these teacher groups and meet regularly with admins to make sure team and department work is aligned with school goals.
I really respect and value the way the administration at my school incorporates teacher leadership into their leadership vision. However, I am realizing that I will never be able to fulfill the responsibilities–or possibilities–of either of these roles to my own satisfaction so long as I’m a full time teacher. And I find that when I do consistently put more energy into these leadership roles, my teaching can suffer, because I am attending less to my own classroom and students. I conclude that this is not a viable way to create a hybrid teaching role. Leadership responsibilities require time and mental space which eats into any full time teacher’s already challenging load.
Here’s another example. A virtual colleague of mine on the TLN recently shared that she teaches part time and is a literacy coach at her school part time. Sounds like a good idea–she gets to spread her expertise without giving up her classroom practice. She has the additional credibility with teachers at her school, because she has to keep her methods fresh. But there’s a catch. She also shared that other literacy coaches in her school or district are full time, and do not teach any classes. However, she is pretty much expected to achieve the same results in her part time coaching as the others do in their full time coaching–not exactly realistic. Job descriptions and expectations for hybrid teacher leaders need to reflect the fact that they are still teaching and have to attend to whole classes of students. Part time and full time are not the same thing.
That brings me to a third point. Even if we get the time issue right, we also need to look at the reality of the learning curve for hybrid teachers. Hybrid teachers need to maintain and continue to improve their teaching skills–even if they have half the number of students, this responsibility doesn’t change from full time to part-time. At the same time, they need to develop a skill set to support their role as adult educators (or whatever their non-classroom responsibilities may necessitate). So hybrid teachers who are skilled in both their areas of work have almost double the skill set as non-hybrid teachers. I propose that in addition to the scheduling and job description issues, we need to think about compensating hybrid teachers for the breadth of their expertise.
There is plenty of talk about paying teachers bonuses for raising student test scores–an easily measurable result. What about compensating teachers for developing the skills it takes to effectively lead a team of teachers or mentor new teachers, or develop an ESL program for a school that needs but doesn’t have one? The list could go on and on. The point is that instead of hiring outside consultants, in many cases hybrid roles can be designed for in-house people, who can often do the job better because they understand the context and know the people involved. (Not always, though–it’s also important to get outside perspectives at times too.) This would probably be cheaper than hiring consultants, but it shouldn’t be free.
Curious what others think…
[image credit: http://natalie.ukdesignernetwork.com/art/psele.jpg]