Leaning in, career teaching, and the superpower I now need

If you teach kids like I do, then at some point you’ve probably asked students which superpower they would choose if they could have one. And you also have an answer of your own to that question. For me, the answer was always the ability to fly… until I became a mom a few months ago. 
Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve had to adjust to many things: no more impromptu evenings out to see a concert (for the moment) or unplanned shopping trips; no more luxurious sleeping in on the weekends or easy trips to the nail salon. I’m happy to make these adjustments, though. I was more than ready to trade in some of my freedom and convenience for the gift of motherhood. What I’m having trouble giving up is the ease with which I used to be able to “lean in” to my career. 
I’m still teaching and so I haven’t had to give that up, but teaching is one of those careers that isn’t quite a career on it’s own.  It’s a wonderful, important job with many rewards for those passionate about it. But it’s my belief that to have a career as a teacher you truly have to do what Sheryl Sandberg famously calls “leaning in.” 
Actually, the more I think about it, the image of leaning in doesn’t quite capture what we have to do as teachers with careers, because it implies that we are trying to get to the inside of something. In fact we are as inside as we can get. We are in the classrooms where the educating of students actually happens. Instead, what we’ve got to do as career teachers or teacherpreneurs is really to teach students inside the classroom and at the same time to lean out, up, through and around, to find those places where we can connect and communicate meaningfully within our profession. Ideas, issues, our concerns and questions related to teaching all come out of our classroom practice to influence the profession. Career teachers also ask questions and learn from others beyond our inside spaces. I’ve worked hard to do this as a leader in the schools where I’ve taught, through writing this blog and participating in Collaboratory and other virtual discussion opportunities, and connecting with other writers and teachers virtually. I’ve written on education policy, and I wrote a book sharing teaching methods I’ve developed and believe work for kids. I’m used to being able to work with other teachers as a consultant whenever I’m not teaching. I have new ideas and plans to write more books. 
But I have to negotiate all of that within my new world as a full-time teacher and a full-time mother. 
At this very moment, in fact, I am composing this blog post using a speech to text app on my iPhone while I walk around my apartment wearing my baby on my chest in a wrap as she falls asleep. This is a breakthrough moment for me, because for weeks I’ve been composing this post in my head while I’ve walked home from school, nursed my baby, held my baby, walked my baby around the apartment. But putting a 3 1/2 month old down and sitting at the computer? Moments like those are few and far between, and when they come, there are urgent matters pertaining to my classroom teaching or my personal life (like paying bills) that must be attended to before I can write a blog post. 
There are so many ideas and questions I’ve wanted to pose through writing to my community of educators–to you–but I haven’t been able to, because my baby naturally has to come first. 
That brings me to the superpower I now need.  Can I have it both ways? Can I be a teacherpreneur and the mother of a tiny child? I have a supportive husband who takes care of her during the day while I teach, but when I come home, I’m on duty, while he works. When she naps, we get to cook dinner and send those most pressing emails and pay bills and that sort of thing. 
It really is a new normal. I’m not complaining. I love it. But the superpower I need right now to sustain my career is the ability to do two things–well–at once. I know this is a skill moms are famous for. Are teacherpreneurs too?
In this very moment, through a combination of very old and very new technology–the old technology being the woven cloth wrap that is so comfortable and intimate for the two of us and the very new technology of this speech to text app–I’m able to walk around my apartment holding her and speaking this blog post. Temporarily, I have the superpower I need. 
But the event for New York based education writers that I had to miss last week? The leadership position at my school I probably won’t apply for this year?  The #WholeNovels institute I dream of hosting this summer? I haven’t found a superpower life-hack for those yet. My status as teacherpreneur feels somewhat tenuous. 
The baby is now asleep, and in a moment, I’ll carefully lower her off my chest and out of the wrap. I’ll cook dinner and then hopefully transfer this text to my blog platform. 
Who is here with me? Who has answers and superpowers I don’t have? Let’s talk. 
Sent from my iPhone
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  • SandyMerz

    The Yin Yang of Teacher Leadership

    What a super and transparent post. Thanks for touching on a topic that I bet practically all teacher leaders face and ask themselves – am I alone in finding the work beyond my capacities? That’s not exactly what your saying, but I think pretty close. Traditional teaching has a well defined set of demands that require a special kind of dedication and endurance. But teacher leadership compounds that and often places demand dedication and endurance but also the leanring curve of new skill sets, changing “hats” quickly and seemlessly, working on multiple projects – all with different time horizons than we are used to – and so on. There are lot’s of tools that can help us streamline our workflow and efficiency – like your voice to text app – but where do we learn the skill of keeping and maintain safe our core? In my work with parrticipants in the Teacher Leader Initiative we often discuss finding the balance and my advice is unconditional – family and health first. If you have to choose between going to your kid’s track meet or attending a webinar, go to the track meet. If it’s seven pm and you’re feeling a cold coming on, but have three hours of work facing you – put the work away, rest, and fight that cold off. When I talk like this, participants often seem amazed and relieved. Thanks for this post, Ariel, it’s a topic that is too little discussed. 

    • ArielSacks

      Hats and hats

      Sandy, I agree this is something we teacher leaders often don;t discuss because just DO what we do, sometimes without considering all that it takes and/or the consequences it can have personally. That said, becoming a mother has completely challenged that MO, because motherhood takes the same sort of thoughtless drive. My co-teacher this year said, “For so long, teaching was your baby. But now you have an actual baby…”

  • JessicaWeible

    This is really resonating with me!

    Wow. Thanks for the open and honest exploration of this topic. I have a 3 year old son and would like to have another kid, but I'm also at a point in my career where I'm bursting with ideas and passionate about collaboration with my colleagues. I know the deal when it comes to having a baby. It's exactly as you described. When I became a working mom, I understood time in a totally new way. I parcelled out minutes, hours- weighed and measured every action in terms of how much time it might take. I have approximately 2 hours while the baby is sleeping. If I spend the time reading, the laundry will not get done and I won't get a shower. If I sacrifice an hour to yoga, I won't be able to respond to any emails. Every decision you make is a compromise to some area of your life. So how do you manage it all? I certainly haven't figured it out. I only have the time to read and comment on your post because my son is spending the night with his grandparents tonight! All I can say is that motherhood has opened my eyes to how precious the things I care about really are. I appreciate my work as a teacher. I appreciate the time I can go for a run. I appreciate a night out with my husband. I appreciate being able to read things like your article. And my life is so much richer because of it. Plus, as you know, the minute you have your baby, you meet the coolest kid in the whole world, so it's totally worth it. Wishing you the very best and sending encouraging thoughts your way!

    • ArielSacks


      Jessica, thank you for sharing this! Just hearing someone else saying what I’m going through is reassuring. 

  • Patricia

    I can identify with you!

    Thanks for expressing exactly what is happening to me. As a matter of fact, I have two small children aged 2 years ten months and a 8 month old baby. Can I tell you? it is really difficult balancing career and family. I do not want to become irrelevant in my career so I need to be doing new things and doing research in my area. I hardly get the time. When I go home, the time is theirs. I do not get time to go on my computer. Thank God for a smart phone on which I get my emails. I do not always get to respond to them.

    Thanks for this blog. I am simply not alone.

    • ArielSacks

      This is real.

      I do think women are at a disadvantage career-wise because of the demans of child rearing. Yes, there are ways around it, and it’s no reason not to believe in what we know we can do, but it is real. Because of time. 

  • SusanGraham

    A Time to Every Season

    There is a time to every season  under heaven.

     Teaching is like housework, you could always do a little more and you’re never quite caught up. Teach your students, knowing that even if you are not the very best teacher you can ever be every day this year, you will still be one of the best teachers those student will ever have.   You may not be THAT Teacher, but they will have other good teachers. And while we all want to be memorable, maybe it’s okay to allow someone else to be the superteacher for those students. You have years of student lives to change ahead of you.

     But you are the only mother your precious baby will have and will never have anotherchance at this first year with your own child. (or the second,or third, or their senior year in high school, or the first year of your first grandchild’s life.)

    It’s time to read Life Cycle of a Career Teacher. (It’s short–a chapter will make a nice read-aloud during a feeding. And it’s more interesting than the Wall Street Journal that I read to my son when he was a colicky baby!)

    Last summer I spent a lot of time pushing my grandson on a swing. This summer I’m teaching him how to “pump” on his own. Pretty soon he’s going to want space to do it for himself. Lean in, but also lean back.Live today. Draft off early  career teachers who are on their first sprint. Depend on those of us who have launched families and have gotten a second wind. You’ve set a brilliant model of teacher leadership. If you step back a little, you may give one of them the opportunity to step up and discover their superteacher powers. That’s a gift to your profession as well as your colleagues.

    A lifetime of teaching is a distance run, you have to pace yourself. For now, do your job adequately and then go home. Rock your baby to sleep, eat take out with your husband, soak in the bathtub with a glass of wine and a book. Life is short. Balance matters.  

    (But I’m m wondering—Will the app take accurate dictation if you sing your blog tothe tune of Hush Little Baby?)


    • ArielSacks

      Oh, Susan

      Thank you for these wide words. Yes, it’s okay if I am not “that teacher” every day, every year. I am doing good work, and this phase isn’t going to last forever. There is some ego involved in that, which I probably need to check, both because I have to and because it’s probably best my ego isn;t wrapped up in my teaching in the first place… interesting…