Startled, I looked at our school’s union representative.  I didn’t think I heard her correctly. “Dave, would you please leave the meeting?” she repeated.

“What?” I asked, incredulously.

“You’re with the administration now, and this meeting is only for teachers,” she explained.

Startled, I looked at our school’s union representative.  I didn’t think I heard her correctly.

“Dave, would you please leave the meeting?” she repeated.

“What?” I asked, incredulously.

“You’re with the administration now, and this meeting is only for teachers,” she had explained.

It was my first year in a hybrid teacher-leader role.  I was teaching children during the fall semester.  Come Spring, I had moved to an office from which I was coordinating our school’s Small Learning Community grant.

I was embarrassed and surprised.  I was also conflict-avoidant, so I left the meeting, dazed.

In the car, my embarrassment and surprise gave way to hurt and anger.  I was a stalwart of our teachers’ union.  I had been the grievance chair and the president of my local.

“Was? I am a stalwart of our union,” I thought, indignantly.

Ironically, I had a meeting scheduled for the very next day with the then-vice president of my state-wide teachers’ union to discuss the launch of several teacher-led educational policy think tanks.  Our union was going to stop being reactive to the educational reform ideas of our political opponents and start promoting teacher-driven school change.  I was one of the key players in that movement.

At our state union headquarters, I was still “one of us.”  However, at my own school, I had somehow transformed into one of “them.”

Us and Them

Where do teacher-leaders, teacherpreneurs, and teachers on special assignment stand?  Are we still teachers?  Are we administrators and management?  Are we consultants?

In my case, I was part-time teacher and part-time administrator.  I still taught kids, but only for one-half of the school year.  In the remaining time, I managed our grant., planning and leading our teacher professional development, managing the budget, and writing hundreds of pages of reports.  I never evaluated my fellow teacher, which, then, I had thought was the magical line that divided administration from teachers.

I still felt like I was fully a teacher.  However, my union reps felt very differently.

What do you think about teacher-leaders, hybrid teachers, and teacherpreneurs?  Are they still teachers?  Are they administrators now?  Are they something in-between or something wholly new?

How can we get past the US vs. THEM dynamic? 

  • Barnett

    Blurring the lines

    Dave. Awful. This example reveals — once again – how teacher unions continue to “shoot themselves in the foot” when it comes to leadiing school reform  Teaching will not be fully embraced as a profession — in American sociey — until teachers’ roles are diffenentiated, and in doing os, blur the lines of distinction between those teach in schools and those who lead them. This is why nursing — in part — is no longer a semi-profession. Dan Lortie’s 1975 classic, Schoolteacher, explains it all

    • DaveOrphal

      On the Bright Side

      The National Education Association and the California Teacher’s Association has begun to through it’s collective Union weight behind teacher-leadership and hybrid teacher roles.  

      Time, they are a changing – even if some locals are dragging thier feet…

  • billferriter

    Tough spot, Dave — but in

    Tough spot, Dave — but in some ways, I know where your colleagues were coming from.  I’ve been burned more than once by speaking my mind in front of people working in positions beyond the classroom who were supposedly neutral.

    In my cases, those people seemed to have allowed themselves to become tools of the administration — used as “their eyes and ears” in meetings.  While I think they were good people, they were trying to justify their role in the eyes of the people who had created their positions — and that justification included feeding information to their bosses.  

    Do you ever see and/or feel that kind of pressure to justify the work that you do?  I imagine that as teacherpreneur roles develop — particularly in nonunion states — one of the moral tightropes we will have to walk is preserving relationships with teachers while being seen as valuable by administrators who are funding our new positions and who may sometimes have very different intentions for us.

    Any of this make sense?


    • DaveOrphal

      Definitely a Tightrope

      Spot on – Bill.  And you’re right, my admin did try to pressure me to be their eyes and ears.

      At once, I think the solution to this delima faced by many hybrid-teachers is a breakdown of the wall that seperates “us” and “them.”  through rose-colored glasses, the dynamic seems silly – we’re all here to help our kids.  We’re all in the brain-growing business.  

      I also think that teacehrpreneurs are a part of the solution to the Us-Them dynamic.  as more and more of us blur the line between those who teach and those who lead, the more normal hybrid teachers will become.

      Is essence – I think these are growing pains….

  • JustinMinkel

    Making the ‘us’ bigger

    Dave, I have no easy answers, but I think this tribalism you describe goes much deeper than issues of unions and administrators.

    Why do we have two national teacher unions instead of one?  Why do we have two consortia for developing tests aligned with the CCSS?

    Going into a year’s sabbatical with the Arkansas Department of Ed, a colleague warned me, “The experience will make you cynical.”  It had the opposite effect.  I found that people I had demonized–high-level administrators, state school board members, legislators, policy wonks–turned out to be smart and hard-working people who cared deeply about kids.

    I still haven’t figured out how our system can be so dismal at getting the laws that shape our classrooms to work as they’re intended, though I think it has a lot to do with the “implementation gap” that exists when teachers are left out of the process of shaping education policy.

    For my own part, I’ve shifted from seeing the “us vs. them” as teachers vs. administrators to seeing a much larger “us”–all practitioners who actually work with kids, ranging from paraprofessionals to superintendents.  I still see a “them”–very powerful business interests and sometimes academics like the “Department of Education Reform” at the University in my hometown, who have a lot of power but seem to do more harm to students than good.  But I feel a tremendous sense of solidarity with the many, many people working at various levels in our system to do right by kids.

    • DaveOrphal


      Wouldn’t it be better if we were all “us” with differing points of view concerning the propoer road ahead?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could hear Jefferson’s words from his first inagural address” 

      But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.

      Sadly, too often, in our attempt to pursuade, we demonize instead.  

  • JesseNesper

    Conflict of definition?

    I’m brand new at this, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of prior knowledge.  It seems to me, however, that one of the primary benefits of teacher-led administration is that the roles of administrator and teacher become one and the same?  Does this fundamentally change the often adversarial (unfortunately) relationship between unions that represent teachers and those they bargain with/against (if one is fortunate enough to live in a collective bargaining state.)  Doesn’t the shift intended in teacher-led initiatives necessarily require assimilation of those that are often at odds?  Ultimately, if this system is truly teacher-led, how can there be a “they” that want you to be their eyes and ears?  Am I drastically misunderstanding the concept of a teacher-led school? (a likely possibility)

    • DaveOrphal

      Eventually, maybe…

      Once enough teacherpreneurs have blurred the lines between those who lead and those who teach, the artificial us/them dynamic will evolve.  I hope these are mearly the growing pains of our maturing profession.

  • BillIvey

    no union in my school…

    … but the same dynamics. Officially, I have a 10-month teacher contract rather than a 12-month administrative contract. I attend the once-monthly “no administrators present” Faculty Committee meetings. Yet I also sit on the Administrative Team – one of only two people bridging those worlds (the other is our new Dean of Faculty, who runs Faculty Committee meetings). It’s fascinating, sometimes hopeful, sometimes depressing.

    While we’re working toward blurring the lines between the administrative and teaching worlds (“what do we need to do for the kids” being a great way to do that), it seems to me like transparency is the key. When the Admin Team is open with teachers about what we are doing and why, and seek input in a genuine way, things run smoothly. When teachers who are unclear on something go and talk to administrators to seek clarification, things run smoothly. But when minutes of Admin Team meetings are vague, or pile up unposted in someone’s Outbox, things so south. When teachers gather among themselves to complain that they don’t have any voice, things go south. Really – it’s all about relationships and conversations. Which, come to think of it, isn’t just about attitude. It’s also about making time.

    • DaveOrphal

      Love Your Ideas!

      Great points Bill!  Thank you for sharing!