Why I turned down my dream teacherpreneurial role

A part of me couldn’t believe what I was doing.  I was writing to my superintendant saying, “Thank you, but…”  I couldn’t believe I was turning down this hybrid teacher-leader position, and I couldn’t believe how far I’d come in my efforts to be a better partner in my marriage.

The Job

A few years ago, I did a TED talk where I shared about the amazing concept that Barnett Barry and the Teacher Solution 2030 team developed in their book, Teaching 2030.  I’ve been a teacher leader at my school and in my district for years, but that work has always be on top of a full-time classroom position.

In my talk, I gave an example of an imaginary elementary school teacher who was in the classroom Monday through Wednesday before handing her kids off to her partner-teacher so that she could go to the state capitol and work on educational policy for the Board of Education.

That was the job being offered.  My superintendant wanted to buy my preparation period, and offer me an extended contract to work after school doing educational policy analysis for the Oakland School Board.  I would be summarizing new legislation and educational trends for the Board, and providing a classroom perspective.  I would help the Board to understand how these laws and trends would impact our classrooms–where the rubber of educational policy and reform meets the road of learning and teaching.

The Problem

My wife, Wendy, had just accepted a new job in Silicon Valley.  It’s great!  After three years of financial worry while she was unemployed, she was back to being our family’s primary bread-winner.

However, Wendy doesn’t drive.  We had to move in order for her to be closer to her work.  We found a great place, but now my commute to Oakland is about ninety minutes each way.

Work/Life Balance

It is difficult for any teacher to maintain a healthy work/life balance.  Teachers work a lot more each day than the seven hours they are in a classroom with students.

It’s even more difficult for teacher-leaders.  I’ve written about this before, trying to bridge the gap between work and my relationship.  For the past two years, I’ve refused to attend Wednesday evening meetings, only half-joking, “Sorry, that’s my couples-counseling night, where we talk about how I work too much.  I can’t cancel that in order to work some more.”

My Superintendant understood this.  He didn’t want the now role he was offering me to be solely above and beyond my full-time teaching job.  He even floated the idea of taking one of my classes away from me, so that I would be all done with students by lunch time, and could drive home before rush hour and do the policy analysis job remotely.

Like the mature, responsible husband I am striving to become, I didn’t jump at the offer.  Instead, I said, “Can I have a week to think this over and discuss it with my wife?”

Over the course of that week, Wendy and I talked, weighing the pros and cons of the hybrid role.  How likely was it really that the school could find another teacher to take over my afternoon class?  Would I still have to attend after school staff and department meetings, losing the anti-rush hour perk of being able to leave early on those days?  Would I need to attend periodic late-evening school board meetings?

Then it happened.  During the first week of school, while Wendy and I were discussing the opportunity, I fell in love with my classes.  I always do this.  Every year, my kids are bright, curious, hard working, and fun.  I couldn’t see myself giving up my afternoon group.

Suddenly, the hybrid role looked a lot more like an after-school, extra job.  Even if I was able to bolt right after my last class, I would be on the road only an hour early.  Once I got home, I would still have planning and grading to do for five full classes of children.  Then, after that, I would have one or two hours of policy work.

My work/life balance would be shot once again.

For the first time in my working life, I chose my relationship over my job.  It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right one for me.



  • Terra

    part-time teaching

    I had always felt reservations about the whole “Teacherpreneur” idea. As a “full time” teacher who is pioneering technology at my school, I work roughly 10-12 hours a day, both at work and at home. (Literally – I answered a post on Edmodo as I was writing this comment.) If I went to part-time to work on policy, I would still be working 10-12 hours a day.

    It’s crucially important to have teacher voices in policy-making, but it’s also too much work. There’s a reason why there are so few teachers on school boards. We’re too tired.

    As for giving up two days a week to go make policy … I couldn’t imagine sharing a classroom that way with another teacher. It would be difficult to avoid thinking of that teacher as a substitute, or having to spend extra time planning curriculum together and making sure I knew what she had done the two days a week she was in my classroom. At our union meeting today we talked about how much extra work was entailed in writing sub plans (many of us are out 9 days this year with trainings); I imagine that would be part of it. And going part-time at a school … sounds like I’d lose my prep period to compensate. It’s like multi-tasking – neither task is done as well as it could be. I wouldn’t think I’d be doing a very good job as a teacher OR as a policy wonk AND I’d have more work AND I’d have to deal with the sub thing AND, you know, I’d miss my kids. They are what’s keeping me in teaching.

    If Teacherpreneur is ever going to be successful, we need less work overall before workloads are reduced for some to go be “teacherpreneurs.” And speaking frankly as a new teacher, between learning the ropes and BTSA and everything else we’re mostly exhausted by the end of the day. I don’t even want to think about exciting new possibilities in the field of education until I have at least five years experience, which I don’t.

    I’m sorry to be such a downer, but just the idea of more work, and work away from my kids, seems deeply exhausting. Plus, my boyfriend would never stand for it. He rarely sees me as it is.

    • DaveOrphal

      Great Point!

      One of the things I learned when I was traveling in Finlad is that Finnish teachers are in front of a classroom of studnets far fewer hours each day that the average American teacher.  Six of the seven hours I am paid to be at school is spent “on stage” with my classes.  Every teacher, and every person who has worked on a “stage” show knows that it takes many hours behind the scenes to put on the show.

      If teachers are going to engage in larger work, not only will we need to have our workload “on stage” reduced, will need help managing the behind-the-scenes work, too.

  • AleshaDaughtrey


    Dave, your blog really speaks to me. Jennifer is right: in the end, what was important was not that YOU filled the position, but that you sold your supe on the value of a teacher’s leadership – and there is no more important contribution you could’ve made professionally! Cheers to that. There will be a season in which this role or one like it will be right for you (and Wendy). Happily, it can be some other teacher leaders’ season right now…and how powerful that you have opened the door for someone else to lead in a way they couldn’t have imagined without you! Kudos on your leadership as a whole person. 🙂 And keep on showing us the way, brother…..

  • Rob Kriete

    Wise choice


    I truly appreciate you opening up on such an important ingredient to true success.  The work/life balance, and learning how to navigate it, is one that many people struggle with-both in and out of education.  What is the expression, robbing Peter to pay Paul?  Paying Peter, Paul, and Mary?  I cannot recall, but think it applies here.

    And, to echo previous sentiments, enlightening your school district to the benefits of such a hybrid role is a huge success in itself! 

  • SusanGraham

    Moving mountains

    But The Job is no longer just a fantasy! And yes, you’ve addressed one of the biggest problems for teacher-leaders: the issue of balance.

    I’m getting to do my dream leadership job right now. I’m observing and coaching new teachers. The downside is that I had to retire to get to do it.

    In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose between sharing kids, doing the work of leadership and having a life beyond school. But the job is now more than a fantasy–it’s a possibiity. And maybe my job is very short term this time, but I’m getting to do it.

    Maybe it’s not the change we want to see at the time we want to see it, but that’s okay because it is progress. Lots of us are pushing a crack in the door. Maybe you’ll walk through yours later. Maybe I can wedge a door open for some other teachers in the future. Would it be nice to re-invent the profession  overnight? Yes, but it’s not going to happen and I’m not going to give up because together our little nudges can move mountains. 

    But you got to choose! And that’s huge for you and for the profession.

  • jenniferbarnett

    Many victories to celebrate here…


    First, I must congratulate you. This exciting role might never have been up for consideration if not for your efforts. What a marvelous victory that new roles for teachers are being developed — roles that might never have been conceived if not for your leadership. New ways of thinking are things to celebrate!

    I must say that while this job was dreamy, it might not have been your dream job. But, I understand your quandry. Often when teacher leaders are presented with an exciting new opportunity, we are as bedazzled as we are fearful. We LOVE that the role of a teacher is beginning to change, but we also fear that we might not see the opportunity come along again. In history teacher lingo, it’s mercantile-system thinking. We better get it while the getting is good. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

    Have faith. Don’t fear. Keep doing what you did that set this into motion and more and more of these opportunities will come. I’d contend that you may be doing a dream job  — creating the pathway for more dream jobs. And YOUR DREAM JOB, the one that is really perfect for you, will fit like a glove, meeting your needs – at work and at home. 

    Prepare the way. It’s coming, my friend!


  • JulieHiltz

    Family First

    I think you’ve hit on something that several people face: how do you balance family and professional responsibilities? Things get even more complicated for those of us with our own personal children. I’m very fortunate that my husband has some flexibility in where he does his job and my mother and in-laws can pitch in, but there are still times when I have to pass up professional opportunities. Either way I go, I always feel a little guilty about how I choose to spend my time- working on professional projects or spending time with my family. This is another dilemma that teachers face that I don’t think the general public appreciates.

  • HarmonyJones

    Doors and Windows

    Your post really hit home. My husband is in the military and we are constantly moving and now that retirement is an option we are yet again faced with relocating and weighing my job and his. One thing that this lifetyle has taught me over the past 13 years is that as one door closes another opens and family first!

  • BillIvey

    I’m thinking this will become…

    … one of the touchstones in my life and career as I think both about how you had the courage to push successfully for the creation of that position and the courage to weigh honestly whether it was right for you.