You’re doing what?!? Guilt and career choices in education.

Confession: I have been flitting in and out of the classroom for several years, struggling to find my right place in education. Since my profession does not yet provide a career lattice, I can’t find my exact fit. I am a square peg that keeps trying to fit into a series of round holes.

2009:  I worked around the state and country, representing Florida’s teachers and students in matters of policy and practice as 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year.  I loved the multiple lenses from which I learned to view education, but I missed teaching the little ones.

2010:  I returned full-time to a special education classroom. I was in my own little slice of heaven as I became re-affiliated with my craft as an educator. But there was a little hiccup. Or barrier, I should say. I was still accepting opportunities to share my perspective, and was away from my students for more than forty professional days. Yikes.

2011:  I redefined my classroom walls and became Educator in Residence at the University of Central Florida, working with teachers-to-be.

2012:  I returned to the K-12 classroom again (are you dizzy yet?). This time, I was working as a teacherpreneur through a unique partnership with my school district and the Center for Teaching Quality. This hybrid role allowed me to work in my fifth grade classroom half the day, and lead outside the classroom the other half. I cultivated teacher leadership in others and advocated for educational transformation.

2013: Next year, I will be working in teacher education at Mount Holyoke College. I am overflowing with excitement for this new adventure, but have landed on a realization.

People view this as a step up. A move “up” the career ladder. But is it really? I think it’s more of a move over. It’s still teaching, but in a different capacity.

But I see the faces of my fifth graders and my heart gets a little heavy. I’ve received a mixture of reactions from colleagues. Most are happy for my choice, but many reply with some version of “I’m so sad you are leaving the classroom.” Oi vey, it makes a girl feel guilty.

Why do I feel this way? After all, in the arid landscape of the teaching profession, there are few opportunities to advance without leaving the K-12 classroom. To exercise professional muscles we never knew we had. To improve education beyond our own instruction.

And too, our schools need great school leaders and administrators. We need teachers who are completely embedded in thinking about professional development or who are working as full-time mentors to ensure successful induction. And we need for the next generation of teachers to be trained by people who really know pedagogy.

How could we “have it both ways,” guilt-free? Imagine if every district offered teacherpreneur roles that let teachers grow as leaders without distancing themselves from students. Or feeling guilty.

We’re not there yet.

I will miss my little students immensely. But I know that I am working on a larger scale to ensure that in the future, they are in capable, highly-effective hands.

And I will keep pushing and working alongside others to change the landscape of professional choices in education. To ensure that teachers can make a wider array of career moves that challenge us and benefit our students. I will join colleagues in the CTQ Collaboratory as we work to elevate our profession… guilt-free.

 

  • Cindi Rigsbee

    Megan,

    Megan,

    We’ve been leading parallel lives. I went from teacher to Teacher of the Year to Literacy Coach to Teacher-on-Loan for our Department of Public Instruction. Every day I question whether or not I’m as comfortable in my own skin as I was as a classroom teacher before I became a “teacher leader.” But another perspective that’s worth some thought – I have a teacher friend who wants to teach…but she feels guilty that she’s not pursuing work outside her classroom walls. Since she’s been teaching over ten years, people expect her to “do more.” But she’s happy where she is. I guess teacher guilt touches us all…

    Great post!

    • MeganAllen

      Guilt both ways

      Cindi:

      Great point to mention. How can we also shift our system so there is no guilt associated with leading INSIDE the classroom as well (which I might add my opinion, it is the most important and impactful type of leadership). I think of Singopore’s model of leadership and their Master Teachers, who do just this. I also think of my colleauge Lori Nazareno and hear her voice: let go of the guilt. How can we move in this direction? I think it is starting here in our dialogue

      By the way, we missed you earlier this week in MN, Ms. Cindi. So many things I want to pick your brain about. 🙂

      Megan

  • BriannaCrowley

    Options

    Megan,

    First, I want to acknowlege the mixed feelings you describe: exhileration and successful having been offered a challenging, rewarding job that also may offer more scheduling flexibility and a better income. These feelings of success and reward contrast with the feeling of guilt for “leaving the trenches” of the k-12 public education classroom that you have poured your heart, soul, and time into. You’ve advocated for teacher’s expertise, you’ve taken risks to be that “out-there” teacher doing a hybrid role, and you’ve offered your face to the cause of championing better funding and legislation for public schools. To leave that environment must feel bittersweet. 

    Although I am returning to my public school classroom in the fall, I feel that I connected with that emotional tension because I want so much to pursue and stretch those “professional muscles you never knew you had.” I want to stay in the classroom to hone my craft, learn from my students, remain relevant to the immediate issues of students and teachers in public education. Yet, I want so desperately to “go bigger” than those classroom walls. I want to pursue connection and collaboration with colleagues (locally, nationally, and globally); I want to develop the professional development frameworks that I feel are missing from the teaching landscape; I want to dig deeper into digital learning networks through social media and virtual platforms. 

    But teaching is MORE than a full time job if you are doing it the way we know is effective and makes a difference. How can I justify to my husband, my dear friends, my family, and myself choosing to take on a stressful full time job while also pursuing professional development and other professional work on top of that? What kind of time does that leave for me to do NON teacher things like pleasure reading, going on walks with my husband, taking care of my health? It seems to be an unfair choice for those of us who don’t fit into the 30-year-classroom-teacher box, but who also don’t want to make a move outside of the profession or into administration. 

    I think the vision and work of this collaboratory provides hope for the future we imagine. We can imagine together, create plans together, and go back to our square lattices with renewed hope that they are not set in stone. Thanks for sharing your personal journey to allow all of us to connect around a shared vision for a different profession: one with options for leadership, innovation, and compensation for developed expertise. 

  • Jae Goodwin

    Teacher Leaders or Date Night?

    Briana and Megan:  As I read your posts I am reminded of a leadership conference I attended at Brandeis University about four years ago.  The facilitator posed the following question to us (an audience made up of teachers). “What have you had to give up to be a teacher leader in your school or district?  There was an audible sigh in the room and then one young teacher timidly raised her hand.  “I have given up date night,” she stated.  I couldn’t help myself.  Without thinking I leaped to my feet and said, “That is just unacceptable!”  This young woman was virtually giving up any hint of a social life for her profession.  While some may look at her with admiration for her dedication, I do not.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not fault her for loving her students and wanting to lead her colleagues, instead I fault the community for forcing her to make this choice.

    We must take a hard look at our goals for student achievement and then structure career opportunities for teacher leaders that will honor their professional expertise as we work to achieve them.

    Megan you do not have to be guilty for working to insure that future teachers will be the best they can be and Brianna you do not need to justify anything, What the rest of us need to do is band together so that sometime very soon these kinds of questions will no longer be necessary as the roles of teachers will be expanded to include multiple possibilities for teacher leadership and the “step ladder” we currently stand on can become an extension ladder!

  • Anonymous

    One teacher’s story

    This person captures the dilemma faced by many teacher leaders.

    #800voices

  • Rebecca Hite

    Biology & Geography

    Megan,

    Great post.  I think you accurately and genuinely exposed the “elephant in the room” when surrounded by dedicated teachers who are striving for education reform, leadership opportunity and seeking a greater impact.  All too often teacher-leaders (myself included) have tried unsuccessfully to lobby for a hybrid role in their LEA/district, thus been stymied or rejected in fulfilling their needs for advancement.  To that end, the only avenue is to seek out opportunities outside of the traditional classroom environment.  I think it is crucial as teacher-leaders transition into these “outside” positions, that there is continued advocacy, technical assistance, and bolstering of innovative hybrid roles–essentially using these positions as leverage to support the voice of the classroom to entities that can aid in these efforts.  It may allay the “guilt” (and yes the guilt can be powerful) somewhat, but also demonstrates to all education stakeholders the continued support for the profession outside the school environment.  (Similar to that time old problem of linking research to practice and vice versa.) The end game is not to leave teaching and the students behind, but to forge avenues to foster leadership such to create a greater impact for the teaching and learning of our nation’s students.  What a timely and excellent piece. 

  • Jaye Murray

    Guilt and Career Choices

    What a relief I felt in reading this in that I too struggle with teh career moves that seem to take me further from my direct work with students.  I have moved from school based social work to city wide youth development and while it seems a greater venue for having a wider impact…there is no direct, immediate effect. I miss the conversations…the relationships with children and teens that instruct the work and make all efforts feel very real and pertinient.  I hope moving forward I can combine the administrative with the direct and not succumb to what seems to be a protocol for one or the other.

    • MeganAllen

      Idea from a colleague

      Hi Jaye! It sounds like you are still making amazing impact but missing that direct connection. I think about my colleague and Collab member, Sarah Henchey. She worked as a Teacher-in-Residence with CTQ this year and had the same emotion. Her solution was to begin working as tutor. What ways might you be able to see the faces of the children you impact? I know you can make this happen!

      Megan

  • Katrina Waidelich

    As a young educator, I have

    As a young educator, I have felt the emotional, professional, and societal pressures to either move up, stay committed, but do something. On a whim, I applied to a job as a curriculum writer in order to expand my “toolkit” of teaching skills, and really hone the craft of writing. I left mid year, and the tears from my kids really made me second guess my decision. However, knowing I was srving a greater good, reaching more students with my two hands, and able to push my creative abilities was the greatest reward. Many people (educators, friends, etc) thought I was crazy for leaving a “comfy” job. But when I personally believe education is not a one size fits all. We can still be educators whether or not we are in a classroom. As long as we continue to feed that passion to offer an engaging, supportive, and stimulating environment to children, then we can call ourselves educators. 

    • MeganAllen

      Educators go beyond K-12 classrooms

      Katrina:

      Amen, sister! The line I really needed to hear and wanted to emphasize?

      As long as we continue to feed that passion to offer an engaging, supportive, and stimulating environment to children, then we can call ourselves educators. 

      This is so important. One of the things I initially grappled with was not being a “teacher” anymore. I landed on that statement. I know emphasize the point that I am not a K-12 teacher currently, but I am an educator of future teachers. Thank you for bringing this up and sharing your passion and ideas.

      Megan

  • Marilyn Cook

    The classroom was always my love.

    I read these posts and just have to say for me (I am retired)  nothing would ever work except the classroom.  That is where all of the interaction with the kids is and that is where everything happens and where I always wanted to be.  I loved it.  Sad to say maybe, I always felt cheated when we had to have the half days and I had to be bored with someone telling me what and how to teach.  It was always a waste of time, never productive.  I do not know how to make a judgment. Everyone is not me. I was a veteran and not only had great ideas but was a workaholic so maybe there are other teachers who might profit from training.  I just wanted to be left alone and have a ball with what I was doing.  Administrative jobs did not appeal to me.  Never moved up the career laddar.  I saw teachers give the kids busy work so they could work on a degree in the classroom.  No way I could ever have shortchanged my students like that. Anyway, just some thoughts to throw in.

     

     

    • BriannaCrowley

      Spreading your Expertise

      Marilyn,

      Wow–it sounds like you had such a passion, dedication, and success with classroom teaching that you couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I think that is fantastic, and I know many like you who thoroughly enjoy the classroom and feel fulfilled in that environment. When you were still teaching, how did you reach out to other teachers to share this passion and expertise? I can’t help but think that those around you must have seen your enthusiasm and wanted to know what drove you and what made you feel successful and fulfilled in the classroom.

      Instead of sitting in the half-day trainings that you didn’t feel were valuable, how would you have rather spent that time with the colleagues in your building…or even outside of it!?

  • Rich Mehrenberg

    National Board Certification

    Megan,

    One of the programs created to promote growth, leadership and mastery while remaining in the classroom fulltime is National Board Certification http://www.nbpts.org/  NBCT aims to recognize and reward excellence in the classroom through a rigorous process that takes at least one school year.  

    Applicants submit lesson plans, videotape instruction, and document interaction with colleagues, parents, and students and other relevant activities.  There is also a required essay test to demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of pedagogical content.

    Common outcomes of earning National Board Certification may include consultation opportunities with state agencies, creation and implementation of individulaized proejcts, and demonstrations of action research.  It may be a solid next step for seasoned teachers not interested in administration or academia.

    Rich Mehrenberg, NBCT ’02

    • MeganAllen

      Solid advice

      Rich:

      So glad you brought this up. But here is a question we have been tackling as NBCTs in Florida and as member of the Board of Director. How do we make leadership with our NBCTs more evident, and how do we make it more than just a professional development process? I’m not sure how many administrators (on any level) utilize their NBCTs. It was an issue we tried to tackle at this year’s FL NBCT Summit. Do you have any ideas about how we can better bring to light what NBCTs have to offer?

      Great comment, Rich! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.  Could be a whole other discussion strand…

      Megan

  • Dan

    Guilt? No. You are impacting more children positively.

    Being a great teacher, you get to impact the kids you work with day in and day out. Being a great teacher educator, you get to impact exponentially more children. For every teacher you pass your skills along to you get to positively impact the children in that class.  So in reality, moving out of the classroom to teach teachers and improve the education system creates a more powerful impact.  Guilt is the wrong feeling if your goal is to help as many students as possible.  You are just feeling the sadness of leaving your specific relationships, which is a normal human reaction when there is a loss in one’s life.

    Example-The numbers are all made up and probably not what you are working with, but you get the point hopefully.

     Say you impact 30 kids a year as a teacher.  If you teach for five years you impact 150 kids.

    As a individual that teaches teachers. After teaching 10 teachers for 2 years and then those 10 teachers each teach 30 students for a year (for a total of three years) you will have impacted 300 students in those 3 years.

    So, please don’t feel guilty unless you want to. It is all about perspective.

    • MeganAllen

      Quantifying leadership and lifting our chins

      Dan:

      I love your line of thinking. I am asked so much to quantify my leadership outside the classroom…we live in a day and age where almost everyone wants to see the numbers. What if we starting quantifying impact as you suggest? 2nd generation, 3rd generation, and so forth? Could you imagine what that might even do personally for us as teacher leaders when we start to have those moments of guilt and doubt? Thanks so much for bringing this important point up…and helping us lift our chins in pride.

      Megan

  • Greg

    Teacherpreneurs

    Some great comments out there …  I just want to add what has implicitly been acknowledged, there’s just not one model of what a teacher’s career should look like … the best thing to do is look at yourself in the mirror one Monday morning or another and ask if you still are happy or content with what you are doing.   I have taken two different “sabbaticals”, which are really unpaid leaves.  However I’ve gotten a chance to do new things, go other places and then come back to my classroom.   I’m on my third as I try to scale up a student-run walking tour company that I started with a couple of my students.  Just another example of how you can re-invent yourself if you want to.   If you are curious our website is http://www.sanjosewalksandtalks.org   .   

  • Sharon

    I feel your pain!

    I completely relate to your article.  I started off teaching, went into instructional technology, spent several years doing instructional design and faculty development, went back to the classroom when my kids were small (instructional design/ faculty development was a 12 month gig & I wanted more time with my kids), did three years in an “Open Classroom” where I taught, but also had opportunities to do model lessons in other teachers’ classrooms, manage mini-grants, and work on curriculum, and now I am back to being a “regular” teacher, but still serving on curriculum committees, etc.  I would love to see “master teacher” positions where you teach for 1/2 the day and spend the other half mentoring new teachers, working on curriculum & common assessments, and (so important nowadays) analyzing data.

  • cybrscrybe@verizon.net

    That’s me!

    Megan, 

    Your story feels somewhat like mine.  I kept a blog as I moved from the classroom to higher ed and back again. You can see my reflections on my blogs @

    From my experiences, I’ve felt so enriched, validated, and supported as a teacher when I went to higher education, but missed the interaction with kids.  When in K-12, the ability to grow as a professional somehow always felt limited. I even worked on my doctorate, achieved it while in the K-12 classroom,  and felt guilty that I’m not using it to the best of my ability. So I’ve felt as torn as you have. 

    I’ve often thought that as we look at Teacher Accountability and Evaluations, we should be changing the system to be like the professors in higher ed have with the possibility of having a sabbatical every so many years (7 in higher ed). This would allow teachers to take that year (or semester) to take care of their professional growth, interface with researchers and other practitioners , and share with others.  They would come back to the classroom as stronger  and fresher teachers, and eliminate some of the burn-out that occurs. 

    In addition, I feel that administrators need that same sabbatical, but they should be required in their sabbatical to get back into the classroom and be on the front lines so they can find out what their teachers are truly dealing with.  So many administrators and  higher education faculty are so far removed from the classroom, that they are out of touch with today’s youth’s needs. 

    Thanks for sharing and opening the door to this conversation! 

    Best wishes on whatever you decide to do… 

     

  • BillIvey

    Agreed!

    We definitely need a greater array of options for teachers as we move through our careers. We’ll all diffferent, we have different skills, we are seeking different things. There are so many important ways to make an impact, and you certainly have a wonderful opportunity here not only to make an impact directly on your students but also, through them, on countless other students.

    By the way, my school (Stoneleigh-Burnham), a girls 7-12 boarding/day school, is just up the Valley, in Greenfield. I’m frequently down in the Amherst-Northampton area. I’d love to meet you sometime. I always enjoy meeting my virtual colleagues face to face.

    Best wishes!

  • SusanGraham

    Is there a connection?

    Here’s how I think of it. Some teachers’ focus is microscopic–they have a knowledge of their students in and outisde of the classroom and how to best support and advance their learning that is laser specific and powerful. There are what I think of as telescopic teachers who have the ability to take in the big picture–looking beyond what is, what else exist, and what might be possible. They can contribute to the reimagining school organization, curriculum, instruction and policy for  the improvement of teaching and learning that reach far beyond the influence they could have from the confines of a classroom. 

    But the design of our currrent system tends to force teachers to choose–microscope, telescope.  The discussion of what makes an exemplary teacher is framed in terms of either you care about the kids and therefore it’s unacceptable to be out of the classroom, or you care about the professiona and therefore it’s irresponsible to close your door and stay in your room.  Those teachers who are committed to doing what’s in the best interest of students but who are also compelled to take responsibility for other professional responsibilities often fiind themselves carving a tenous path  between collegues who doubt  their comittment to students, administrators who suspect their allegience to organizational heirarchy, and other stakeholders who question their capacity to contribute.  They are held to a higher standard of performance with only token compensation or accomodation for doing more.

    I hear teachers saying that matter which way one  goes, there seems to be a huge guilt factor.  It occurs to me that the Classroom Teacher vs. Teacher Leader conflict is sort of like Carreer vs. Mommytrack. Teaching has traditionally been women’s work, so I’m wondering: Is gender a factor in the Classroom Teacher/Teacher Leader debate?

  • Andrea Hernandez

    Me, too.

    I am right there with you all! 

    After many years working as a tech coordinator, tech coach, “21st century learning specialist” and most recently “director of teaching and learning,” I found myself unable to stop thinking about going “back” to classroom teaching. I was excited that an amazing teaching opportunity came to me, but I have been surprised and disappointed by people’s (who are not teachers) reactions to my decision. It seems that I have taken a step down some career ladder, and people are concerned. I don’t see things this way. I follow my passions, keep learning, and believe that I will continue to forge a non-linear path that is uniquely mine. 

     

  • AngelaRiggs

    Teaching

    And too, our schools need great school leaders and administrators. We need teachers who are completely embedded in thinking about professional development or who are working as full-time mentors to ensure successful induction. And we need for the next generation of teachers to be trained by people who really know pedagogy.

    Speaking as someone who recently completed an education program – yes, yes, yes! In three years of courses, I had only 3 professors who were currently a part of the elementary education system (one of them being you!). You three were, hands down, the most effective teachers. Because you were involved in the real world of teaching, you all were best able to prepare us for that world. The impact that we (as teachers) can and should have on students was more immediate to you, and you were better able to pass that on to us. Pre-service teachers need mentors, not just professors. We need people who are in the trenches with us, so to speak, who are involved in the current and constantly evolving state of education, and who can prepare us to become a part of it.

  • Carissa

    This reminds me of a book

    I snagged, “Leaving the Classroom” when it was free on amazon.com http://amzn.to/15ZyBQr (I think it is $.99 now) and it was a really well written book (I thought) about teachers choices outside the classroom, how to deal with what others say and why so many make the choice. It was an interesting read even though I plan on staying in the classroom for a bit.

  • Suzy Brooks

    Balance is ever elusive….

    Megan, excellent post, thank you for sharing. I found the comments to be valuable as well. I am ever trying to reach higher while keeping my feet planted in the classroom.  I’m being stretched to my limits in good ways and in bad, and certainly can’t fine the right answers, yet.

  • Kelley

    Great discussion!

    Thank you for initiating this discussion, Megan! I can completely relate to your post as I taught for five years, left the classroom to focus on my four children, returned to the classroom for five more years, and have now decided to accept a position at a university working with rising secondary teachers. It was a very difficult choice; I truly love teaching!

    I greatly admire those teachers who are very content doing an awesome job in the classroom. They’re making such a difference! For whatever reason, I’ve realized that I’m wired a little differently and tend to also have a desire to be involved in the big picture of education. I very much relate to Jae’s point about teachers needing to choose between date night and professional growth; I also understand Susan’s comment about other teachers doubting our commitment to the students.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that many other commenters have expressed. Thankfully, we are all different and need different things professionally. Teachers need to encourage each other to not be afraid of risk and support each other as we make professional choices. As long as our motivation is the education of our students, the path we choose to do so shouldn’t matter.

    Thank you again for this thoght-provoking post!

     

  • Laura Wailes

    Language Arts

    This post was so helpful as I have just decided to leave the classroom to accept a position as a full-time mentor teacher.  I feel shame when other teachers talk about all of the work they do.  I feel guilty that I get the Summers without the sacrifice of grading and lesson planning, but I know this is the right choice for my young family and for myself as I try to help other teachers be better at who they are as well.  I wish we could just not compare ourselves so much, but that is a personal battle.  In any case, I really appreciated and was encouraged by your perspective.