On my first day of summer break, I ran into an acquaintance in the store. He asked how the school year went, what my plans were for the summer, and commented on how he couldn't believe this was already my fifth year of teaching. Then came the question I can't stand.
"You seem like such a talented teacher. Have you ever thought about becoming a principal?"
It might sound like a harmless question, but the issue I have is with what's implied. That I should aim higher. That truly gifted teachers wouldn't stay in the classroom. That making a career out of classroom teaching isn't good enough.
I responded honestly, "I belong in the classroom."
His surprise confirmed what I feared. American society largely subscribes to the belief that if you are capable of making more money, you should. We forget that business and education don't operate the same way. And they shouldn't.
Mindsets like these reinforce the age-old myth that teaching isn't hard work. Because summer. While that deserves an entirely separate article to dissect why it's false on a myriad of levels, I want to concentrate on the ramifications of such a toxic belief as it relates to an educator's aspirations.
If I can convince you of one need central to my concern, let it be this: We need to stop viewing teaching as an entry-level position.
Consider the universal interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" The staple inquiry seeks to measure a candidate's ambition. However, I believe we should define ambition differently in education than we do in business.
If you are good at your job in the business world, you get promoted. Yet, climbing the proverbial ladder in the education field could mean that students lose out. If the best teachers always move into administrative positions and away from the classroom, their expertise and drive goes with them. The business-ification of education is causing us to forget the harm of our career decisions on our field's focus: students.
Leaving the classroom for the sake of monetary gain is just as harmful as making a career out of moving schools in pursuit of a higher salary. For every move, districts must reinvest in the training of a new employee and collaboration is less likely as fellow educators find it more cumbersome.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to guilt teachers who must make the difficult decision to change schools or leave the classroom out of necessity or honest passion. I have worked with some gifted administrators who belong where they are. I only wish to highlight the need for top-notch teachers who are willing to forego larger paychecks and recognition for the sake of the next generation.
I am bothered by the fact that administrators solely are referred to as educational leaders. The 30-year classroom educator I know that has challenged thousands of students through rigorous curriculum, willingly mentored young educators like me, and served in whatever extracurricular capacity is needed along the way deserves that title too, if not the money.
Celebrate those teachers who keep their lackluster titles. Recognize their contributions and utilize their expertise. They aren't asking for much. We should be grateful that all they really want is to teach.