Friday, April 1, 2011

Letter to a friend who is a new teacher... part 2

My friend, who is a new teacher, responded to my first post.  You can read that first letter and my friends response here.

I wrote back and would like to share.  Bottom line of this letter is this: I wish I could be a "teacherpreneur."

I would love, I wish I could, have you revisit my classroom to see my kids and I working and learning together.  That would be wonderful.  Too bad, I’m not in the classroom anymore. 

Problem is, my school likes what I do.  They like the curriculum I developed for our freshmen history class three years ago.  They like it so much, that they have adopted it for all freshmen history classes this year and they are asking me and my team of fellow history teachers to re-write it to address some additional goals we have for our young scholars.  They like the way my team and I have reorganized our 9th grade year.  We’ve transformed it from high-school-as-usual to several smaller learning communities where our freshmen are grouped into cohorts who share an English, biology, social studies, and math teacher.

They liked it so much, that Oakland Unified has used our progress as a part of the foundation for a federal grant to further our work and do similar work at two of the other big, comprehensive high schools in town.  We won the grant, and a part of that grant funds a site-coordinator position who job it is to complete the transition of the rest of the school from business-as-usual into smaller learning communities.  I’m now in this job at Skyline High School and out of the classroom for the rest of this year and all of next year.

As much as I miss being in the classroom, I wanted this position.  I lobbied my district and site administration to give it to me.  I knew that if we hired an outside consultant, we would spend far too many precious months getting her or him up to speed about what we have done over the past year and a half before s/he could really begin working on moving the project forward.

I wish school officials could get next to the idea of hybrid-teacher roles.  We’re stuck in an all-or-nothing mentality that keeps teaching and educational leadership separate.  There are just too many ways for great teachers to stop teaching children.  We all say the same thing as we choose to leave our classrooms, “This is a sacrifice.  I love my kids.  But, I think I can help more kids over the long haul doing policy work / curriculum development / teacher training / administration / etc…”  I said the same thing, several times in the past week alone. 

Why couldn’t my friend Carlisa and I both be site coordinators?  She could teach math in the mornings, and do this organizing work in the afternoons.  I could teach history in the afternoons and organize in the mornings.  It would cost the same amount of money to pay two people part-time as to pay me full-time.  She and I would be willing to spend some morning and lunch time every day talking together to make sure we were one the same day.  Eventually folks would get used to the idea that it didn’t matter if they were talking to an African-American woman or the white guy; we were one site coordinator… together.

But, alas, this is not yet the world in which I live and teach.  We’re still too hung up on have one person to go to; one person where the proverbial buck stops.  

Changing this mentality is some of the work I’m doing with an organization called the Center for Teaching Quality.  It’s also the topic of my TEDx talk April 9th.  The CTQ team and I are talking about a concept called a “teacherpreneur.”  Yeah, I know, it’s a mouth full.  

A teacherpreneur isn’t the same thing as an educational entrepreneur.  Teacherpreneurs are positions where educational leaders can do the great work they want to do, sharing their expertise, and still spend a part of their day or week in the classroom with kids.

Teacherpreneurs can write curriculum for their district part time.  They can be teacher coaches in the mornings or afternoons.  They can spend every other week at their state capitols helping draft educational policy.  They can even be co-principals.

They can do research alongside university PhDs or work at those university-based teacher preparation programs, providing a much needed, current prospective.  Can you imagine a pre-service teachers listening to their professor and instead of hearing, “Fifteen years ago, when I was in the classroom…” they heard, “Good question!  Something similar to what you’re asking happened at my school last week…”?  What a powerful experience that would be!

It’s going to be a while.  It’s going to take some work.  Eventually we’ll get these kids of positions, and eventually they will even be the norm.  Until then, we’re going to remain in a system of all-or-nothing.

I was at the ASCD conference this past weekend.  One of the workshops was talking about a professional development strategy where teachers organized themselves into groups, identified their needs, and sought out tools and solutions.  The presenter, while lauding the program, explained one of their goals.  “We can see who the teacher leaders are.  They are the ones who are doing the organizing.  They are the ones who are doing the research.  They are the ones who end up presenting to the group.  When we find these folks, we recruit them for our administration tracks or our district coaching positions.”  My hand shot up, “Are you telling us that one of your goals is to identify your best teachers and teacher leaders and get them out of the classroom?”  Yes, yes they are…