You can advance your career without leaving the classroom. One Seattle teacher tells how he made it happen.
A friend of mine who works in the business world recently complained to me that she feels stuck in her job. There’s no way for her to move up the career ladder.
As I listened to her tale, I thought to myself, Welcome to the world of teaching! If you’re a teacher who wants to advance in the profession, you’ll have to leave the classroom. The conventional wisdom — and a reality for many — is that you can advance only by becoming an administrator, pursuing a coaching position, or taking a job in the central office. And that often means moving away from the students we entered the profession to serve. Fortunately, new career paths are emerging for teachers. For the past year and a half, I have served in a hybrid position, teaching in the mornings and working in leadership roles in the afternoons. I hope my story will provide inspiration to those of you who may want to play an active role in major educational changes while keeping one foot in the classroom.
Beginning to lead
Last year, I was beginning my eighth year of teaching social studies and Spanish at a high school in Seattle, Wash. I loved my job, and I’d gone out of my way to find new challenges for my professional growth.
I’d sought out leadership roles: serving as a department chair, traveling abroad with students, and coordinating a home visit program. I’d completed my National Board Certification, presented at regional conferences, and worked with a group of Seattle-area teachers to co-author a policy brief, “How Better Teacher and Student Assessment Can Power Up Learning.”
I was making a difference outside my classroom and developing new skills to take back to my students. I earned small stipends for some of these roles, but the responsibilities were above and beyond my full-time teaching position. They added to my workload rather than changing it.
The pace began to wear on me, especially as I tried to spend as much time as I could with my wife and young daughter. The last thing I wanted to do was burn out and leave the profession, as happens far too often.
Advocating for a hybrid role
Assessing my priorities and strengths, I realized that I was craving a hybrid role. I wanted to continue teaching while also leading in my school and beyond. Hybrid roles are not new. In some schools, teachers teach students for part of the day while also serving as an educational technologist, data specialist, or program coordinator. But far fewer teachers work in hybrid roles that allow them to engage in policy or school leadership.
It was up to me to advocate for this role; I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to be announced. I created a proposal to combine my teaching responsibilities with others:
- Designing and implementing a plan to connect, enhance, and make visible the international programs and features of my school;
- Providing curricular and programmatic support about global education for teachers and administrators; and
- Collaborating with the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) to build an international network of teaching professionals.
I pitched my idea to my principal, a district administrator, and staff from CTQ, with whom I had been doing consulting work for a few years.
The initial response was, “That sounds great. If there was funding, we could think about it.” Luckily, the stars soon aligned. My school district joined the Global Cities Education Network, a new initiative of the Asia Society, and CTQ started moving ahead with the design of a global teacher network.
Create your own teacherpreneur job
Want to work toward your own hybrid role? Start by connecting with the Center for Teacher Quality, which networks more than 2,000 teacher leaders across the country. Follow them on Twitter: @teachingquality.
My life as a hybrid teacher
This year, I teach in the mornings and spend my afternoons leading various projects. With fewer students (I see about 55 every day), I can invest more energy in building relationships with them.
These strong relationships make a discernible difference in the classroom. My current global leadership class is remarkably diverse, including students whose families live in or have recently immigrated from Europe, Asia, Central America, and Africa. The high level of trust and respect in the class has allowed us to engage in challenging conversations that require careful facilitation and a collective agreement to listen deeply to others’ perspectives.
Within my school, the leadership part of my role includes supporting a 9th-grade interdisciplinary project, connecting students to study and travel abroad opportunities, and designing global education professional development for my colleagues.
Beyond my school, I meet regularly with an administrator who oversees the international education programs for my school district. We both see the value in working in tandem to make sure that the district’s policies are connected with the realities of classroom implementation. With CTQ, I’m helping to design a global network for teachers and working to incorporate teachers’ authentic perspectives into a couple of upcoming global education conferences.
Working in a hybrid role has its challenges. It’s a balancing act that has required me to improve my own organizational systems. Since I often have afternoon meetings and share my classroom with other teachers, it takes a little extra effort and some technological tools to make sure that I’m available to my students.
The future of hybrid roles
My colleagues at CTQ call me a teacherpreneur because I am engaged in policy work and teaching students every day. This concept is fleshed out in Teaching 2030, a book co-authored by CTQ’s CEO, Barnett Berry, and 12 accomplished teachers: “… The teacherpreneur is always engaged with students, while also investing know-how and energy into important projects, including those supported by the district, the state, or other partnering organizations.”
What if there were more teacherpreneurs out there? It’s exciting to imagine an education system that includes more hybrid roles like mine.
Rather than important policy decisions resting solely in the hands of noneducators or former educators, decisions could be made collaboratively with teacher leaders who interact with students daily. Central offices would shrink, and more hybrid teachers would serve as coaches, curriculum designers, family outreach coordinators, or other roles that made the most of their knowledge and skills.
Mostly, you’d see better use of teachers’ expertise, as thousands of effective teachers used their talents to transform their schools and districts into the 21st-century educational system that all students deserve. Who can argue with that?
AUTHOR ID: NOAH ZEICHNER is a National Board Certified Teacher at Chief Sealth International School in Seattle, Wash. He serves in a hybrid teaching role, dividing his time between teaching social studies and supporting the Center for Teaching Quality’s global teacher leadership initiatives.