Blogger's Note: I'm in the middle of final revisions on my third book right now and I'm slammed with writing! That means getting new content here on the Radical today proved to be too much for me. As a result, I'm posting a column I wrote several years ago for the Wake County website.
What's frustrating is that I feel no different about education's glass ceiling today than I did when this piece was originally written.
I hope you enjoy this…..It kind of makes me sad.
Not long ago, I had a reunion with one of my favorite students. Michael was only 10 when I met him as a fifth grader in one of my first classes as a teacher. He was someone that I hit it off with instantly, and I grew to know him quite well. Michael is now on the edge of graduating from college himself, and we got together to catch up.
As our conversation drifted towards careers, Michael surprised me by asking, "When are you moving out of middle school? You could teach somewhere else easily. Maybe you could go to a high school or college?"
"I'm not," I said. "I really love my sixth graders."
"But is that what you want to be doing when you're 50?" he pressed, "Don't you think it would be weird to still be just a teacher when you're 50?"
And for the first time in my career, I struggled to answer.
"Teaching is what I do," was my first reaction. "I love my students, and knowing that I'm making a difference in their lives drives me."
I've even taken steps to make staying in the classroom a better financial decision. Several years ago, I earned National Board Certification, which carries a significant pay raise in our state. I then added a Masters degree, further increasing my pay. Combined, National Board Certification and a Masters degree has almost made staying in the classroom affordable.
But is being "just a teacher" enough? Is it what I want to be doing when I'm 50?
Honestly, the answer is, "I'm just not sure anymore," and that saddens me.
It's not that I'm "burned out," tired by the daily demands of meeting the needs of middle schoolers. In fact, I still thrive on my interactions with my students. It's also not that I feel "disrespected" by society as a whole. While the criticisms of public schooling can be trying, I know that I have been successful within my school and community.
What has me doubting my decision to finish my career in the classroom is that despite great successes, I've recognized that I am still "just a teacher" in the eyes of most people.
My day-to-day responsibilities haven't changed in 17 years, and are no different than the responsibilities of the first year teachers in my building. While I am currently working for an administrative team that believes in empowering teachers, I still find myself wanting more input in conversations related to education at all levels.
Teaching is truly a "flat profession."
There are no real opportunities for teachers to "advance" and remain classroom teachers at the same time. To get the additional influence that I want, I'm going to have to leave my classroom for a career in school administration or educational policy—and lose my connection with my students.
That is incredibly frustrating.
It is time to break education's "glass ceiling" and to stratify teaching. If we hope to retain our most accomplished teachers, we must work to create school-level leadership positions for teachers who want to stay in the classroom and advance as well.
There are successful stratification models being tried across the country, and several have been proposed here in our state. All have the potential to inspire teachers looking for opportunities to grow professionally.
But these initial efforts are slow to develop and to be embraced by a society that largely still views teaching as something slightly less than professional work. Until these perceptions change, teachers will continue to be forced to make the difficult decision to remain "just a teacher" or leave the part of the profession that they love the most.
As for me, what will I be doing when I'm 50?
I don't know. I haven't decided yet.