Sunday, March 03, 2013

Is This a Problem?

A friend of mine just got a new job (congrats, Scott). This seems to be happening fairly often in the last few years. I always hate to make a list because someone feels left out, so the following is a very incomplete/off-the-top-of-my-head/not-anywhere-near-comprehensive list of just a few of the folks I know who've left the classroom and/or moved further away from students in the last few years.

Scott Elias. Will Richardson. Lee Kolbert. Bud Hunt. Ben Wilkoff. Tyler Amidon. Kate Nowak. Steve Dembo. Dean Shareski. Jennifer Dorman. Matt Townsley. Sean Nash. Dan Meyer. Kathy Schrock. Darren Kuropatwa. Buffy Hamilton. Lucy Gray. Zac Chase. Diana Laufenberg.

I want to be very clear here - I am not criticizing any of these folks. Everyone makes decisions based on what they're interested in, what's best for themselves and their families, and the opportunities that present themselves. I also think that most (perhaps all) of these folks feel like they can have a larger impact on students by doing what they are doing now. (And, of course, while I'm still in my school, I only teach one Algebra class myself.)

But I still can't help feeling a bit sad, that it's a loss for students when folks like those above - and all the others that I didn't list - move further away from the classroom. I've always felt like the closer you are to students, the more impact you can have. Yet our system is set up to "promote" people out of the classroom and on to "more important" positions. Positions that get increasingly more removed from the students themselves.

I'm not sure I have any suggestions here, much less a "solution" (is there even a problem?), but somehow I think a big part of the change we need in education revolves around letting talented and creative people be talented and creative, spread their ideas to a larger audience, but not have to change positions and leave their daily contact with students.


  1. Hi Karl

    I have had similar thoughts -- until this weekend I realized -- they may NO LONGER be teaching -- but they are still is just that the dimensions of their classrooms just might have changed.

    And though -- like you, I MOURN (and I don't say that lightly) the impact they will have on students within a traditional classroom setting (though I cringe at the wording at that) --
    I have to believe that they are working now for a GREATER GOOD -- meaning, the ability to affect, help, transform, encourage, and enlighten so many MANY other teachers who are still working with students.

    For -- Scott Elias. Will Richardson. Lee Kolbert. Bud Hunt. Ben Wilkoff. Tyler Amidon. Kate Nowak. Steve Dembo. Dean Shareski. Jennifer Dorman. Matt Townsley. Sean Nash. Dan Meyer. Kathy Schrock. Darren Kuropatwa. Buffy Hamilton. Lucy Gray. Zac Chase. Diana Laufenberg. - I just have to believe that their students now are called -- US.


    PS: Any my solution - my resolution that I started to put into place at ICE this past week -- was to ENCOURAGE every single "in the classroom still" teacher to be loud, out-spoken, share on line, and tell their story -- because we need to be listening to them!

    1. Thanks Jen. I get that, I really do. And on the good days I agree with you. But on the bad days I look around and feel like it isn't working so well.

  2. Karl,

    I have thought about this some also and even desired to leave the classroom as a consultant in the past. In my current job I teach "full time" but it is two 135 minute classes with opportunities to lead PD for teachers in our local districts in the afternoons. I really enjoy doing both. I would not choose to leave the classroom to do PD all of the time because I enjoy teaching and students too much. I do also enjoy the PD as a part time gig.

    I also think of people like Doug Fisher who still teaches one class. I do think there is value in people whose primary job is out of the classroom to still teach part time and would highly recommend this model to anyone.

    Mike Kaechele

  3. Hi Karl
    Me again --
    Yes, on good days -- I have to agree.
    What might work -- perhaps -- is that those who have LEFT the classroom -- form a bond with someone still in the classroom -- just to keep sympathetic (perhaps not the best word here) to what truly is going on....
    Plus, I have to agree with Doug -- what is to prevent "them" from volunteering (or teaching) one class. Especially in the grade level(s) they are specifically targeting.
    And also - I strongly ask -- PLEASE if you have left the classroom -- stop and think BEFORE you tell a teacher in the classroom what they should be doing. You might have some truly wonderful ideas -- but that is what they are - ideas.....not tested, tried, and true be humble, offer as suggestions, and not as directions.
    Thanks again -- good thoughts to think

  4. Hey Karl,
    When I read your post, it brought back a lot of emotions for me....the decision to leave the classroom three years ago and move into a district role. I thought that telling my students was going to be difficult (and it was) but interacting with them during the past three years as a non-teacher has been the most challenging part. Those 9th graders are now 12th graders. Next year will be the first year I won't know any of our high school students on a teacher-to-student basis.

    I stepped into a 5th grade classroom to fill a 15-minute void. We talked about the concept behind long division while going through the algorithm. I tried to be energetic and goofy. Many of the kids seemed like they were into it. One kid even asked the teacher when she returned if she could be fun like I was.

    I'm not actively trying to put myself on a pedestal by sharing these examples, but instead to illustrate that I have remorseful days as well. I can't speak for Scott, Wil, Lee, Bud, etc. with too much confidence, but I'm guessing they experience "leaving the classroom remorse" from time to time, too.

    Thanks for allowing me to mourn a bit the loss of daily contact with students. You're right, somebody is losing out and I don't think it's solely our students.

    P.S. I'm guessing you've read Shawn's post about leaving the classroom that has stirred up a few comments If not, it's worth reading, imo.

  5. I"m not sure exactly how to respond other than to say I understand exactly what you're saying. I can't speak for anyone else but my focus of late has been more than ever, to highlight the work of classroom teachers. My credibility lies in the fact that I not only was a classroom teacher but continue to teach albeit at the college level, I still teach.

    What I continue to find is that teachers are looking to their colleagues for inspiration and connection. That's basically all I try to do. Find teachers who are doing great work and share that with others. Teachers, for the most part don't have nearly enough time and opportunity to share great practice. As much we all connect with bloggers and tweeters, you and I know that represents a small fraction of the great teachers who devote their time to students.

    Those stories need to be told. I get the privilege of doing that.

    PS, I can't add the Name/URL option here. -1 for blogger.

  6. I do not disagree with you. And yet, after what has been simultaneously my most difficult as well as my single most rewarding year of 21 in the business... I am beginning to feel 100% certain that my reach is much wider than ever before (and often significantly deep). I mention this a few times in my post from today:

    I think a district-level position has afforded me the ability to broaden my impact (I hope that is a good thing.) but I also feel that remaining a classroom teacher for one section is crucial in grounding me In the realities of the endeavor. (This post is showing me that I'm not all that odd in still retaining one class.)

  7. I agree with you completely Karl. I left the classroom for 13 years to be an administrator, with each move I got farther and farther from what loved about education. So, 6 years ago I decided to go back to the classroom where I might not be able to make a difference for all kids, but at least I know I am touching and making a difference for some kids. In admin, I never felt that way. Even with the pay cut going back to the classroom was the best decision I ever made.

  8. Karl-

    Agreed. Each of those people are making complicated decisions about sustaining their own professional capacity and serving education/teachers/kids. I also wish that there was a better way to ground people that are in 'other' roles in the classroom as well. I think part of what you are talking about is fleshed out by CTQ and Teaching2030 - - they use the word teacherpreneur.

    On a related note - the work that Steve Dembo was doing back in the mid-2000s provided a path for me to find SLA - not directly, but the DEN was an early player in my journey to a more connected teaching existence. I wish Steve was working with kids more... but, the joy he inspires in teachers to rejuvenate and connect is important as well. Steve also has been recently elected to his local School Board - which is also not the most exciting role for improving schools but incredibly important and meaningful.

    We need more blended roles, flexible definitions of teacher to allow for people to take part in a host of roles that serve teachers and students. Are you seeing any systems that are getting this right? Are there any districts that are allowing for part-time classroom, part-time consulting/presenting/training? Any that require all admin to stay grounded in the classroom? My personal favorite idea for a school is one that is teacher led/distributed leadership - where I teach .5-.75 time and play admin the rest. Here's hoping I can make that happen for myself in the not so distant future.

  9. Hi, Mr. Fisch,

    I am a EDM310 student in Dr. Strange's class at the University of South Alabama, studying elementary education. I agree with the point you made about how it's sad when amazing teachers are no longer in the classroom working first hand with students, but on the other hand, these teachers who are moving on in their careers will always be educators. They will never stop being educators! It would be nice though if they could have high positions and still stay in the classroom.

    - Brittney

  10. This made me think about an elementary teacher who has taught kindergarten for a long, long time. She was teaching kinder back when I was in kinder. People have wondered why she doesn't "move up."

    Well, maybe for her, she's already at the highest point: in classroom with the children.

  11. Hi Karl,
    Thanks for calling me out. (Just kidding!)

    As you know, when I left the classroom the first time, I took a district admin job that I stayed in for five years. When I returned to the classroom (my choice), it was a difficult decision because I took a big hit financially. (Aside: maybe the increase in pay has something to do with why teachers leave the classroom.)

    I did it though, because I really missed teaching students. After spending a year and a half in the classroom, I couldn't wait to get out again. I loved working with students, don't get me wrong, but things had changed so much in the five years I was out, that I no longer recognized the classroom. I also no longer saw in myself the effective and creative teacher I used to be. I truly believed then (and still do now) that I am able to have a stronger (more global) impact in my current role (back at the district level, as manager of the instructional technology group). I've helped move forward district level social media, blogging, student email, YouTube access, and more. So, in my situation it was the right thing to do. You've listened to me whine enough to know that in many ways I think teachers need to ride out the storm that is currently brewing. It took me 50 years to understand myself enough to recognize where I fit best. For now, it's in my current job.

    Are there days/weeks/months where I don't feel like I'm making a difference? Absolutely, but I now force myself to look at bigger pictures. It's been a rough road, but if the roads are always smooth, you're probably not getting any traction.

  12. The educators you named: Scott Elias. Will Richardson. Lee Kolbert. Bud Hunt. Ben Wilkoff. Tyler Amidon. Kate Nowak. Steve Dembo. Dean Shareski. Jennifer Dorman. Matt Townsley. Sean Nash. Dan Meyer. Kathy Schrock. Darren Kuropatwa. Buffy Hamilton. Lucy Gray. Zac Chase. Diana Laufenberg.
    have gone above and beyond the classroom. Their creativity has sparked the creativity in me and I am sure in many educators to do more and be more. I thank you for this post and the recognition that it is not where we do good work but that we inspire others to do good work!

  13. Karl this post came at just the right time for me. I left the classroom three years ago to work as a district literacy coach. I made the move because I believed that I would make a bigger impact there than in the classroom. Rather than working with 120 students each year, I would be working with 20 teachers each year. I still believe that the role of the coach is important, that a coach can have meaningful and long lasting imapact, and can serve the students well through serving their teachers, but there are days when I don't know if I am that person. Working at the district level of a very small system is a lonely job. In the classroom whenever I felt the weight of the job, some event with my students would inevitably rekindle the passion and the joy of my work. Those same moments are harder to come by with adult learners. And moving to the district level meant leaving the community of the school. Sure I work in three schools, but I belong to none.

    What to do? Should I go back to the classroom this September or should I continue the work that I began in 2010? It occurs to me that the only way I can stay is to build a community for myself. So, I work really hard at developing and nurturing a PLN that will feed me and sustain me through the tough days. Those educators you have listed are part of the reason I think I can stay. They are my coaches, my mentors, my source of inspiration. I imagine I am not alone in needing them to do the work they do.

    Having said that, we are talking about having the coach teach one class and coach the rest of the day. The thinking here is that the coach's room would be a demo room where teachers can observe and co teach, but also where all of those new ideas that coaches have could be tested out.

    Thanks for sharing,