Commentary: Torn by the ‘twoness’ of teaching and leading

By Latosha Renee Guy, America Achieves Fellow, Secondary Reading Specialist and National Board High School English Teacher at King Drew Magnet High School in Los Angeles

Originally published in the LA School Report on January 25, 2016


“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others…one ever feels his twoness — A teacher, and a teacher leader: two souls, two thoughts, two sometimes conflicting ideals in one body.”
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois

Driving home one evening, late and exhausted, I thought, “Latosha, you are burned out.”

I had been asked to create and present a professional development workshop. Initially, I was stoked about this project. But then, when informed that the workshop would be held the first Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday, I balked. I respectfully declined. After all, I thought, no matter how committed to and knowledgeable of the needs of Standard and English Learners, I am a teacher first and foremost: “I don’t wanna (my angry kid voice) plan a full staff PD during MY Thanksgiving holiday.”

I followed up with the Title I coordinator and sent some links of research pieces on incorporating speaking and listening, but I felt her surprise (“WHAT? Ms. Guy declined to do a PD?”), annoyance, and disappointment in me. I was disappointed too. I simply wanted more time to prepare — time I did not have.

Driving home on another evening, not as late and not as exhausted, I had a moment of clarity. I realized, “Latosha, you are not burned out.” Rather, my flame has been pulled in two different directions as a teacher and as a leader. And during this time, to borrow from W.E.B. DuBois, I felt my twoness — my being a teacher, and a teacher leader; two identities; sometimes reinforcing, sometimes conflicting loyalties in one body.

My epiphany calmed me. It quieted it me, to know that my flame for teaching still burns. As does my flame for research, for professional growth, for leading and sharing expertise.

TeachStrong, a national campaign to advance the teaching profession, points out the following: “Few teachers have opportunities for professional growth while remaining employed as teachers. Teachers should not have to leave the classroom to advance their careers if they prefer to continue teaching or are especially talented within the classroom.”

Once I had the realization that many teacher leaders are torn in conflicting directions, that they feel both excited at the opportunity to share expertise gleaned in the classroom, yet, rightfully indignant if those opportunities come at the expense of their health, or their students, I felt frustrated all over again.

In some ways the feeling is very natural. Teacher leaders are exceptional teachers. We are chosen because we get results in the classroom. We are chosen because we are lifelong learners. We are chosen because we are committed to our classrooms, ourselves, and our colleagues. We are chosen, because in so doing, we have gained a peculiar kind of expertise which merits a large audience.

We also know, that we are not the only ones. We work a special kind of magic: one that can be duplicated if teachers and schools are treated as living breathing entities. I thought: We shouldn’t have to feel this way. We love our students. We love curriculum. We also love writing, presenting, learning and sharing the expertise gained from many years of successful teaching. We relish leading and mentoring other teachers. But to me, the most credible teacher leaders are still teachers. And many of those who left the classroom long to return.

I don’t feel that I should leave the classroom to share my love for collaboration, literacy expertise, and to work with other teachers. Neither should any teacher leader. If teachers want to lead, they should be able to lead. If we know that they make good things happen in the classroom, why not make it easier for them to stay? Why tease them with leadership opportunities at the expense of teaching? Why not create hybrid positions so that exceptional teacher leaders can do what they love: teach and lead?

We need to have systems in place that make this a possibility.

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