A Quick Note On The Perils of Teacher Leadership

Recently, Tom Rademacher posted this provocative blog about teacher leadership that piqued my interest. As someone who’s now been discussing teacher leadership for more than a decade, the post reminded me of how far we still have to go before folks respect the phrase “and then some.” The idea of teachers leading is seductive, too. Many of us have advocated for teachers taking control of policy and practice as a core principle of present and future teachers.

None of this comes without bountiful and profound flaws, many of them from the personal level.

There’s no need to mince words here. It’s an immense privilege to have an administrator know what you do to promote yourself and your vision and give you some breathing room — and days off— to do that. For every teacher who takes meetings with their local politician or gets a prestigious award for their showcases, there are hosts of others who’ll never get granted the opportunities and resources that these illustrious titles attract. Even those of us who straddle the middle, those of us in truly under-resourced schools who find pockets of influence and infamy, must take these spotlights seriously and distribute those rays.

As we acknowledge our own potential for excellence and strive to move the needle on what the teaching profession can be, we do a disservice by not accounting for the places where we fall short.

I’m not saying Tom is doing this in his post. I’m more saying that our school system(s) expect our students, educators, and parents to bear the brunt of its shortcomings. When teachers step out for a minute, some peers and some supervisors get proud and others get jealous, and sometimes both. Inferiority complexes and classroom intrigue sets in, even among the notables and luminaries. Social media numbers and speaking contracts start dictating the worth of the work.

But really, regret sets in early and often, for every time we push boundaries against those who wish to stem our roots, we sometimes leave behind our families, friends, and our students who could have used that connectivity for a few more days with us.

A part of me is always curious about educators’ stories that show little to no flaws in their literature. That’s suspect given the immense new work we must take on in the 21st century of transforming our school system to lean on racial and social justice as a core tenet of schooling. Until then, teachers who call themselves leaders will always have to negotiate written and unwritten rules about the responsibilities they’ve taken on, the systems they have to fight, the adults they have to parlay with, and the young people whose gravitational pull gets more abstract the further we step away.