After spending an in-service training day with teachers and administrators, I left feeling their pain. In my view, most educators are caring individuals who want the best for their students. One male teacher, however, approached me after my session with a despondent look on his face. I soon realized why.
“I think I just need to resign my position,” he said.
“You’re kidding. Why?” I responded, a bit surprised.
“My hands are tied in the classroom. I can’t do what I know the kids really need. What’s more, I’m forced to spend most of my energy fighting budget battles and lobbying for less curriculum to be crammed into my day. Further, when one of my students asked how my class had any relevance to his life, I was forced to admit I had no good answer.”
“Hmmm. It must be tough for a teacher when you can’t even explain why your subject is important to their future,” I empathized.
“You got that right. I actually think it will be easier if I just find a career where I think I can actually make a difference in a child’s life.”
What’s most disturbing to me is that this male instructor was one of the good guys. His colleagues say he is a caring, intelligent, magnetic teacher for his students. But, alas, he’s likely leaving the profession. It’s hard to imagine he wants to get out of education so he can make an impact on kids.
I am not pretending I have a magic wand or a silver bullet for this dilemma. I do, however, have an idea that could help teachers immeasurably. It could be a game changer. The idea is to equip teachers to be effective leaders.
Seven Reasons Why We Must Train Educators to be Leaders
1. As student conduct continues to decline, schools need great leaders in class.
I’ve lost count of the number of teacher’s who’ve said to me that teaching just isn’t fun anymore. They say this because kids often don’t have a sense of respect or boundaries any more. Three in four high school students believe a school shooting could happen at their school and bullying is the number one problem on campus. Teachers are called upon to police, to counsel, to direct, to mentor and to discipline.
2. Standards and requirements demand more must be accomplished in class.
Because schools feel pressure to get test scores up and compete not only with other states but other nations, teachers must juggle their ability to both instruct and motivate. So much rides on the results of standardized tests, from budgets to where students attend college. The pressure to excel requires us to be leaders. Some kids don’t connect the dots between learning and life. Leaders connect those dots.
3. Class sizes continue to get larger, requiring better management of students.
Across the U.S., class sizes are increasing at unprecedented rates. An estimated 58,000 teachers were laid off last fall at the same time as enrollment was increasing in much of the country. Consequently, leading a class is all the more challenging. Any time the student / teacher ratio widens, the educator must exercise increasing leadership skills. The larger the crowd, the better the point person must be.
4. Teachers are the “farm system” for future administrators.
You know this, but almost every school administrator—principals, assistant principals, deans and directors were at one time a teacher in a classroom. The class-room is an incubator for emerging educational leaders. The problem is, a problem-identifier isn’t always a natural problem solver. Teachers must embrace their influence in class, but see it as a laboratory for their own leadership growth.
5. Budget cuts require teachers to be more resourceful than ever.
Budget cuts have been enacted in at least 46 states, with some schools shortening the school year and forcing teachers to take furlough. When money goes down, the demand for recipients to be more resourceful goes up. I believe teachers who find a way to continue to display creative pedagogy with fewer dollars deserve to be called leaders. Anyone can do something great with a million dollars. My hat’s off to those who do a lot with a little.
6. We must insure our good teachers stay and grow.
I believe healthy things naturally grow. One of the greatest reasons for teachers to embrace a vision to be a leader is the need for growth and health. The number one occupational hazard of teachers is “The Starving Baker.” It’s the baker who bakes bread for others, but forgets to eat any “bread” himself. Sadly, when teachers stop growing, so do the students. But when educators catch a vision for leadership, they naturally hunger to be lifelong learners.
7. Kids need role-models in the classroom to enable them to be career ready.
This is perhaps the top reason for teacher-leaders. Kids desperately need role-models to follow today. They need adults who not only go the way, but show the way. Why? Because people do what people see. Students do what students see. They remember twice as much through what the see as what they hear. A lecture is not enough. What kids need is an example to follow.
If you’re a teacher, you probably became one because you love kids or you love the subject you teach. May I suggest you cultivate a love for leading as well? Our schools need people of influence—people who embrace their influence—leading the next generation. It is the need of the hour. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.