I am not a teacher

A few days ago it hit me like a 100 watt lightbulb going on.  I am not a teacher.  

Since the age of about 6 this is all I have ever seen myself being.  OK, maybe there were those few months in the late 80s that I thought I could be a lawyer.  But I didn’t.  I became a teacher.  I became a damn good teacher.

I started rough like most of us, fumbling my way through the first couple of years, learning about the difference between teacher education and really teaching.  I made mistakes, I learned, I developed, I grew. I started to mentor.

I moved to a new country and felt like I was starting learning all over again.  Everything was new, but I was a good teacher so I kept on growing, and learning, and trying new things and stopping old things and getting better. I blended what I knew and did before with this new knowledge and experience. I still made mistakes and worked from there.  I mentored some more.  I took a Master’s degree in administration.

I moved back to Canada and became a VP.  I still had a classroom, still made mistakes in both jobs, but I kept on learning about a new province, new students and their needs, new communities, new curriculum, new strategies, new best practices.  I felt like the strongest teacher I’d ever been.  I felt inspired by the leadership role that I’d added to being a teacher.

I became a principal.  I still took opportunities to get in classrooms and teach “guest units”, do projects, model, demonstrate, do my thing.  Show that I was good at my thing.  At the same time I was adapting to the role of principal, figuring out (like a new teacher) the difference between administrator education and the real job.  There were great, invigorating challenges and heartbreaks.  There were uplifting successes and frustrations.  There was still a lot of growth and still a good deal of failure.  I could see where I needed to develop skills as a leader.  I could see areas where my teachers could learn, grow and develop and I continued to learn as much as I could.

But last week it hit me.  I am not a teacher anymore.  I am a principal.  One of the roles of a principal is to be an instructional leader, and I thought for a long time that meant continuing to be a master teacher.  But it doesn’t.  It means helping others to be their best, not being the best.  Light goes on.

It’s just like a great hockey player who becomes a coach.  That player could be the best on the ice, but once they move into the coaching role, it’s not their job to be the best player on the ice anymore. Any great coach is obviously still invested in the success of the team and their players’ growth. They will get to know their players, study strategy and new techniques not only in their sport but in leadership, and coaching.  They will work hard to bring out the best in others.

So am I no less committed to learning all that I can about research into how kids learn as I was when I was a teacher.  But now I get to dig more into how adults learn, how change occurs, how to bring out the best in staff and students.  But I don’t need to KNOW it all or DO it all in a classroom.  I will support, motivate, encourage, point in the right direction, connect, provide perspective, ask questions, listen, resource, advocate, facilitate and participate.  I will ask those I work with for feedback and and listen to them so that I can keep on learning and growing.

I am not the best teacher.  But I will continue learning to be the best principal I can be.

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8 thoughts on “I am not a teacher

  1. Great post, Carol. I feel the same way. I do think it is important for staff members to see you as a teacher, as this builds the relationship. The work you did with teachers, when you taught guest units built their confidence in you as a teacher leader. It was just part of building the foundation of your relationships with your staff! Well done. I know I am a Principal, but I will always see myself as a teacher first, I just have a different audience to learn with.

    • Thanks Shelley, I often tell my staff that to me, staff meetings are like the one day per month I get to meet with my “class” and is so hard to decide what to spend that precious time on! I have a teacher who is beginning get Masters program in administration. She asked me if i find the work less meaningful. I emphatically replied that if anything it’s even more so! She didn’t want to lose that sense of passion and moral imperative that she feels as a teacher.

  2. Carol,
    I enjoyed this post, but must say that someone commented to me the other day that I was an “ex-teacher” and I was offended (not visually). I kindly explained to the person that I started my career as a teacher and that I would always be a teacher – it is who I am to my core.

    • I completely agree, Tia! I’m sure if you ask Wayne Gretzky if he’s a hockey player he’d say yes too :-). It’s just that our focus shifts from doing directly to supporting and coaching. I make and take every opportunity to be in a classroom with teachers and students because that is where my heart lies as well!

  3. For me, it is less about mastering a particular subject area, or assessment practice, and more about developing skills and qualities that are useful/applicable in various roles/situations/contexts. When I moved from classroom teacher to Acting VP for a period of time last year, I discovered that those same relationships that I had so carefully nurtured in my classroom, were just as essential, if not more so, when those students were sitting across from me in my office. And again, the collaborative relationships that I had established with my colleagues as a classroom teacher, helped to form a foundation of trust and openness during my term as Acting VP. I learned that regardless of my “title, relationships were key.

    • Sarah, I love to hear you emphasize relationships so strongly. It’s one of the qualities and skill sets that is so important as a VP or P. When I was a VP I taught core French one year to all our 5-6-7s. It definitely made a difference when I was out on the playground or, as you said, sitting with a student in the office to have that connection and know them more personally. The same goes with the adults we work with as well. Chatting with parents and grandparents outside and spending time in the staff room at lunch to talk with staff informally sets up collaborative relationships that build a strong school culture. It’s absolutely that the title doesn’t change the core of who you are and what you value. It just changes how you put them into action. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi Carol,

    Great post. Honestly, this is something I struggle with all the time. I will always be a teacher at heart. I will always understand the challenges, the hard work, and the validation of knowing how important the work of teachers is. I have come to realize that my new role, as school administrator, is to teach in other ways a much more diverse group – discreetly over time – through my words and more so, through my deeds and the emotions they evoke, and to try and build the capacity of everyone I come in contact with. Not easy work – but work I know we love!

    • Thanks, Antonio. I once read an article in why great teachers don’t always make great principals….there is another skill set required when the role changes. What I struggle with is maintaining that credibility that’s necessary to be an “instructional leader”. You gave me some reassurance in your comment that it’s not just about teaching skills but having empathy for how difficult and complex a job it is. Thank you for that!

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