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Do You Have to be a Teacher to be a Teacher Leader?


I grapple with this question daily--it is something that turns over and over in my mind like a worried mother on a restless night.

For me, "teacher" is in every fiber of my being. I don't know how to untangle that glorious word from my own first name. There is not one without the other. They are inseparable and forever linked.



It's wrapped up in every thought and every piece of me, an essential part of my DNA. The essential part of my DNA.

Thinking of removing the word "teacher" from me would rip the very fabric of who I am--my identity, my way of being. It would shred my deepest, inner fiber. Without the word teacher, I am left hollow, lost, and broken. I would be the salt without the pepper, the peanut butter without the jelly. The Ernie without the Bert.


As I question whether or not I am, I feel gutted. I am the lonely deflating balloon I saw dancing sadly on the side of a city street, half full of slowly leaking helium, half full of fond memories of a birthday party and smiles and laughter and being tied lovingly to the small wrist of a giddy child. But wandering further and further away from those happy memories and into the unknown--partially floating, partially sinking. Caught in limbo.


Our professional identity is such a giant and beautiful slice of who we are, especially as teachers. We are the ones who stay up all night worrying about our students, we are the ones who pull over on the side of the road on a Saturday to grab someone's forgotten junk that will make the perfect shiny author's throne. Who spend countless hours at Barnes and Noble every payday, peeling through the glossy pages of glorious new classroom books that we are sure will change lives. We live for our students. Every. Moment. Them.


So what if my students are no longer in the fifth grade? What if I no longer work in public education in my classroom at Shaw Elementary School, but now work for public education? Advocating. Supporting teachers. Writing. Teaching. Learning. For I am.


I hear the word echo through the chambers of my heart and mind, singing out the two syllables that I am most proud of. The thing I am most humbled to be. The essence of who I am.


The word lingers in my ears, and reader--I swear I can feel it in down in my toes, right up to the wiry ends of my copper hair. I can feel the word happily bursting out of my finger tips as I type this very sentence. It is the smile on my face.


And I understand the opposing argument. That you can't be a teacher leader without being a classroom teacher. I see many the people claiming right to this word, with others (myself included) rolling their eyes in dismay. I've listened to numerous "teachers" who are filling the space that real, living, breathing expert teachers should be in. I have felt the stratification. And I think about credibility and "groundedness" often, and maybe the fact that I have this ongoing, murky, and messy contemplation battling constantly in my head is the very proof that I can't bare to see. That I've already shifted to the "other side." That I no longer have the privilege, the amazing right, of calling myself.


But I think the argument divides instead of bridges. It pits allies against each other instead of bringing together joint missions. We should be creating a united front of educators--all types of teachers and teacher leaders, with no inner-bickering about who is and who isn't--that rally around a central purpose. In fact, maybe this is all a well-played conspiracy to have us pointing fingers at each other instead of spending time and energy around what really matters.

But I know my truth. My soul. My heart. 

Every letter of every word I write is still in the name of my fifth grade students and now, my 27 graduate students--all veteran teachers. Every loop of every "M" when I sign my name, every dot in every "i" and every key that click-click-clicks on my laptop. Every drop of ink in every word that I write has a thousand beautiful faces behind it. For I am still. Always.


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