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Trying (and Failing) to be Colossus


David Orphal
Last year, I was out of the classroom. I was a "teacher on special assignment," coordinating a grant to redesign our school into multiple smaller learning communities. The work was wonderful! It was challenging! I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, instead of having to wait for the bell! I was in heaven... except...

I missed my kids. I missed planning activities that would help them learn. I missed engaging them in interesting conversations. I missed seeing their eyes light up when they "got it!" In short, I missed teaching.

This year, I'm back in the classroom full time. On top of that, my school has asked me to continue coordinating the grant on a part-time basis, after school and on weekends. I love being able to continue doing the reform work for my school. I love teaching kids on a daily basis. And the extra pay isn't bad either... except...

I'm exhausted working ten-hour workdays, plus another four to five hours each weekend. When I add the time I spend on my "hobby" of pursuing education reform with the Center for Teaching Quality, the California Teachers Association, and my blogging, I find I have little time for anything else. You can ask my wife: she'll confirm! I was asked on a webinar a few weeks ago, "How do teacher leaders balance life and work?" I replied, "I always make sure to devote an hour every other week for marriage counseling about my work-life balance. ;-)"

Sure, sure, this sounds like a case of Goldilocks, where my job situation is always too hot or too cold. Additionally, lots of the "jobs" I do are voluntary because I enjoy the work and feel like I'm making a small contribution toward positive education reform. However, the point I'm making is this: the options we traditionally pursue for teacher leadership are not sustainable because they either remove teachers from the classroom or overload teachers and put them at risk for burnout.

Instead, we need to have more "teacherpreneurs." Teacherpreneurs have the advantage of keeping a foot in both worlds; they teach half time and spend the other half of their day doing school leadership, or policy work, or curriculum development, or planning professional development, or, or, or....

If we could rethink teacher leadership to imagine that teacher leaders could stay in their classroom part time and have part-time release to pursue leadership roles, public education would benefit from the inclusion of valuable teacher voices in the reform and policy discussions; kids would continue to benefit by having these great teachers still in their classrooms; and my wife would get her husband back.

David Orphal is a teacher and small learning communities coordinator at Skyline High School in Oakland, California.

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