Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 25 2012

To Be Or Not To Be… An Administrator?

There is a brand-new opening for an administrative position at my school next year. It’s the charter school equivalent of an Assistant Principal – major school-running duties, teacher support, and primary control over discipline.


As the current Teacher Leader at my school, I’m sort of the logical next-in-line. I already run weekly meetings, support with discipline, create and run behavior plans, delegate responsibilities, oversee big grade-level projects, badger teachers who don’t get work done, and even run a couple low-level suspensions per week in the back of my classroom. In the first day the job opening was announced, five people encouraged me to apply for it.


Part of me really wants this job. I’d get to stay in all my kids’ lives rather than moving up with some of them and passing the others to a new teacher. I’d also get to know all the new incoming kids. I’d get to focus my attention on the big problem kids, who are always my favorites. I love my Teacher Leader responsibilities, and this would basically be a huge expansion of those. I’d get to help make sure my school doesn’t get overrun with discipline problems as it expands, which would mean my kids would keep getting the great education they’re getting while the school is small this year. I’d get to interact more with families, which I really like, and I imagine having a Spanish-speaking administrator would help many of our Hispanic families feel more welcome in the school. I’d get to directly support all of the math teachers, so I could keep a big hand in curriculum. I wouldn’t have to do planning late every night and do photocopying early every morning. Since my end goal is to get into education policy, I’d gain a valuable administrator perspective. I’d get paid more. I’d get more time to observe in classrooms and help struggling teachers. It’s looking like my school’s going to have trouble finding someone, and I’m terrified we won’t be able to hire anyone good. It would be a big challenge but I think I could at least be okay at it. I’ve been doing well in teaching, but I’m also plateauing and haven’t been pushing myself on the little details. In this, I’d gain a whole new skill set and learn an enormous amount every day.


And then part of me doesn’t want the job. I love teaching and am finally getting really good at it. I love math and creating curriculum. I love the relationships I’ve been building with my kids. I love the idea of looping up to seventh grade with them. I’m deeply happy in my job and actually look forward to going to school in the mornings. The work I do feels right and meaningful and Good in a big way. I change lives. I feel like I owe it to the world to teach for longer than I have. I feel TFA-guilt over leaving the classroom too soon. I’m terrified I’ll walk away from a job I love but then life will get in the way and I’ll never go back to it. I never intended to teach forever, but I’ve been telling everyone I’d keep doing it until I stopped loving it, and I’m not there yet. I never considered administration. Could I keep writing this blog?


Oh, help. I know I need to just apply and see what happens, but even starting the application would be a big step. I’m not normally this torn over what I should be doing next.


6 Responses

  1. Miss Friday

    Some advice given to me by a very wise professor/department chair: “If you like teaching, never *ever* become an administrator. If you do, you’ll never teach again.”

    And some advice from me, a very senior teacher who has first-hand experience with almost every stripe of administrator incompetence:

    The worse the administrator, the less time s/he has spent in the classroom. Typically administrators spend three years teaching before making the jump to administration. I do not care who you are, NO ONE becomes a master of his/her craft in three years. You will garner more perspective and respect as an administrator if you spend more time in the classroom, gaining a true, deep understanding of teaching. All the strategies and reforms and great new things have been done before. But you won’t believe me and learn this lesson until you’ve been in the classroom long enough to see the cycle repeat itself.

    You want to support your colleagues in the math department by becoming an administrator. There is a bad connotation here, one that every administrator I’ve ever worked for or heard of does: Playing favorites. Former science teachers give the lion’s share of their attention (and money) to science department, former English teachers favor the English department, former P.E. teachers bless the athletic department. AT THE EXPENSIVE OF ALL THE OTHER ACADEMIC SUBJECTS. Nothing breeds contempt and loathing for administrators better than this.

    Bottom line: Stay in the classroom a while longer. Want a teaching challenge? Go for Board Certification. Add an endorsement in a whole different subject to your credential. Take on a student teacher. Get a master’s degree. Become a curriculum expert in your subject and others. Don’t become a Michelle Rhee clone, because that will make you part of the problem.

  2. Cal

    Copy that. Every word.

    But that thoughtful advice neglects to include the observation that you’re a fool for even considering moving to administration after such a short time in teaching. May as well just leave college and become a principal without the pretense.

  3. Ms. Math

    I just got an offer to apply for a job at TFA creating modules to learn how to teach math-I so wanted to do said job and knew I would learn a lot. But I’m already learning a lot in my current job and still have lots to learn about working with teachers. I decided to just keep doing what I was doing and not try to bite off big projects just because I was given the chance. You and I both have SO MUCH to learn about teaching math-perhaps if you started viewing your work differently it would seem like a gigantic challenge again. I used to think I was bored of tutoring, until I started to write papers about what my kids might be thinking and why.

  4. Dave

    If you’re just getting good at your job, now might actually be the perfect time to switch. When you get good at something, you’re able to do it while your brain is in a flow state. It feels good, but the truth is you end up training your brain to aim for that easy state, which is mutually exclusive to learning and growing.

    Right now, you are reaching the end of learning and growing mode at your current role. If you teach too much longer, you’re going to hit the flow state — that’s what a lot of long-time teachers refer to when they say you don’t understand it until you’ve done it for years.

    You’ve pointed out that this job is perfect for you, and that you’re probably perfect for this job. Apply. for. the. job. You can always go back to teaching — that option will always be yours, even if most people do not take it.

    • mathinaz

      Dave, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this comment. It is really nice to have someone who doesn’t know me giving me advice as a person and not as a teaching statistic. I am grateful!

    • I am trying to wrap my brain around the idea of mastering teaching in three years, and also around the concept that it’s a good idea for teachers to leave the classroom as soon as they get good at their jobs. That might be good advice in fields where you’re not directly contributing to the welfare of other people, but in my opinion it’s almost unethical when you apply it to a field like teaching. “Sorry, kids, I’ve learned all I can learn from you, so it’s time for you to train a new teacher!”

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