Last month, our district received word that our Teacher Leadership Compensation grant application had been approved. I'm excited about this for a few reasons: a) I've never written a grant before, and since I did a lot of the actual writing on this one, I feel a certain amount of pride, and b) I think the idea behind the grant is noble. Teachers should be encouraged and recognized for their leadership. The grant is good! We got the grant! Everything's great! So why am I feeling so much trepidation right now as we move forward?
I always repeat the William Zinsser quote, "Writing is thinking on paper" when my students are struggling to express themselves. This blog will have to serve as my way to solidify my thinking on what has me so nervous. In no particular order, here are some TLC reservations or worries.
Hiring positions. Part of the grant included determining who would serve on the hiring committee for the new leadership positions. Since all of the teachers who served on the TLC writing committee were nominated and voted on by their peers, the administrators thought it logical for the TLC writing committee to serve as the TLC hiring committee (all administrators in the district have also been on the committee for the entire process). I don't disagree with this. If my colleagues thought I was a good enough leader to write the grant and represent our middle school in the process of creating TLC roles, then I would hope they have enough trust in me to give solid input in the hiring process. Besides, who knows the the TLC roles better than those of us who have been working on the grant for the past year?
And it's not that I'm nervous about giving input in hiring decisions. I sat in on interviews with my principal last year, and was very vocal (and ultimately successful) in persuading my principal to hire our new social studies teacher. Evaluating and expressing are two main purposes for writing, and I think any English teacher should be competent evaluators and be able to express ourselves well in a team interview discussion.
I'm nervous about the hiring process for two main reasons, and both have to do with the small town environment that I work and live in. I don't want the hiring to be based on who is well-liked if they aren't also competent and good leaders. In my book, competency and wanting to be in charge of stuff don't always come in the same package as often as I'd prefer. Adding in likability can screw that up even more. Sometimes leaders who are the most competent aren't the most popular, and people who are the most generally liked aren't willing to be leaders. The burden of wading through people who apply to find the right fit is daunting. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I sure as hell don't want to give someone a leadership position out of pity or small town nepotism.
What if people don't apply? The grant requires many people to take on new leadership positions. While this excites some people, there are certainly those who have no interest, or their only interest is the "compensation" part of the plan. What if not enough people are interested? What if that leaves us with unsatisfactory choices?
What about me? I fully intend to apply for a leadership position. The two I'm interested in would both keep me in my classroom 100%, which is part of what's appealing to me. Working with student-writers is what I love about education, so it wouldn't make sense to leave that. I'm interested in being a model teacher or a mentor teacher. I love having people in my classroom watching what I do, so I think the model makes sense. I'm also a fan of trying out new techniques and activities, so I think modeling for other teachers and working with instructional coaches to create an open environment would be fun. I also love helping out new and young teachers, so mentorship would be fun.
My problem isn't that I don't think I'd be good at both of these positions; it's that I worry that I'm not likable enough to people who don't know me well. As I've said before, I've been described by others as intimidating because I am a straight shooter and I dislike mindless small talk. I like to get stuff done, and I don't spend a lot of time worrying about if people like me or not. That could be a big problem. I'm not a monster with a trail of bodies I've stepped on to achieve greatness, but I've certainly never played the political game of trying to boost my PR with, well, anyone.
I serve on the Executive Board of the Iowa Council of Teachers of English. I was part of an Iowa Writing Project Teacher Leadership Cohort. I've been a Cooperating Teacher for an Iowa State University Teacher Ed. student teacher. I've presented my MA research on teaching writing at the ICTE Fall Conference. All of those things qualify me as a self-motivated teacher leader, but my concern comes back to the likability factor. Will I be hired by my peers if I've never shown enthusiasm to engage with them over coffee and rolls at mandatory district breakfasts? If the committee was made up of my actual middle school colleagues, I wouldn't have any doubt. But since I'm the only middle school teacher on the hiring committee, it puts me at a disadvantage. Keep in mind that I also spent a year trying to team-write a grant with these people, in which two of us did the actual writing while the others chimed in with ideas. Was I always patient as people went on tangents while I was trying to focus on the work? Do I even need to answer that? My lack of interest in social pleasantries might come back to bite me.
Will this last? Will TLC be successful? The biggest concern of all. Will this program finally give teachers more control over district-wide professional development? Will people feel more appreciated by their administrators? Will more teachers take advantage of the opportunity to learn from each other and share what they know with others? Will the system we've created on paper work effectively in real life? Does our administration care enough about the teacher leadership part so that this isn't just a money grab? None of those questions can be answered until it starts.
I'm still nervous about the TLC reality that's coming soon. I want this to be successful for all teachers and administrators. I'm a realist and I know this won't be a fix-all band aid for the district, but I'm hoping it can revitalize our teachers and encourage us all to care a little more about our professional growth.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.