The World isn’t That Flat

A good friend of mine recently became a special education teacher. It is her second career, so she’s a bit older than most rookie teachers. But she’s got the optimism and enthusiasm of someone in her early twenties, and it’s inspiring. A couple of weeks ago we were talking about teacher leadership and the old school hierarchical model of principal at the top, teacher at the bottom. I shared with her my newest thinking, inpired by Dennis Shirley and Andy Hargreaves, around leading from the middle and all that it would entail if schools were to truly move in that direction.

At one point in the conversation my friend stopped me and said “Wow! You have such a broad perspective on all of this. Do I have to put twenty years in to think the way you do? Because in twenty years I’m hoping to be retired.” She shared her thoughts about wanting to experience school leadership, but she loves the kids so much that she can’t imagine leaving the classroom. I told her not to rush it. Once she leaves the classroom, she won’t feel as connected to the kids, at least not the way she does as a teacher with her “own” kids.

And then I said something else which is still bugging me three weeks later: “Another thing, Roxanne. Once you leave the classroom, you won’t be able to afford to go back.”

Five years ago, I hit my fifteen year mark. It was time to get out while the going was good. I hadn’t completely burnt out, but my patience with the kids was wearing thin. At the same time, the small school I had co-founded five years earlier was expanding and needed to increase it’s administrative staff. I became the Academic Director, then the Principal. For five years I observed teachers and had rich conversations about teaching and learning; I administered AZELLA tests to our PHLOTE students; I served lunch, dealt with anxious parents, and checked classrooms during fire drills.

I also made more money than I ever did as a full time classroom teacher.And the increase was not simply a proportionate increase due to working more months of the year.

I get that fire drills and parent phone calls and test scores and lunch programs are important, but I will never understand how any of that is more important than helping a group of students engage with critical information, think like engaged citizens, act like a community of learners, read or compute.

I wonder if we can truly enter into a new, “fourth way” of operating as schools without a radical shift in our thinking about compensation and scope of responsibility. I believe it’s high time we wonder this together.


Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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