Fence Sitting

I've heard more than one teacher say that schools would run perfectly if it wasn't for the students. Leaving aside the obvious point that without the students, the school itself wouldn't exist, it also shows another belief that many, many teachers have. That belief runs something along the lines of that if you are involved in schools and you don't have students in front of you on a daily basis, then life is a lot easier. That means anyone in leadership or administration have got life easy - after all, they don't have a class to teach!

fencesitting.jpgBeing in this role of Coordinator over the past five years has been a real eye opener for me. Although it is officially a first step role for official leadership in schools, it does open new perspective of the so called advantages of being a leader. I've been sitting on the fence, not in an indecisive way but in terms of that I still have a foot in both camps. I'm still a classroom chalkface practitioner for 3/4 days a week with my own bunch of 30 individuals to teach, assess, build relationships and manage in that time. But the rest of my role involves budgets, crystal ball gazing, planning and implementing, reacting to and juggling requests and crises, and doing a bit of leading out in keeping our school moving forward towards their "up-to-date- technology" vision (new vision coming soon!) whilst keeping everyone informed.

So I'm going to point a few things I've learned by being on both sides of the fence - some things that my colleagues who've chosen to stay in the classroom aren't or don't want to be aware of.

Classroom perspective: Leadership gets paid so much more than us, so they need to earn that money.
Leadership perspective: It's not as much as you think. My leadership salary is 4% more than I was earning as a full time classroom teacher - I can tell you for a fact, I am working much more than 4% harder than when I started this gig.

Classroom perspective: Leadership doesn't have to worry about dealing with the students.
Leadership perspective: Leadership do have to deal with students but quite often end up dealing with the time outs, the yard behaviour problems, the suspension re-entries and as a special bonus, the irate parents. Granted, the latter also accost classroom teachers as well but they seem to save their biggest heads of steam for the principal!

Let's not forget the late or missed lunches, the covering for classes when relievers don't turn up, having a huge pile of work to get through that gets bigger as the day goes on because one urgent issue after another pops up, the speaking in front of the staff when everyone wants to go home, the default "you'll chair this meeting" mindset in committees, being the person who gets glared at when something on the network doesn't work first up, and the "Have you just got a minute? My computer's playing up."

Not forgetting that the latter example often happens on the days I'm on the classroom teacher side of the fence.....

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4 thoughts on “Fence Sitting

  1. chris harbeck

    Nice post. People often pick me to do the “leadership” tasks for the Grade 8 team and for other committees. The amount of work that builds up gets to be quite the stack. Then there are those who want to push “good classroom” teachers towards other jobs with the school division. Being a principal, vp or even someone who has to deal with adults all day instead of students is not in the cards for me. I have seen too many other people falter and regret the kid contact.

    I like your situation even though your work load is heavy. Stay in contact with the kids. They keep us grounded and enjoy what we are selling.

    Nice post.

  2. Mike Dunlop

    You are right about all of the extra responsibilities and increased workload that comes with a coordinator role, but forgot to mention one thing – we love it! I applied to be an IT coordinator, was thrilled when I got the chance, and I love my job. Sure, it can be painful when people don’t realize the effort you’re putting in, take things for granted, and expect miracles. But I don’t think there are many jobs in education where that’s not the case.
    I’m currently searching around for a new job, and could be looking at coordinator roles or a “regular” teaching gig – the positives of a coordinator role far outweigh the negatives for me. It’s a great job!

  3. Graham Wegner

    Mike, you are right. It is a great job and my post isn’t so much about workload but a lack of recognition that leadership isn’t suddenly an easier gig because there is time away from being in front of a class of students. The students do keep things “real” and that is invaluable in knowing what will fly and won’t in the classroom situation when using web based technology. Having the leadership role allows you bigger picture perspective as well, although I would argue that educational blogging is an excellent way for classroom teachers to get that view. Thanks, Chris, for your comment as well. Leadership isn’t always about the “extra pay, position title” but can be easily seen by who puts their hand up to be involved and “lead out” with initiative in their teaching role as well.

  4. petuniabrown

    Hi Graham,
    I left the classroom 5 years ago after 28 years in teaching because I could not do both jobs. I was handling all of the technology training and network administration in the entire middle school AND teaching 4 full classes a day. The paperwork alone was killing me. So, I left to take a job teaching teachers districtwide. Great, I thought, I will be able to give back all of the wisdom I had gathered over the years. Not so, to begin with, no one seemed to want my accumulated myriad of boxed units, worksheets, teaching resources which I had hoarded over the years and treasured. I guess they thought it was too old. Then, in my new position, all of the teachers thought I was an administrator so, what did I know about teaching? It was a long struggle to win their trust enough to look upon me as a colleague. Albeit, a colleague without a class, without the added burdens of teaching to the test, following a script, accountability. Sure, I had an office and my own phone. But, I did not have the comaraderie of sharing my teaching problems with team mates. I did not have the hearts and minds of a distinct group of youngsters. I did not even know the names of those kids I worked with because I worked with them irregularly. It was hard to see their progress seeing them only once in a while. And looking at the statistics just does not match up to looking at the light bulb that goes off when a lesson goes well. On the other hand, I do enjoy knowing that I might make a larger difference, a systemwide difference working with teachers. Still, I miss belonging -working with everyone means being close to no one.


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