Teacher Leader…or Lack Thereof?

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“BE A LEADER!” We utter these words almost daily to our scholars. What exactly do we mean when we say this? Don’t we have specific expectations of what it means to be a scholar leader? These last couple of weeks have had me thinking. How can teachers exclaim these words and struggle being a leader themselves? Aren’t we supposed to “lead by example”? That’s what we tell our scholars, isn’t it? Is there gratification in not being a teacher leader? Are the standards of expectations we have set for ourselves the reason they are so low for our scholars? I have been engrossed with these wonderings all week.  

Let’s think about this. What exactly qualifies a teacher as a leader? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that standing at the front of the classroom is not a certifiable characteristic of leadership. There is much more to being a teacher leader than simply that. In my reflection, I began to think simplistically about the characteristics I’d expect to see in my scholar leaders in order to decipher how this might transfer to educators.

When I’m identifying leaders in my classroom community, yes, I look for the general character traits such as respect and responsibility. These are at the very foundation of what a leader should display. But, sometimes it seems that even these are too much to ask of some colleagues. I’m not certain why this blaring lack of professional responsibility is agitating me so much these days. Typically, we get into a slump and we climb our way out. This year has been disparagingly different….challenging, to say the least. I’ve had to stop and think about why I’m here to begin with. At the beginning of my teaching career, I was told that I would never amount to anything as an educator, but thankfully, my scholars communicated otherwise. It is because of not only my scholars, but the many experiences I’ve had along the way that assure me that leadership is much MORE than simply respect and responsibility.

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The obligations of teacher leaders have the potential to bear heavy weight. As schools continue to work towards improvement, teacher leaders stand at the helm, advocating for quality, equitable education for all young scholars. However, with systemic issues such as poverty, homelessness, drugs and violence at the forefront of many scholars minds, it becomes more and more difficult for teachers to encourage and motivate them to be effective learners and in turn, becomes equally challenging to be effective, efficacious educators. Teachers are becoming more and more overwhelmed working to support scholars as they struggle to deal with the realities of their own lives. The days seem to be getting longer and harder the closer we get to the end of the school year. Morale is low, complaints are high, students´ instruction is done just complacently enough to say simply that it was done. It is clear as I walk the halls that many of us are tired and some even burned out. Our scholars are feeling it too, expressing their frustration with outbursts and disrespectful behavior because they lack the skills to express it in any other way. Relationships between teachers and their scholars are suddenly falling apart. How we deal with this sudden decline in school climate can be the difference between how successfully we lead our scholars or not. I leave the building perplexed, wondering how the year has come to this.

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I would venture to say that being a teacher leader is indeed challenging. In my eyes, however, it is a welcomed challenge. We are in a position to be change agents in this field, but this requires commitment. Commitment to change and commitment to the charge. Teacher leaders are charged with the task of identifying the issues hindering the academic growth of scholars and whether the instruction they are receiving is effective or not. More than that, teacher leaders encourage and motivate not only scholars, but their colleagues to be the best instructional leaders they can be. Growing leaders, however, requires that teachers be open to learning new things, habits, concepts, and strategies. However, in that new learning, one must be willing to modify the old. I have been feeling as if this is wherein lies the thin line between one who simply teaches and one who teaches to lead. Quite honestly, itś the difference between whether you are teaching because itś your job and teaching because itś your passion.

Listen, ¨BE A LEADER!¨ This time, the exclamatory charge is for you…the educator. And while you reflect on that, I would like to pose the following question as well. ¨Why are you here?¨ This might be a loaded question, however, in developing teacher leaders, I believe it is a very important question when the lives of children are at stake. In reflecting on this question, think about not simply why you are teaching, but why you are teaching here…in the urban school. If you are teaching for the comfortable hours, weekends off, and the extended breaks, then teaching is probably your job. If you have reached your wits end and find yourself in a constant battle with your scholars or have given up trying, then teaching is probably not the place for you and you should think about moving on. If you are teaching in the urban school because you believe that success is achievable regardless of background, color, disability, behavior, or other barriers…that, my fellow colleagues, is your passion. If you will go above, beyond, and to the ends of the earth to build and grow relationships with your scholars…that too, is passion! Seriously, reflect on this question long and hard. Be honest with yourself. Why are you really here? The answer may be difficult to receive, but it requires your immediate response because how you answer will reveal whether you are a teacher leader, or lack thereof.

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