I am a tremendous believer in the importance of teacher leadership. Teachers do not need special job titles or labels to exert meaningful influence in their school, district, or beyond--they need the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to give them confidence to advocate.
For the first two-thirds of my career, I tried to exert influence through untitled leadership. I was Mark, the classroom teacher, willing to speak up, go to meetings, engage with those in the higher pay grades, and advocate for what I believed to be best for kids, teachers, and our school.
This untitled leadership, in my personal career track, has since evolved so that for the last two years I have had a leadership "position" as Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for two periods of my day, while I teach the other periods. This has opened countless new doors for me and given me a much different perspective than I had before. Now I get to sit in administrative team meetings--often the only practicing teacher in the room--and listen to how decisions are made. I have become collegial and collaborative with principals and district administrators in ways that simply would not be possible for teachers not in such a hybrid role.
Before I go any further, let me make clear: hyrbid TOSA/teaching or coaching/teaching roles are exactly the kind of roles a teacher-leader like me needs. To be able to exert influence in policy decisions, to aid in the learning of both my colleagues and my superiors, yet to still get to return to the joyful chaos of a ninth grade English classroom for three hours a day--this is the perfect mix where policy can meet practice. When decisions are made in the boardroom, I can test their impact the right away in my classroom.
Of course there are challenges. Right now, I am a teacher, building union representative, and TOSA. And it is a bargaining year. Whether it is real or perceived, I'm stuck in the middle. Both sides have either implied or outright questioned whether I am a mole for the opposing team. (Oh, that I had the time to be so subversive.)
This is new territory for me. Until this bargain, being "stuck in the middle" meant jokes about "going to the dark side" from my fellow teachers, or watching administrators backpedal on certain statements when they realize "there's a teacher in the room." In both of those situations, I felt confident and comfortable speaking up--either to joke back and reframe about how much I'm learning, and that despite the collar and tie our administrators actually still are educators; or to validate the principal's concerns and try to help them see the teacher's perspective rather than avoiding the conversation.
Now, with the contract on the table, emotions high and irrationality rampant (on both sides of this chess match, I may add) I sit here, consuming a .6 teaching FTE for my building and a .4 FTE for my district, fully covered by our CBA but at the table to work with principals and district office leaders. This "middle" is new to me, and I'm finding myself erring on the side of silence.
When we feel compelled toward silence, that is the red flag of all red flags.
For me, sitting in the middle is enabling me to observe the utter ugliness that bargaining can be. As with our two-party system of government, each side seems incapable of seeing its own faults, and each side casts the other as the villain. Lines are drawn in the sand and allegiances are pledged. From one side, the teachers are greedy, money grubbing, ungrateful whiners. From the other side, the district is a tyrannical, heartless, and unwilling bully. The fact: neither of these constructs is true. It is playground "us versus them" and people's titles have drawn the party lines. These hyperbolic identities, which did not seem to exist four months ago, have been constructed as if from thin air for the purposes of doing battle, and it is bringing out the worst in people--my colleagues and my superiors alike.
This is a new territory in my teacher-leadership. In many other cases and ways, I've kicked the door open on the things no one else wanted to say. My position has granted me a degree of immunity to provoke thinking, challenge systems, and ask questions without fear of reprisal. I've had posts I've written here at Stories from School copied and placed in my colleagues' mailboxes or secretly passed to administrators when I've written heavily veiled or anonymous (though I would argue, reasoned and rational) critique of one thing or another. I wonder which way this one will go.
In matters of contracts, money and hours, I simply don't know where to place my voice as a teacher leader with feet in both camps. So I'm starting here, I suppose, hoping to figure it out.