… you should know that when my chair came out of teaching to pursue his Ph.D. he fully planned on going back to the classroom when he finished his degree. He told me recently of a conversation with a lauded researcher he studied with in the field of early childhood education that influenced his thinking about his career direction. He said that his mentor asked him, “What are you going to do when you finish?” My chair answered, “I am going to go back to the classroom to teach.” His mentor said, “People don’t get Ph.D.s to go back to the classroom to teach. You have an entirely different set of skills with which to contribute to the field now.” That statement struck a chord with me. You ask, “Will I keep teaching?” The answer is yes, until I am not meant to but, I do have a new set of tools.
Off hand, I know at least five people in my wider circle who have education careers that yearn for that classroom again. You’ve developed a set of skills that no one can take away from you anymore, and that you couldn’t have picked up by staying in the middle of the action. Lots of people, from union activists to administrators, have yearned for the chance at getting back to the daily grind of the classroom. The connection with the kids matters so much, and brings a certain passion that you can’t get from the humdrum of correlation studies and number-crunching.
That’s why, when we have these discussions on the future of teaching, we have to keep in mind that some of our “allies” were once teachers as well, those who have kept an eye on what happens in the classroom because they’ve had some experience in it. In no way does it mean that everyone who’s ever been in the classroom has a similar mindset to us, but for those who intentionally taught the way we do, with the fire under our hearts and the air under our feet, we can go anywhere and still work under the mindset that, yes, this stuff is hard and it matters.
Those who intentionally or unintentionally left the classroom and still work in education often tell me how they couldn’t match the classroom experience anywhere they went. Until we can truly raise the status of teachers to the rest of the country (financially and otherwise), many of those feelings may still linger. Teachers will keep leaving the classroom in favor of jobs and titles that expand their opportunity without risk of jealousy or, much worse, removal.
It’s the art of looking back to look forward.