This month marks the beginning of my 14th year of teaching. As I start my 8th year in the same school, for the 6th time, I start the school year with a new principal. So far, I have been impressed with his leadership, and I am excited about his ideas for the school that I hope my kids will attend. But when I tell people I have lost count of the number of principals I have worked with, people think I am joking.

From the research I have done, the average tenure of a principal in an urban school is 5 years. Statistically, I could work for at least 7 different principals in my career. I am not even half-way, and I have already met that mark. This lack of consistency in the administration cries out for more opportunities for teachers to be leaders. Most teachers don’t want to leave the classroom. They love to teach, but they do want opportunities to have their expertise respected, their knowledge valued, and their voices heard.

In education, you are expected to advance your career by pursuing principal certification and your superintendent’s letter. While earning my doctorate, everyone I spoke with assumed I was looking to move out of the classroom. I have no desire to leave the classroom, but I do want to have more opportunities to lead without being an administrator. I have experiences and knowledge that can inform decisions that are being made about teaching, learning, students, and teachers. I am not content just closing my door, because I know that the best schools have faculty, teachers, and administrators, who work together to promote student learning.

Teachers Are Not Going Anywhere

Even though I have seen administrators come and go, there are teachers in my building who have been there for 30 years. Even though there is a teacher retention problem, most teachers are not going anywhere. Teachers are the constant in a school, and teachers are the faces that students look to for consistency. I know that there are a lot of teachers at my school who plan on retiring there. It is only with that kind of consistency that schools will better meet the needs of students. Even though principals and superintendents leave, teachers are going to be the constant in a school, so they need to be empowered and trusted to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the students and the school.

Teachers Know Teaching Better than Anyone Else

I had the opportunity to work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help with some of their education planning. One of their initiatives was Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2). The thought was that the teaching profession and teachers need to be celebrated for the professionals they are while also being given opportunities to learn from each other. At one of these conferences, Vicki Phillips said, “No one knows teaching like teachers.” Her point was that decisions about teaching should not be made by people who are not in the classroom. Teaching is such a complex process that is always changing, so teachers need to be the ones who are guiding conversations on education reform, professional development, and all the other facets of education.

Teachers Are Doing Constant Market Research

In the business world, millions of dollars are invested in market research to see how things are working. All of that money is invested to see if the initiatives are working, and that information is being brought back to the people making the decisions. Teachers are the faces that students see each day which gives teachers an opportunity to see first-hand if the new initiatives in education are working or not. Teachers have the opportunity to try something out on Monday, see if it works, and then adjust for Tuesday. Teachers are constantly collecting information, analyzing its effectiveness, and then adjusting to yield better results.

Most teachers would argue that they are just doing their jobs, but that is why teachers need to have opportunities to lead. Teachers’ voices need to be heard when discussing professional development, budget decisions, student supports, and every other thing that has an impact on students. Just as no one knows teaching like teachers — no one knows students like teachers. That knowledge needs to be leveraged in order to create a more effective and equitable education system.

By Dr. Derek Long
English Teacher – Head Boys’ Basketball Coach
Pittsburgh Perry High School