Sunday, March 09, 2008

Professional change afoot?

I don't like blogging about work, but I'd like some input.

There are days when I'm a fan of my new school, and there are days when I am not a fan of my new school. The culture is sometimes toxic. I've promised myself I'd put in a second year at the place to see if things resolve, and if it looks like the toxic atmosphere is too deeply embedded to disappear, I'll put in for a transfer.

The decision-making process was accelerated considerably this week when my principal pulled me aside and asked if I'd like to become department head when the current one leaves in the fall of '09.

I asked him why he picked me based on just 6 months of work. He complimented me, saying he liked how professional I am, and everyone says I'm a good teacher. That's nice. But he also said something like this: "When I hire somebody, they become 'my people' in the building." The department heads in this building have been the same since the building opened [nearly a decade ago]. I'd like some of my people in the room."

Red flag.

From my still-limited impression of my principal, I like him. He's very unpopular among a loud batch of large, I don't know. And I do think he could handle me disagreeing with him (which I certainly would). But does he want a yes-man? My instinct, in spite of that quote above, is that he does not. He's just tired of being in the room with people with such palpable anger towards him, and he recognizes that I would not be one of those angry people.

I've been at this eleven years now, so it's logical that I should get involved in leadership roles at the school (although, on pain of death, I will never, ever become a principal). And I'd enjoy some of what being a department head offers. Even though I hate budgets and I hate meetings, I would like the opportunity to be a part of the discussion about what we as a building ought to be doing next. I'd enjoy being central in hiring teachers, and I'm told they're working on getting a release period to enable the department head to spend time helping new and struggling teachers. I'd really like that.

However, I will NOT take the job if I feel like it will inspire resentment among my colleagues. It's possible there are people who have been around longer who want the job. It's not their choice, of course...department heads aren't voted on here (unlike my old school), but are appointed by the principal. So if I accepted the position, it might be that a good chunk of my already-gut-churningly-angry colleagues will channel that anger at me. I'd be the Golden Boy appointed by the principal...a symbol of what they feel are the principal's dictatorial powers. That could be really awful.

Then, later that day, and unbelievably, the plot thickened more.

I was chatting about this with our literacy coach. She crashes the classrooms of new teachers (which, in this district, I am one) and sets up professional development in reading. I'm not often a fan of professional development (few teachers are), but she has helped me out a lot by watching me teach and giving feedback. She's also been a great sounding board when I have become frustrated with the new job. I trust her.

I learned that she suggested me for department head, and she thinks I should take it.

As I talked, I said something about how this is a logical next step for my career, and how I just didn't see it happening so soon, and that I could see me enjoying teaching teachers someday, and heck, I could enjoy her job down the road.

Two minutes later, she offered me half of her job. "I'll be splitting it after next year. We should work together! It'd be fun!"

Whoa. Two major career-changing offers in one day.

So, if I take both offers, I'd be teaching either two or three classes (and therefore grading fewer papers and being, I'm sure, a far better teacher), helping prepare a few professional development offers in literacy, working with new teachers, serving as department head,
and perhaps helping this building go in a new direction.

However, I would also be marked as Unpopular Principal's Golden Boy, be seen as an insider, and be painfully central to my school's growing process, whichever direction it may be going (even if it's a bad direction, which I have to admit I worry about). I'd be tying my fortunes to the current school for at least the next 5-7 years, since I wouldn't want to bail from a leadership position. If I didn't take these offers and continued working exclusively in the classroom, I would have flexibility to transfer out if I didn't like the direction the building was headed.

I think I have developed a plan here, but I'm wondering if you, my smart friends who know me well (and those who don't), have any insight for me.


Alison said...

Something to consider - you write:
"So, if I take both offers, I'd be teaching either two or three classes (and therefore grading fewer papers and being, I'm sure, a far better teacher), helping prepare a few professional development offers in literacy, working with new teachers, serving as department head,
and perhaps helping this building go in a new direction."

Do not underestimate how much time all those non-teaching functions will take away from your teaching. Yes, you'd be grading fewer papers, which might make you think you'd be able to devote more time to the students you do have, but that time is rather likely to be consumed by administrative tasks, including the dreaded meetings and budgets.

Paula said...

I think three jobs are too many. Honestly, I'd take just one of the additional jobs. As for how people perceive you, hopefully they'll give you a chance. If you advocate for them when you can and can explain things when you can't take their side (and if they are remotely reasonable), then I think it'll be just fine.

Obviously, I understand the lure of possibly facilitating change. It beckons to me even now...

Joe said...

Strong agreement with Alison that taking both jobs sounds like an awful lot of non-classroom commitments.

And as someone who recently made the jump from profession to management, my red flags went off when you said "I hate budgets and I hate meetings." I don't know much about the job of school department head, but I spend a ton of my non-meeting time looking at budgets. :-)

You also say that you won't take the job if it inspires resentment among your colleagues. You lay out a lot of good reasons to feel that way - this time. I'm just going to point out that, whenever this is the right move for you, it's likely to put someone's nose out of joint. It's always worth thinking about... and for the right job, it'll be worth facing.

Jim Anderson said...

You wrote "fall of '09" for the Dept. Head post, right? It seems that you'd have a year to try and really win over your colleagues before joining the Dark Side.

Does the principal want a quick decision, or do you have serious time to mull it over?

TeacherRefPoet said...

Joe and Alison--

I do believe that my aversion to budgets and meetings are outweighed by the potential to do some good. So I would put up with administrivia for that reason (and that reason alone).

Joe, Alison, and Paula--

I will need to examine how much time every day is spent being a Department Head or Literacy Coach Dude that is -not- spent being a good old teacher. There would be a few ducats in there for me as a department head, but I don't want that to ever be the reason I take on any position.

Keep in mind, also, I'd want to keep coaching debate.


Fall of '09 is correct. They'd want me to spend next year shadowing the current department head. Therefore, I want to make a call (and boss wants me to make a call) in the next couple of months.

And department head and literacy coach are NOT the dark side. Just a shade dimmer, but not dark.


Right now, I'm actually leaning towards doing the full meal deal, provided I get to talk with my colleagues about it and they don't get overly pissed off. But I need a helluva lot more information about what these jobs actually entail.

Jack Bog said...

Where does reffing fit into all this?

Don't say yes to too many things at once. A friend of mine once remarked about his career, "If I were a girl, I'd be pregnant all the time."

MCMC said...

I'm a little concerned about the role your colleagues might play in determining your future, and potentially the school's. I understand that you don't want to alienate folks. But I wouldn't give them just too much power in making this decision. Pick 2-3 people you trust (and who have the respect of the others...) and tell them you're considering the full meal deal. See how they respond.

I'm less concerned about the time thing with 3 (and with reffing 4) jobs. To me, it's more a matter of focus. I've seriously considered running for a part time elected office here, but not sure I want to divide my brain in two...

tommyspoon said...

I think Gandhi said it best: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

If you want to change your environment, then be a part of it. If you don't, then don't. But make sure the decision is yours and yours alone. Never allow other people to make your career decisions.

These sound like great opportunities, TRP. Too great to let peer pressure get in the way. I wish you luck in making a decision.