Tomorrow is the first day of my 17th year as a professional educator. For the first time, I will not work in a school building. I was transferred to the position of “Director of Middle School Education” several weeks ago. I asked for this job, am deeply honored to have been selected and am looking forward to working with the principals and faculties at all seven middle schools in our system.
There is one thing I need to address though. Almost everyone to whom I have spoken since my transfer was announced has congratulated me on my “promotion”. To all of the well-wishers (including the ones I have not yet seen), I make this request: please don’t call it a promotion. I am delighted to be in my new role and can not wait to see what the future holds. But I am very uncomfortable calling this move a promotion.
Here are two reasons why:
- It underscores and perpetuates the “just a teacher” mid-set. We live in a culture that has largely lost its respect for teachers and generally work in organizations where teachers are treated as problems to be fixed rather than as unimaginably valuable resources. If people who stop being teachers are “promoted”, what does that say about the educators who chose to continue being teachers? By extension, what are we implying about principals when individuals who accept Central Office jobs are “promoted”?
- I became an educator because I love young people. I did not discover that I get along okay with teenagers after I chose to be a teacher; I became a teacher because I knew I needed to be in a career that allows me to interact with lots of folks all the time. And to try to enrich their lives in the process. My new job will require me to make up excuses to interact with students: calling that change a “promotion” seems at least a little bit insulting to them.
I could go on but my entire point is very simple: education is about teaching and learning. Both happen as a result of interactions between human beings. Describing career steps that move away from those interactions as “promotions” is backwards thinking in my book. Longer list of stuff to think about? Sure. More responsibility? Maybe. Promotion? No.
There is no need for you to feel uncomfortable or avoid mentioning my new role when we see each other. I have a suggestion for what to call this transition: I have been exiled. Feel free to offer either condolences or congratulations on my recent exile. From what I can tell so far, that imagery works just fine.
I have been removed from where the students learn and taken to another place. I might be allowed to go back some day, but for now that is not my home any more. I am allowed to cultivate relationships, maintain strong lines of communication, and work to influence what happens where the students are from where I am. I can even get away with sneaking back for very brief visits. But I don’t get to live there any more. Someone else will be there every day and will build relationships and will fan sparks of curiosity into intellectual flame and will change young lives one interaction at a time. Like Aaron and Hur, I will spend my days strengthening the hands of the heroes who do that work. And I will rejoice in the privilege to do so.
Just don’t call my move a promotion.