Spending last weekend at EduCon left me with more questions than answers. That’s a good thing. My conversations with colleagues were heated at times, but the pushback is always good for my deep professional thinking.
One conversation in particular–which took place outside of the structured sessions of EduCon–has been echoing around in my head for the past few days. While making snow angels in the fresh snow falling in Philadelphia, we talked about The Expiration Date Effect. That’s the oxymoronic idea that the more time a teacher spends in the classroom, the more other teachers find them relevant and credible; while the further a former teacher gets from the trenches, the more respect they get from school and district leaders. Visually, it looks like this:
It’s undeniable and unavoidable: the experience of teaching in a real classroom makes you keenly aware of what works and what doesn’t in public education. Simultaneously, though, the classroom teacher’s voice and reach are somewhat limited, even as the connected educator movement grows.
That’s because the public education system is necessarily complex. As my colleague Bill Ferriter said, it needs to be hierarchical for reasons of cost and efficiency. But this same hierarchy creates isolation for the few at the top, and resentment for those being led. The much larger number of “in the trenches” classroom teachers begin to expect that their leaders will lack empathy and appreciation for the struggles that they endure and the challenges that they face. Ironically, the same issues that these leaders need to address.
How do we resolve this seemingly intractable problem? Some leaders try to remain relevant by communicating with teachers, using surveys and town hall meetings. Others assume that they’ll remember what it was like and act accordingly. A few innovative districts are employing hybrid teaching positions to address this issue.
By elevating practicing teachers into leadership roles that keep them teaching part-time, these organizations hope to save money while tapping into the wealth of leadership already in their classrooms. The idea shows a lot of promise.
Speaking for myself, I thought that I could hold onto my credibility because I spend so much time working with teachers. But, I do so without experiencing the worst of their frustrations. I can feel my expiration date approaching.
What can I do about it? Well, for one, I can try to get into classrooms as often as possible. Being there isn’t the same as being responsible for what happens there, but it’s better than nothing. As I look to the future, I hope to be able to pilot hybrid teaching wherever I work. I want to teach some of the time, so that what I do the rest of the time has more meaning and more relevance.
How do you feel about hybrid teaching and the expiration date?