I am a high school English teacher. I am also the founder and CEO of a teacher training nonprofit organization. I am both.
Many people challenge my choice to be both, especially given the state of affairs in education right now. They ask me questions like: “Why don’t you just focus on your CEO role full time?” “Why stay in the classroom? You made it with something else and teaching is so draining these days…” “How can you possibly be both a teacher and a CEO?”
Just like a student with an assignment, I decided to write my response to these prompts as I look ahead to the new school year. So here it is, my homework assignment, turned in by the bell. This is why I still teach students and lead a nonprofit. This is why I am both.
I am not both because I feel like I need to be. I don’t feel guilt or pressure to stay in the classroom, nor do I believe that I need a ‘side hustle’ or some work on top of my full time job in order to fit into a growing trend among millennials. I am both because I deeply desire to be both.
I desire to create system-level change with teachers as we walk right alongside each other in this work. I desire to listen to the hopes and fears of teachers working to make an impact in our nation’s volatile education system, experience those hopes and fears daily in my own classroom, and then build a program that authentically reflects the current teacher experience. So few teacher training programs are facilitated by current educators, and I believe that proximity to the work is essential to create a program that fully respects teachers and challenges us to grow.
That proximity to the work showed up when I tried (and failed) to teach my sophomores how to write an essay in the morning and then stood in front of a room full of educators in the afternoon to share my highs and lows while we all worked together to build empowering classrooms with students. It showed up again when, right before starting a February RPIA Teacher session, I just paused and said “I am absolutely exhausted as a teacher this year: I just needed to say that and take a deep breath before we get started,” and multiple teachers became emotional as they shared how much it meant that I walked this walk with them and actually ‘got it.’
I am not a distant consultant, a generic PD provider, or a district administrator: I am a teacher who is stepping into her 12th year as a teacher as I also step into my 3rd year leading teacher training in restorative practices. I am not telling teachers what to do in our RPIA Teacher sessions: I am doing what they do.
I desire the transformative connection and honesty that shows up in every RPIA Teacher session, I don’t think that same energy would be present in our nonprofit if I stepped away from the classroom.
But, like I said, I don’t feel pressure to stay in the classroom. I deeply desire to be there, too.
Yes, I was exhausted last February – what teacher wasn’t? But, at a soul level, I find joy in teaching. To be clear, I am not saying I find happiness- that emotion is fleeting and dependent on the circumstances – I am saying I find JOY. Joy is a gift that is created and shared within a community. When my high schoolers walk in the door, all of the chaos in our education system, the chaos of the pandemic, the chaos in my own life, it fades to make room for joy. Joy grows as a student’s eyes light up about a new idea; it grows when two students who “aren’t friends except in here” work together to find new meaning in the chapter; it grows when a student offers to lead a peace circle with the class after a tough moment in the school; it grows when one of my students shares his journey as a gay student and every classmate gives him their full respect as he shares boldly through his tears. Year after year, I watch in awe as joy wins in my classroom no matter how tough the classroom situation or national moment.
And so I teach. I teach 10th grade English because I love creating joy and community with students. I also lead. I lead as the founder and CEO of Restorative Practices in Action because there is power when teachers create their own learning spaces with each other. I teach and lead because there is something that runs deeper than the struggles of today. There is real hope and joy in what we build together, both in the classroom and in our nonprofit. The world can’t tell me otherwise.