Sunday, August 18, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here

Creative Commons License use from 96dpi (Andreas Levers) at Flickr
Every summer we spend time interviewing potential new staff members for jobs at Plymouth High School and as I reflect on the answers to the questions we ask, I often use my drive time home to think about how I might answer a similar question when the time comes for me to seek a principal position.  One of the questions that has always troubled me is "Where do you see yourself in five years?"  It is troubling in many respects, the first and foremost being that while wanting to sound ambitious and desiring to move up, you don't want to be viewed as being overly motivated by the desire to have the job of the person hiring you.  In today's world of education though, it troubles me more because I no longer know where we might be in five years as an industry.

When I was growing up teaching was one of the most stable professions in the world, so much so that this has become one of the chief complaints/criticisms of the industry as the reform era has dawned.  Despite recent high turnover, according to a 2011 Huffington Post article the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future estimates that 50% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years of entering it, in my educational life as a student (Lyons Township High School Class of 1987) it seemed as if my teachers never left, and where still there when I went back to visit unless they retired.  Today, with the pace of change that future can no longer be assured.  I often wonder if I will still be in education long enough to retire, not because of a decision by me to leave what I love, but rather because education as a profession will no longer exist in a form that supports the education enterprise.

I am not bemoaning change, in fact over my years in the profession I have not only embraced it but chased after it, but rather I ponder how those changes will come and what they may look like.  A few weeks ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled the The $4 Million Teacher, that might show us a window into what that five years from now world might look like.  It both exhilarated and scared me at the same time.  I was exhilarated at the possibilities of how we can use technology to better connect our students to resources and truly differentiate the learning they receive.  I was scared because of the wide chasm that the system described has created between those who have access to private teachers outside of school hours and those who do not and must rely on what schools can offer within their budget restrictions.  In a perfect world, all students would have access to the best and brightest teachers and know how to connect with quality resources for learning.  In the real world, the basic economic problem of scarcity will continually raise it's head and swat away those dreams and aspirations.  It is our challenge as a nation to see how we can pursue the dream of equality in education as it competes with the myriad other budgetary goals, entitlements, and Bridges to Nowhere.

Four years ago when I came to Plymouth High School I was asked where I wanted to be in five years.  I can no longer recall my response, but here is how I would answer if asked today, and it really is not focused on the position I would want to be in, but rather the type of school system I would want to work in.

I want to be a principal in a progressive school system.  One that is on the cutting edge of education, that embraces the changes and challenges of the profession, is a leader in expanding opportunities for students and meeting them at their point of need not our point of instruction, one that is built on a foundation of continuous pursuit of knowledge to improve the craft of teaching.  I don't know where that place is exactly, but I want to be a part of making this place become that one.  

What would your answer look like?  More importantly, what are you doing today to bring that ideal place into your current one?

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