Becoming Less of a Teacher


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Do school leaders who teach less in the classroom, become ‘less of a teacher’?

I’d like to pose an argument, that teachers who become senior teachers actually become less effective in the classroom. I have no research to back up my claim, other than pragmatic experience – including analysis of my teaching.

Do you ‘cut it in the classroom’?

Over the past 20 years, at a guess, I have worked directly with 50+ school leaders. Some include headteachers who do / do not teach in the classroom. This decision is entirely dependent on the individual, as well as the context of the school setting and the needs of the school.

Some of the leaderships team I have joined, have included senior leaders who have had no teaching timetable. For countless reasons, these historical reasons were soon eradicated and the balance restored.

After all, if you cannot cut it in the classroom, why should any other teacher, or student for the matter, give you the respect you deserve as a senior teacher?

And why would I write about such a topic?

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Well, over the years I have been promoted; my responsibilities have shifted elsewhere and my time in the classroom has decreased to enable me to carry out those responsibilities. So, what’s my thinking? Well, I actually think I’m ‘becoming less of a teacher’.

What I mean by this statement, is that consider myself to be a ‘school teacher’ first and a ‘school leader’ second. However, the shift in responsibility can easily make this reverse; the nature of my school responsibilities demand that my work is elsewhere – in all areas of school life (largely) – rather than just in one classroom.

School or Classroom?

Recent professional development posed this same question to teachers: do you consider yourself to be a classroom teacher, or a school teacher? And in summary, the latter was the preferable answer because this stance supported the whole-school community, the aspiration of working together – a collective teacher efficacy (+1.75 ve) – rather than working in isolation. Something akin to maverick teachers – or experienced teachers, who survive in their own classroom and adopt school policies to suit their own teaching styles or classroom subjects so that they can teach in a way that suits themselves.

This is potentially damaging to the whole-school. Largely for one reason, that students move from teacher A to B and experience not only different subjects and teaching styles, but more importantly, a different stance on school policies. This leads to all sorts of problems for the teacher and the school.

Returning to my original point about ‘teaching less’, the nature of being a school leader means I teach less. Therefore, I argue that my expertise is diminishing because I practise ‘teaching less often’.

For example, over the past 20 years I have crudely worked out the number of lessons I have taught each academic year:

[table id=8 /]

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A shift in focus?

On the basis of one-hour lessons over a 38-week academic year, using the calculations above, I have taught over 11,000 lessons.

It is clear to see from this data, and if we place workload aside for this post, the more hours I spend in the classroom actually teaching, there is a higher probability that I should be better at doing just that: teaching. 

In his book Outliers, and based on a study by Anders Ericsson, Malcolm Gladwell suggests this – the 10,000 rule of ‘deliberate practice’ – are needed to become truly world-class. 

Maybe I’m not that less effective after all? As the years and my responsibilities have evolved, the focus and priority of my day job has shifted from planning and marking for students, to completing other projects outside of the classroom. For example, from writing departmental schemes of work or ratifying whole-school policies or planning professional development sessions for staff. My lessons take a back-seat; they become a lesser priority which means my teaching does too.

If a senior teacher’s energy is focused elsewhere, I suspect the focus on the classroom also has to shift from one classroom to the whole-school. And I would be dishonest to the reader if I said, it had not happened to me. But does teaching less make me a weaker teacher? Does having less focus in the classroom give me a lesser chance to practice and support school policies?

The difference for those who still work in the classroom – no matter how small the number of hours per week – is that it is still something that one should take seriously, and is something that needs constant refinement. After all, we know no teacher is perfect and no one quite masters the art of excellent classroom teaching – particularly if they are actually doing it much less than they used to.

I argue that all senior teachers should teach, and because one may teach much less, it should remain the number one priority.

What is your view?


8 thoughts on “Becoming Less of a Teacher

  1. I’d argue that school managers and leaders shouldn’t be teachers at all. Teachers should teach and be rewarded for how well they do it. Full stop. It shouldn’t be that the only way to get better pay is to manage in a school. Appoint people qualified to manage to do that, not teachers.

    1. School leaders being paid more than teachers encourages the best teachers to leave the classroom; that really does not work in having the best for students

      Joan Anderson

  2. It depends. There is a difference between experience and expertise. Repeating something with no reflection doesn’t lead to the latter. A great classroom teacher is open to learning themselves, innovative, keen to refine what works. So is ( or should be) a great school leader.

  3. School leaders are more managers than teachers. Even if they teach some classes they understandably forget the what it is like to teach a full timetable and how demanding this is. Which has huge implications for the role out of school policies. Do school leaders and policy makers recognise that the experts are those who teach full time? Do leadership teams seek the opinions of their teachers and middle leadership when making fundamental decisions about teaching and learning and how we meet the needs of our Students? I would be interested to hear what others feel about these questions. Am I alone in my thinking?

  4. The massive expansion of school middle management (Heads of Curriculum, Leaders of Learning and the like) comprising teachers who desperately want to get out of the classroom either because they don’t like it, can’t hack it or they want a pay rise, is one of the worst scourges of modern education. They dilute the numbers of teachers available in the classroom through the reduction of funds for classroom teachers which leads to bigger class sizes. They also through the necessity of having to justify their roles create meaningless and soul destroying work for teachers. All of this is fed by corporation research experts pushing their latest and greatest rehash/ recycle/ rebadge of educational practice from the sixties and seventies.

  5. I agree with the “experience v expertise” comment. More doesn’t automatically mean better.

    However, the maxim, “the best salesman doesn’t make the best sales manager” is also relevant here. How many times have we seen this happen in sport; the best player is promoted to captain, their form dips and they cannot maintain success.

    I believe, you should focus on your responsibility – other things become a distraction and allow “playpenning”. Retain your classroom experience, skills by acting as “first call” for cover, absence etc.

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