Forty-seven years ago this month I began my teaching career. Over those years the challenges and opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and public education gradually became a part of my daily consciousness, whether I was “on the job” or not.
I started teaching in 1968 in a high school with team teaching and modular scheduling that allowed for the flexible grouping of students, which by their very nature immediately engaged me in collaboration and job-embedded professional learning, although both terms would have been foreign to me at that time.
In 1972 I was invited to participate in designing and implementing a public alternative high school for “disaffected youth.” I had not heard the term “teacher leader,” nor was I aware how rare it was for a teacher to be meaningfully engaged in creating such a school.
In 1978 I became director of a teacher center, again as a teacher leader. A year later I became a member of the National Staff Development Council (now Learning Forward).
I did not then know how my career was being subtly and irrevocably shaped by this succession of important and rare opportunities.
And in 1984 I became executive director of NSDC, a part-time position with an organization that at that time had just a few hundred members. For the next 23 years I had the privilege of meeting outstanding educators from around the world and abundant opportunities to think deeply about professional learning.
What all of these things had in common is that they stretched me in ways I could not have anticipated and often did not desire. And, because I often worked outside my comfort zone, the fear of failure was a constant companion.
While I had not yet heard of the “impostor syndrome,” I lived it daily.
And in each setting —an innovative high school, an alternative program, a teacher center, and NSDC — I benefited from the support of respected colleagues who offered encouragement and mentoring along the way.
So what would I say to a teacher near the beginning of his or her career?
Look for and be open to opportunities and mentors who will challenge and stretch you. If you do, I predict that you will have a rich and fulfilling professional journey. I wish you well wherever you may be along that road….