Should School Heads Teach?

Vol. 15 No. 3

head eletter vol15 no3 teachin

Many School Heads, usually having taught in the past, wish to return to the classroom to teach on occasion.You may want to continue teaching for some truly compelling reasons, such as teaching a particular subject that is important to you, staying connected to the students, or wanting your faculty to know you are competent in the classroom and share their successes (and concerns).

But is this wise? Consider the following four caveats before stepping back behind the teacher’s desk.

1. This “dual responsibility” approach does not serve students well.

Since teaching is not your primary responsibility, many issues that require your attention as School Head trump the need to be in the classroom. If you're unable to prepare for classes, provide feedback for assignments, or be available outside of class to provide extra help, you end up shortchanging the very students with whom you want to stay in contact. It is difficult for you to take responsibility for a classroom on a regular basis. How do you focus on the needs of the students when the demands on your time and attention should be directed on leading your entire school?

2. Senior administrators make expensive teachers.

The school is paying a full administrative salary for a leader who essentially works part-time. Even if you only teach one class, at least 20% of your time is diverted from your “real job.” The Board did not hire you for this duty.

3. As a way of staying in touch with students and faculty, this is an extremely limited tactic.

You are exposed to a maximum of one class of students each semester, so your knowledge of “what’s going on” can't be regarded as representative. You’re also not a “real teacher” in the faculty’s eyes because you are typically unavailable to do the other tasks they carry out, such as playground or carpool duty.

4. Only one or two classes of students get to know you.

You deny the rest of the students that intimate glimpse of you in a role other than the authority figure.

Still, you want to be part of students’ lives—a desire that is genuine and mission-appropriate. Honor that intuitive impulse to stay “in touch.” You will benefit from knowing what’s going on with students, from being recognized by the faculty as a professional who can converse about what matters to teachers from a position of competence, and from staying close to the motivations for a teaching career. The challenge is to do this in ways that are healthy for you and for your school. As you determine how best to fit involvement with students into your schedule, follow these guidelines.

  • The interaction should be of limited duration—a short-term commitment (e.g., teaching a class for a faculty member who has called in sick for the day) rather than a semester- or year-long responsibility.
  • It must not be a problem if you are pulled away from teaching duties by your administrative duties. Consider, for example, the consequences if you had to drop out of teaching an AP course.
  • There should be no disadvantage to the students. While you might want to teach an entire course, you can never offer students the support a full-time teacher can provide.

Even though you are an administrator, being a part of your students’ lives is important. Over time, you should do your best to interact with every student, but ensure that you structure your involvement in a way that makes it a great advantage for all concerned. It's wonderful that you want to know your students and not forget the daily joys and challenges of the classroom. But, as School Head, taking on the role of instructor is not the best way.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 15 No. 2 10 Reasons You Were Meant to Be a Head
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 1 Advice to New School Heads

Additional Resources for ISM Members:
I&P Vol. 29 No. 15 The Head’s Role in Developing Leadership
Member Research: ISM Research Report: 16 Characteristics of Head Leadership

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