Every head of school at Nobles has been a classroom teacher. Every one. Teaching has been an important part of the personal and professional identities of each leader. Former headmaster Dick Baker, in fact, continues to teach at Nobles, working his magic every day. When I was hired 13 years ago, my desire to teach likely gave me an advantage during the selection process, given the weight of this tradition. I continue to teach—and continue to love it—meeting with my AP European History class four days a week.
A strong case may be made, however, that the head of school should not teach. The
majority of my colleagues at schools around the country do not. Increasingly, school
heads do not attain their position by rising from the teaching ranks. Instead, they
enter through various administrative roles, learning from the business end. Many
started in teaching but then turned to administrative positions. Others have given
up one small classroom for a much larger forum, and in this respect, will suggest that
they still teach every day.
The best reasons for heads not to teach are time and professionalism. One class of
students can, and should, consume many hours a week, between grading, preparing,
extra help and classroom activities. This can be a distraction on the head’s calendar.
Moreover, being a good teacher at the secondary-school level requires reading and
research in an academic field, staying abreast of pedagogical theory and technological
innovations, and being able to implement new developments in classroom practice.
Heads argue correctly that they should be fully dedicated to acquiring and managing
school resources and setting the institutional imperatives. Many heads must also
travel extensively, and they have to be available for minor and major crises breaking
over the bow of the school.
I teach because I enjoy it. However, I have built a rationalization that is more
compelling than that. Teaching forces me to practice what I preach every day. I have
to forge the relationships with my students that are at the heart of our institutional
purpose and methodology. I have to write comments and college recommendations
like my teaching colleagues. As long as I can retain credibility that I am reasonably
competent at classroom teaching, it bolsters my profile with the teachers at the school.
In the broadest sense, I think it has helped me to talk more powerfully about the
impact and purpose of this community, and thereby to envision and articulate the
future of the school. I recognize that these imperatives are true for me and do not
apply to all school heads. Furthermore, I understand that it may not be possible or
appropriate for every future head at Nobles to teach an academic class. For me, however,
the two roles are fundamentally inextricable and lead me to a more profound
understanding of our school mission.
This post originally appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Nobles magazine.