A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
by David Knuffke
This is the first in a series of posts looking at the primary reasons why I’m moving my family to Singapore and have taken a teaching job at the Singapore American School. It occurs to me that what follows could be read as an insult to the fantastic administrators that I work with in my current job, almost as if I’m saying that the work they do is somehow less good/noble/interesting than the work of being a teacher. This could not be further from the truth. My fellow admins are amazing people doing great work, and working with them over the past two years has made me an immeasurably better educator. I owe every one of them a tremendous debt of gratitude. The children they work for and the adults they work with are lucky to have them.
I’m pretty good at keeping an open mind. I think I moved into my current job with an open mind. I like the work well enough. I’m decently good at it. It’s a style of work that is very family-friendly. I’m comfortable saying that I have done my best in my role as the administrator in charge of the science & technology departments. I’m confident that while I haven’t been perfect in the position (as if anyone could ever be such a thing), I have been successful, and effective. The people I work with like me and find me more helpful than not. All of that is good stuff. None of it is good enough.
The simple fact of the matter is that the job that I currently have is not enough. At least in the form that I inhabit, administration is not enough. It’s not a role that makes me feel like I’m doing enough, and a lot of the time it makes me feel like what I’m doing is less-than-enthralling. A lot of the time, I think I’m wasting time, or at least not using it as well as I should be. Early on in my administrative career, a fellow admin whom I greatly respect told me that the secret to not feeling this way in a director-level role is to keep busy. I did that, and it certainly helped. But after meeting all of my responsibilities, cleaning up the various loose ends left behind by three prior bosses in as many years, and setting pretty much every initiative that I was interested in pursuing in motion, I still find myself wanting more.
I don’t imagine that’s a unique feeling among admins, particularly at my “level” in a district. Without getting too deep in the weeds, it seems to me that the structure of my position is not one that is designed to keep people in the role for more than a handful of years. To use the term of art, it’s a “stepping stone.” Which is fine, assuming you want to step.
I don’t want to step. I have no talent for building-level or human resources needs. I don’t want to run a building or a district. These aren’t things that interest me, personally (though I hope you’ll all join me in saying thanks that there are many talented people who are interested in these things). When push comes to shove, I don’t want to do anything outside of science, curriculum, or instruction. These are my interests. That hasn't changed.
So what’s the job that lets me focus my attention on science education, curriculum & instruction? It’s the job that I had before this one: Teacher. That’s what I want to do. In retrospect, it’s always what I’ve wanted to do. My recent adventure in administration has made that clear.
In Singapore, I get to teach kids science again. For all of the other reasons that this move is a great one for my family and me, it’s this return to the first working principles of my life that is the most exciting. I can’t wait to get back to the work of teaching kids about the world around them. It doesn’t hurt that the school I’m moving to is aligned with my larger pedagogical sense in ways that resonate deeply. I knew this during the interview process, when I found myself talking about standards-based grading, and professional learning communities, and when I heard the principal explain to me his belief that his school is a place where every child should receive the best education that they can. It’s not that these things are missing in my current district, but the fact that these are overt operating principles where I’m headed is deeply interesting to me.
I can’t wait to work with kids to help them make sense of the world around them. I can’t wait to use the experiences that I’ve had from being in many different classrooms over the past two years to improve my teaching practice. I can’t wait to become part of a new community of teachers. I can’t wait to try new things, fail, adjust, and try again.
I can’t wait.
How did this one strike you? Am I on the money? Off the mark? Drop me a line or leave a comment if you have something to say.
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