Stop Shutting Down Ambitious Teachers

Have you ever noticed that our educational system expects ambition from our students but not from our teachers?

We want students to have drive, to strive for more, to dream big, but when a teacher dreams big (especially if that dream might take them out of the classroom) he or she is questioned and scrutinized.

Ambition is defined as “a strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work” and “desire and determination to achieve success”.

In almost any other job, ambition is seen as a positive characteristic. Employees are expected to want to grow, to want to move up the ladder, to be competitive.

But not so much in education.

Don’t get me wrong, of course we want teachers who are excited to work hard in their classrooms and achieve success with their students, but these are not the teachers I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the teachers who are bloggers, TPTers, Consultants. The teachers who are branding themselves, reaching out across social media, and trying to grow beyond their classrooms.

These folks, in my opinion, are judged for their dreams.

Why is that?

My friend and colleague Kristen (@westwoodkristen) and I have discussed this a lot, and we have some thoughts:

Education is considered to be a job of passion. In other words, if you are a teacher, you should want to be a teacher forever. You should be happy to be in the classroom with the students for your entire career. If you truly love teaching, there is no reason you’d ever want to leave, right? But if that feeling ever changes, then you’re not really considered a dedicated teacher, even if you’re a stellar educator.

There are not many outlets for ambitious educators. The usual route up is into administration and the other acceptable routes include becoming counselors or librarians.  And let’s face it, teachers who move into administration are oftentimes criticized as well.

teacher ambition

I know I will not retire from the classroom. And I’ve known that for at least six of my 12 years of teaching. Not because I don’t love teaching, but because I want something more. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I’m built. I want to do more. I want to help more people. I want to work with teachers to help them help their students.  Which is why I blog, and network on social media, and lead PD, and attend conferences, and read PD books, and subscribe to an embarrassing number of education blogs.

So when people ask me “why” I get a little frustrated. Why do you write a blog? Why are you on so many committees? Why do you have a teacher IG account? Why are you on Twitter? Why did you go to that conference on Saturday? Why are you trying to leave?

Ugh. It’s tiring because unless you’re in the same boat, I just can’t explain it to you. I’m just ambitious.

Plus, even when teachers are trying to move beyond the classroom, don’t you think all those things they’re doing are probably making them better teachers in the meantime? I know blogging, reading, writing, networking, presenting, etc. is helping me grow as a teacher. Even though I plan to move out of the classroom eventually, it doesn’t mean I’m not still working my butt off in the meantime.

Here’s my point: stop criticizing or judging ambitious teachers. Let them reach for their dreams. Let them grow and move on if that’s what they desire. Do not assume that their ambition undermines their passion: that is simply not fair.


I’d really, really love to hear your thoughts about this! Please share in the comments or reach out on social media! 🙂


Thanks to an email from Gerard Dawson (who was inspired by Seth Godin), I was inspired to post every day for a week. Hopefully, this will get me out of my slump and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a golden nugget of wisdom to share this week.

10 thoughts on “Stop Shutting Down Ambitious Teachers

  1. Kristy, you are preaching to the choir. Thank you so much for saying what goes unsaid so often. What I find ironic is that, in my experience, the admin who take the critical approach to my ambition were once teachers themselves who moved out of the classroom. (I also have one very high up who never taught–and rarely steps foot in a classroom to this day.) So it’s not so much that they’re critical of my ambition as much as they are threatened by it. That’s right: threatened by it.

    I learned a neat phrase a couple of weeks ago. “Managing your terror.” My friend is a tennis line judge who recently worked the Miami Open. She describes the lightning-quick pace of making decisions as the ball flies at unbelievable speed and how the blink of an eye can mean missing a call. She said that, until you get experienced with your technique, you are managing your terror. The terror is from the fear of being found out.

    I think many admins spend their days managing their terror. (Not at my school, of course.) Meaning that they have a tiny little precious and fragile ego to protect, and anyone or anything that might expose their inadequacy must be managed. That’s where the shutting down comes into play. That’s where getting in the way by denying PD opportunity and stifling innovation and criticizing networking via social media and nitpicking lesson plans and trivializing risk-taking and giving low scores for strategies not used in the 1970s and 1980s. For encouraging chalk-and-talk and death by PowerPoint and all the other boring unengaging stupid things that aren’t instantly recognizable as a teaching strategy from a Teaching 101 textbook.

    By shutting down great teachers with the minutiae of traditional supervision and evaluation, they are redirecting the spotlight of competence away from themselves and onto others who they have control over. They are managing their terror, and the kids are the ultimate victims.

    Okay. Rant over. Thank you for lighting this fire in me.


    • Great points, Chris! Interestingly, I find that more of the criticism for me comes from fellow teachers rather than administration.


      • Yeah, I don’t get too much criticism from fellow teachers. They either are “on board” with what we do–and therefore are happy to follow my lead; or they choose to ignore me as a nuisance. So often I hear, “That Miller is just about the tech” when I am about everything BUT the tech and the tech is just a tool/icing on the cake. The teachers who are “on board” are also difficult to motivate beyond their own classrooms because of their fear. (We have experienced ritual yearly bloodletting of fine teachers who are fired as a message to the rest of us.) I also see that criticism of me by other teachers (for like taking risks and stuff like that) is supported by admin.


  2. Hey Chris,

    How did you get in my head? I wholeheartedly agree with you on so many levels and I appreciate your thoughts on this topic 🙂 I have subscribed to your blog now for a while (and I LOVE the authenticness of your voice) and I would like to know some of the other blogs you follow? I love me a good blog! #SoManyIdeas


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