Today in education, there are far more opportunities for advancement than there have been in years past. Many districts have added positions like reading specialists, curriculum directors, and instructional coaches. The first step, however, in career advancement as a teacher is becoming a lead teacher. While lead teacher positions don’t usually come with a salary increase, they provide leadership experience and recognition that can lead to future opportunities.
What is a Lead Teacher and What Do They Do?
A lead teacher is a teacher that heads a grade level or department. Being a lead teacher can mean a lot of extra responsibilities. Lead teachers are typically experienced teachers that work to help guide and support other teachers in that grade or department. Other teachers in that grade level or department immediately report to their lead teacher regarding problems and concerns with students, curriculum, scheduling, and more.
Some of the duties of lead teachers include:
- Planning – Lead teachers lead grade-level or department planning sessions in which decisions regarding pacing and curriculum will be made. This could also mean developing curriculum and creating and sharing materials.
- Mentoring – When there are new teachers that are part of a team, it is the lead teacher’s responsibility to guide them through their first few years. This may mean helping them with planning, demonstrating lessons, or even counseling them through some of the many trials that first-year teachers
- Grade-level parent communication – In many cases, the lead teacher is responsible for communicating grade-level news with the parents. For example, my first grade team sends a newsletter every week. This informs parents of upcoming events, policy reminders, and the next skills to be studied. It is my responsibility, as lead teacher, to prepare and send home that information regularly.
- Observing/evaluating – Some lead teachers may be called upon to assist the administration in observing and evaluating other teachers. These observations may be more informal and for the purpose of providing guidance to teachers that may be struggling in certain areas. The lead teacher is usually very experienced and can offer some beneficial advice and insight regarding instruction.
- School leadership team – Lead teachers usually serve on a leadership team along with the principal and other lead teachers in the building. This team works together to make important decisions for the school. When vacancies at the school require interviewing candidates, teachers from this team may be invited to participate in the interview process along with the principal.
Advantages of Becoming a Lead Teacher
While a lead teacher position does come with extra responsibility, usually without extra pay, it also comes with some advantages and rewarding experiences.
First of all, becoming a lead teacher, whether in a grade level or upper-level content department, can be a path to other leadership positions. If you are hoping to someday be a principal, district-level coach, or curriculum advisor, then a necessary first step is becoming a lead teacher. Also, as a lead teacher, you will have the opportunity to shape the department or grade that you are working with. This can be very rewarding. When you are able to implement the philosophies or methods that you truly believe in and, as a result, see the success of students benefitting from your ideas, the feeling of accomplishment is amazing!
Another advantage of becoming a lead teacher is increased visibility. Sometimes, especially in large districts, teachers can get overlooked in the massive sea of other teachers in the county or district. If moving up to other administrative/district-level positions is your goal, then bringing positive and professional attention to yourself is necessary. If you have led your team to new heights academically, it will be noticed and your name may be the one that comes to mind when there is a promotion to be filled.
Most importantly, if you want to eventually become an effective school leader, you must have leadership experience. Being a lead teacher is the perfect way to gain that experience while still enjoying the day-to-day of teaching and watching your students grow and learn.
How to Become a Lead Teacher
To become a lead teacher, you should have several years of experience in the same subject or grade level. Volunteer to lead a PLC group or share recently-learned information on a teaching method at the next staff meeting. Don’t be afraid to promote the new and creative methods you have used in your classroom. You could even call in the local newspaper and, while being mindful of your district’s policies and student privacy, promote the student learning that is taking place on social media. These actions will certainly let your principal know that you are a leader and up to a new challenge. Lead teacher positions serve as the next step in a career in education and set you up for the next big move.