Why You Should Become a Lead Teacher

  (Updated February 21, 2022)
Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
K-6 Math Instructional Coach and the Summer Enrichment Academy Coordinator; M.A. in Administration, Leadership, Georgian-Court University, NJ
Female teacher smiling with group of teachers sitting and talking behind her.

How has Teaching and Teacher Leadership been Impacted by COVID

The impact that the pandemic has had on teaching is immeasurable. Teachers were forced to leave everything they knew and transition to a virtual learning environment with the snap of a finger. Working from home is something that teachers never dreamed of doing, but it has become something that they know all too well for the past two years.

Teacher leadership has also been impacted as mentoring became more difficult during the pandemic. New teachers had to rely on Google Meets, phone calls, and emails to learn the ropes. It was also uncharted territory, so the so-called ropes were those that veteran teachers had not begun to climb. Teacher burnout is real, as there are educators leaving their career to find a new one or retire at a faster pace than they can be replaced.

School districts have been left in unique situations as staffing their buildings each day has become a difficult task. The previously existing gaps widened, and it became difficult for teachers to address the various needs of all the different learners and levels within their classrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic has left a significant and quite severe impact on the teaching profession.

What is a Lead Teacher and What do They Do?

A lead teacher job description is essentially a teacher that is the head of a grade level or a department. Lead teachers impact the overall grade level or school goals, as their role is broader than that of being in their classroom. These are experienced teachers that support other teachers in a variety of ways.

One way that lead teachers help other teachers is by serving as a mentor for new teachers. New teachers must be provided a mentor by the district, so what better person than a lead teacher to provide that guidance? Lead teachers can model lessons for their mentees and show, not tell, how to teach effectively.

Another responsibility for lead teachers is to create pacing guides and help other teachers to plan lessons. In this manner, it is ensured that all standards and skills are addressed. As a lead teacher, you are experienced in curriculum and can provide guides to help other teachers reach their classroom goals.

As a lead teacher, oftentimes teachers will come to you for guidance in dealing with many different situations. From scheduling, curriculum, students, parents, and planning, you will face various challenges in helping classroom teachers address their specific needs. Being approachable, friendly, and knowledgeable are all important traits for a lead teacher to possess.

Advantages of Becoming a Lead Teacher

When you become a lead teacher, you can impact the lives and achievements of more students than in your classroom alone. Working with many different teachers gives you the opportunity to positively impact an entire grade level or department. In my classroom, I always felt that I could influence and change the lives of my students, but in my role as an instructional coach (similar to a lead teacher, which I once was), I now feel I have the ability to reach so many more students.

Becoming a lead teacher can create a leadership path for yourself. It gives you a different experience and different perspective than being in your classroom and can be a stepping stone to other careers in education if you so choose. It is always good to broaden your horizons and see things from a variety of points of view. It helps to make you a stronger educator and adds to your value in not just your school, but in your district.

As a lead teacher, your visibility increases by leaps and bounds. As I mentioned before, I am an instructional coach, and I work in four different buildings with seven different grade levels. I am constantly chatting with teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and any others working in the district to gain a clear picture of the needs of the students and teachers. I am visible in each building almost every day. This helps build relationships with the school communities which is important for teacher leaders as well!

How to Become a Lead Teacher

The first step to becoming a lead teacher is deciding what you want to do! To be a lead teacher, school districts generally look for years of experience in the particular grade level or subject area that they are hiring for. Putting in extra effort by volunteering to lead committees or parent nights for parent engagement at your school is also a great way to show that you are a leader.

Providing teachers with professional development is another way to show your interest in a lead teacher position. Presenting a workshop and providing resources to teachers is a great way to take the initiative and show off your leadership abilities. In the school I used to work in, we would have a “Workshop Wednesday” during which teachers would present topics they were passionate about. Teachers could attend the workshop during their prep period and earn professional development hours while learning from their peers.

Various universities and post-graduate programs provide teacher leader certifications or teacher leader endorsements. This type of certification can give you an edge when applying for lead teacher positions.

Leading your grade level´s Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, are another way to show your leadership capabilities. In a PLC, you would lead your teachers to review data, set learning goals, reflect on teaching practices, explore resources, and apply all this to new learning.

All in all, school districts are hiring many more teacher leaders, data coaches, and instructional coaches than ever before. The need for teacher leadership roles is becoming more apparent as schools are trying to recuperate from the COVID-19 pandemic. As Rosalynn Carter stated, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t want to go but ought to be.”

A lead teacher is just the same. Sometimes tough conversations need to be had, but at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to have a lasting, positive impact on student achievement. There is no better way to do that than through the people delivering the lessons: our teachers. Lead teachers can have a lasting impact on the teachers, which will trickle down to the students and create for the best possible learning experiences.

*Updated February 2022
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