During the Spring of my second year teaching it was announced that Tennessee was one of two states to win the federal Race to the Top grant competition. As a teacher who would irresponsibly study the current education policy landscape during times when I should have been supervising my students outside of the classroom, I was intrigued. Soon after, I made the difficult decision to leave the classroom and pursue a master’s degree in education policy in Tennessee, a state so poised for meaningful education reform. The past four years of my life have been consumed by public education – two years as a middle school math teacher and two years as an education policy student. Now I have the incredible opportunity to share this passion with other advocates across Tennessee as the SCORE Outreach Associate.

SCORE advocates for and encourages teachers to become more knowledgeable about the education reforms that will affect their profession and the lives of their students. My experience has been that teachers do not have the gift of time during the school year to seek out insight on education reforms. As a teacher, I had no clue how I could use my knowledge of and passion for education policy to influence positive change in my school. I felt as if I had to choose between teaching and leading.

The reality is that teaching is leading. In 2010, Steve Farr, Chief Knowledge Office at Teach for America, authored a book called Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap. Farr did more than simply write a book. He authored an idea: teachers are leaders of their classroom, and with that role, they deserve additional opportunities for leadership outside of their classroom. Teachers are instructional leaders – building curriculums, designing assessments, and facilitating meaningful collaboration among colleagues to provide practical advice on how to lead all students to the next level. Teachers are environmental leaders – creating and ensuring cultures of support and high expectations, often partnering with the administration in this endeavor. Teachers are research leaders—collecting and analyzing various data and case studies from other successful schools and classrooms that provide invaluable insight for education improvement.

These leadership opportunities should be available to teachers in every school; however, often they are not. In 2013 the U.S. Department of Education will launch the RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) to “retain, promote, and maximize the talents of accomplished teachers and leaders, while creating well-supported roles for novices, by creating career pathways that offer competitive compensation and opportunities for increasingly impactful roles and responsibilities, whether educators choose to stay in the classroom or move into administration.” I am heartened to know that a national initiative will be in place to encourage teacher leadership, and I am especially excited about working with SCORE to advocate for and provide such opportunities.

Educators—like their students—crave learning and leadership opportunities that will allow them to evolve into stronger teachers. No education reform enthusiast should have to decide between teaching and leading. Teaching IS leading, and teachers must be able to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom. In Tennessee, we have the incredible opportunity to empower and equip our teachers to lead in and outside their classrooms. Our teachers deserve nothing less.