InClass

Nicole Wolff, an instructional coach from the Avondale Elementary School District, shares her motives for teacher leadership. Mrs. Ulrich was my favorite teacher, and I believed I was the luckiest kid in the world because I had her for second through fourth grade. She brought out a passion for lear

Jul 30, 2018

Nicole Wolff, an instructional coach from the Avondale Elementary School District, shares her motives for teacher leadership.


Mrs. Ulrich was my favorite teacher, and I believed I was the luckiest kid in the world because I had her for second through fourth grade. She brought out a passion for learning in me that I didn’t know I had. She possessed the perfect balance of kindness and sternness, humor and intensity, doggedness and flexibility. I wanted to be just like her.

I romanticized becoming a teacher, and I dreamt of having a beautifully decorated classroom with an unlimited amount of supplies. I imagined I would be respected and revered as an expert in my field. I planned to work hard, but the school years would always end a success with everyone being thankful for my dedication.

Luckily, I had a fabulous student teaching experience that validated my teaching fantasy, but I hadn’t thought much about my pre-teaching anticipations until I was asked, “What do you wish you had known before you became a teacher?”

I got to thinking … How is the reality of teaching in Arizona different from my fantasy? Let me tell you. Here are the things I wish I had known:

  1. … I would go eight years without a raise (and even receive pay reductions during the recession). Even more, I wish I had known how many people would be completely OK with me going eight years without a pay increase.

  2. … how much of my own money I would spend on my classroom and the cost of all the coursework needed to maintain my teaching certificate.

  3. … despite my increasing workload and decreasing compensation, some people would still think I don’t work hard enough; after all I get summers off [insert sarcastic tone].

  4. … how often I would have to passionately defend my profession and clarify misinformation to non-educators.

  5. … my job would be made so much harder by the decisions of politicians with no educational expertise.

  6. … how micromanaged Arizona schools are, and that even when teachers have great ideas to improve schools, they are rarely heard — much less implemented.

  7. … how deeply I would care, how passionate I would be, and how completely and totally dedicated I would ultimately become to public education. Had I known this I might have started speaking out sooner.


For all of the things “I wish I had known,” I would still choose to be a public school educator. I still believe with all of my being in the children I work with and the power that education has in their lives. There is absolutely nothing else I would rather do. However, my passion has expanded and grown and now includes the educators, their needs, and the severity of the neglect they have faced in recent years.

For our children to succeed, we must nurture and value their teachers and the system in which they work. This is why I’m a teacher leader. I’m proud of my profession and of all the amazing educators in our schools. I will continue to raise my voice on behalf of teachers in the hope that one day I won’t need to.

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