Big Time Internal Debate #2 of 2

“Big” might be overstating things. “Urgent” certainly would be. But I see two paths ahead with very little ground shared between them:

  1. Get a doctorate. Teach teachers.
  2. Get an administrative credential. Lead teachers.

Do I have that right? Is that how this thing splits? Anyone who’s confronted these options, how did you settle them?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Are you in it for the money? If you really like working with kids, why leave the classroom? The kids will lose you, someone who is genuinely interested in getting material across to your kids, with a big “who knows?”.

    In my years of experience, administrators don’t lead teachers. Some may have believed that was what they were getting into, but they end up dealing with discipline, both with kids and teachers.

  2. But doesn’t the world need good administrators as well as it needs good teachers? And why isn’t it possible to have a principal who is a real leader?

  3. Here’s how I settled it:
    Don’t get a doctorate. Don’t get an administrative credential. Get an MEd on top of my MA, and consider continuing to get various Masters degrees in various disciplines for the rest of my life. Continue to teach students, and maybe teachers too. Maybe get a doctorate someday, if it doesn’t interfere with any of the above.

    Granted, I haven’t permanently closed the question, but this is what I have so far.

  4. My first reaction is “NOOOOO don’t leave the classroom.” Aside from the personal aspect of this reaction (I’ll miss your lesson plans), it makes me sad when teachers, who can (and do) effectively teach mathematics and reach students, leave the classroom.

    My question for you is what is your goal? When you close your eyes, where do you see yourself ten years from now? Picture yourself as an administrator: What are you doing? Are you happy? What effect are you having on students learning? Then do the same for Dan the College Professor.

    Also, I’m not sure that the two options are mutually exclusive.

  5. Great question, Dan. For me, as a school counselor, I’ve had to decide if I’m a counselor working in a school, or I’m a school guy working as a counselor. If the former, it made sense to do the doctorate thing and look for a prof gig somewhere. If the latter, it made sense to go toward school admin. I chose the latter, mainly because I’ve worked in k-12 schools most of my adult life. I feel that that is where I’m best able and equipped to lead.

    I’m not going to pretend to be able to sit here and tell you one way or another, but this is how it worked for me. In the end, you’ll need to do some soul searching and listen to the opinions of a few people you can rely on for information like that.

    Best of luck to you deciding. This is an exciting time in your life.

  6. Great insite from Rick. Here’s my expansion on the ‘Who am I’ idea.

    Classroom or Office, boardroom, community event, etc.
    Pre-career, Young Adults or Career, All ages
    University Teacher Ed Ciricu. or Whatever facilitates good teaching and learning.??
    (Of course, this is not truly an ‘or’, there’s a blur to the line.)

    It’s about your personality and where you feel you’re at your best. And, I wouldn’t discount the adminstrator idea, or let teacher scare you out of it. (See below.)

    Both Paths:
    I agree with previous comments about being one step removed from kids. But, it’s not that you wouldn’t have an impact on students it’s just different; more global and indirect.

    From my limited teaching experience, an administrator has a huge impact creating a school environment conducive to collaborative teaching and learning. Supported, comfortable, confident teachers who collaborate create a great classroom atmosphere. But, many administrators I know sacrifice to get there schools to those places. Going to bat for, defending, and promoting your school at tons of meetings and late night events doesn’t play out so well on the social life. For better or for worse admins come up in teacher conversations really often.

    Ed Prof.
    Much of my philosophy of ed. was worked out in school. Some of it has been reworked by practice and some still holds. Good guidance in developing your foundational beliefs about ed has great impact on teaching style.

    Alternate idea:
    Stay in the classroom and be a Master Teacher…
    Who doesn’t teach like/or exactly opposite to the style of their master teacher? That’s having an impact.

    Big Question:
    Where do I want to be in 10 years? Achievements, lifestyle, relationships, etc…

    Next Steps:
    Ask people who have those degrees what they do, and if it was worth it. Maybe you need one of the degrees for what you’re shooting for. Maybe you don’t need either?

    Keep me posted. I bailed on the doctorate after finishing the MoE. Well, I guess I bailed on the classroom ed part too, for the time being. So, who am I to talk.

  7. Good question…. for me, the decision is whether to pursue an Ed.D., a Ph.D., or stay put with my M.A. I could envision staying in the (secondary) classroom with the Ed.D., whereas the Ph.D. would more certainly mean heading off to higher ed to teacher upcoming math teachers….. I had a *really* great masters program, good enough to leave me wanting more, so I hope that I keep the ball rolling sometime in the next few years [both of my parents have some health issues and right now I want to focus more on that than on another degree]. A substantial part of me wants to remain in the classroom for the long haul; virtually none of me wants to become an administrator so I’m not torn in the same way that you are. However, I have a strong interest in math curricular issues that might take me off to teach in a college/university someday.

    I’m certainly going to keep listening to see how you wrestle this one out!

  8. Maybe the question you want to ask yourself is, “At what level do I want to make change?” Principals can theoretically affect more kids than teachers, although their distance from those kids is greater. Professors can theoretically affect more kids than principals (via the teachers / administrators with whom they teach / interact), but their distance from students is even greater. Through my work with schools (and online!), I know that I am positively impacting many more students than I ever did as a teacher, but there’s also not a day goes by that I don’t miss my 8th-graders (and it’s been 13 years now). Drop me a line if you ever want to chat mano-a-mano about this (particularly since you’re going to be hell on whatever grad program you choose (wink) – it better be a good one!)…

    “[T]here are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader. Many other factors may contribute to such turnarounds, but leadership is the catalyst.”

  9. Dan, I really don’t know you well enough to judge this, but when you consider being an administrator I would ask you this, how will you deal with adults who are not on your program?

    You have a VERY strong and good program for your classroom, each step away from the classroom, you will have less control over what goes on there. Will you be able to tolerate other adults. Also, how well do you think they will tolerate you? (I don’t mean this in a mean way–like you think oh, you’re so smart, just that you need to self-evaluate)

    I bring this up because I’ve seen some fantastic classroom teachers who become martinets as administrators. If you’re in public school in Calif. you won’t be able to fire at will, how will you work with teachers who are not up to your standard?

    Here was a checklist I made awhile back about signs of wanting to be an administrator:

  10. Dan,

    As you figure out what works for you, here’s the road I traveled. I chose “Get a Doctorate. Lead Teachers”. The doctorate gave me a ton of tools that have enabled me to affect change on our campus. Though I miss teaching kids, I get to work with teachers who are hungry for competent, caring administrators and I get to be in classrooms with kids every day who think I’m the big man on campus. It helps being 6′ 4″ in elementary school. Leading a school community towards a common vision is quite a blast. It doesn’t hurt that my 1st grade daughter goes to the school and I get to hang out with her at the same time.

  11. Thanks for the testimony. If Rich and Scott didn’t pipe up I was gonna ask what you both thought of things. Nice, also, to see some new voices. Glad to have you folks around.

    That said, can anyone describe the overlap between an administrative credential and a doctorate?

    An administrative credential doesn’t permit college-level teaching but is the converse also true? I feel like I’m missing some options here?


    Dan, what position do you hold with a doctorate on campus? Did you get a doctorate and an admin credential? I wasn’t aware the coursework overlapped much but what I don’t know about either programs could fill libraries.

    Thanks, team.