07/11/2012 11:44 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Teachers on Leading From Within

This blog post is part of a series of teachers' reflections on the factors that keep them in the classroom, or draw them out. Read teachers' thoughts on the students who keep them teaching, an argument for stepping out of the classroom temporarily in order to stay in it, and one teacher's bittersweet decision to leave the classroom.

Marisol Castillo, E.L. Haynes Public Charter High School, Washington, DC:

I have known I wanted to be a teacher since my junior year in high school. Now in my eighth year teaching, I've faced many of the challenges that drove some of my colleagues away: large classes with limited resources, students who present both academic and behavioral challenges, long hours without lucrative pay. But I'm still here and plan on continuing on this path for the foreseeable future.

I've stayed because every school in which I've taught has pushed me to be a leader and expert in my field. They needed me to be an effective team member and create opportunities for students, and they gave me the tools to do that. At my schools, I've been expected to work with a team to create curricula that meets students where they are; I've been given the opportunity to develop a school-wide performance assessment, and I've helped craft the academic standards students need to meet to graduate.

Like many of my colleagues, I've taught students who initially spoke little or no English and managed not only to graduate but to do so with honors, entering prestigious universities. I've seen parents cry with pride as their child crosses the graduation stage because that child is the first in the family to walk that path. I've received graduation invitations from former students who about to enter a new stage in their lives: post-college. The school environments I've taught in enabled these successes, and helped me play at least a small role in enacting change for young people who deserve the chance to excel.

That's why I've stayed.

Darrell Hugueley, Cordova Middle School, Memphis, TN:

I love being in the classroom, but it is the opportunity to be part of the transformation of public education that has kept me there.

For the last three years, I have been a teacher voice for education reform in my district, especially regarding teacher effectiveness. It is critical that the voices of classroom teachers like me are part of education reform. To achieve this, I've joined three policy committees; I've given input at several teacher voice convenings; and I've attended forums hosted by my district to solicit teacher feedback. I have proudly served as a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow, and facilitated teacher discussions at Teach Plus Network Events. All these and other opportunities have allowed me to give forthright insight to key leaders on what is working and what is not in the new district initiatives.

My district, Memphis City Schools, is still some way from actualizing all the reforms they have envisioned. One of the obstacles is a leadership vacuum in the wake of the recent resignation of our action-oriented deputy superintendent. There is also the pending merger of the city and county school systems. Since this is the largest school district consolidation in history, there are many questions about what the new district will look like, which policies will necessarily be changed or abandoned, and most importantly for me and many others, what will happen with Memphis' teacher effectiveness and evaluation initiatives. I want to give the changes we have made so far a chance to make a difference. I am confident in the leaders who are on the transition committee, but I know the transition will be challenging for everyone, at least for a while.

For now, I am staying in the classroom because I hope to see a better school system in place when all the dust settles. I have a lot of my fingerprints on upcoming compensation initiatives, evaluation reforms, and even in the area of the changing role of principals. If the current momentum in education reform for my district is maintained, I want to be a teacher leader in the new system. Teacher leadership opportunities are critical for keeping teachers like me in the classroom. I will always be a voice for teacher effectiveness, and I will always speak up for positive change for children. I hope that I can stay in the classroom and do that.