This past August, I started my 8th year as an educator, and this will be my third year as an administrator. With almost a decade in the profession, the importance has grown for me each year. I have probably impacted close to 1,000 students over my career. I have seen a lot. There are situations that I have experienced as an educator I was not prepared for in college. My mental portfolio is filled with great memories, exciting triumphs, and even some disappointments. All and all, I would not trade any of them. They have all been important in getting me where I am today in my career.
Now that I have transitioned out of the classroom, I find myself talking a lot with teachers about their next steps and their plans. I spent five years in the classroom before transitioning out. I see teachers who have hit the decade mark as a teacher. Many educators I have spoken too have expressed exhaustion and loneliness once they reached the decade mark in this profession. I recalled a conversation with a friend who was entering his tenth year as a teacher. He told me that early on in his journey as a teacher, he considered leaving the profession and going into law. He eventually recognized that teaching felt like a calling, but he still questions the longevity of teaching. Being a big sports fan, we used the analogy of football. He said teaching used to be like being an NFL quarterback. You could teach for twenty to twenty-five years and never really feel burnt out and be alright. Now teaching in this generation is a lot harder and the life span of a teacher is more like an NFL running back. Usually, five to ten years before you begin feeling burnt out and contemplating a new career path.
He told me his parents would always ask, “What does being a teacher look like in 10, 20 years? Do you want to teach forever, or do you move on and do something else?” I asked him the same question. I knew I did not want to teach forever, but I did expect to teach longer than five years. He told me after teaching ten years he did not know what is next. He knows he does not want to leave the profession, nor does he want to leave the classroom. He said he does not know what leadership opportunities exist for those like him that want to remain in the classroom but wanted a change of pace.
This is an all too common feeling for many teachers like my friend. While many professionals follow a career trajectory, teachers lack a clear path. Those that want to remain teachers do not see positions outside the classrooms as a path in teaching. People in other industries have clear paths. People who work in banking or finance often begin as assistant analysts and eventually become account managers. Those that choose the military they also have a clear path.
In teaching the opportunities for growth and pathways need to be clear and transparent. What are the levels of teaching? Let’s look at the army. When you enlist, there are ranks: private, private first class, specialist, corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant major command sergeant major, sergeant major of the army.
Clear and transparent pathways are what is missing in teaching. I believe we need a model that allows teachers to remain teachers and not be given extra duties and extra meetings as a sign of promotion, but instead, respect and acknowledges their value and their wishes to remain a teacher.
A career pathway in teaching could be like this:
- Resident Teacher– someone who has graduated with a degree but teaches underneath the guidance of another teacher for a year before being responsible for students on their own.
- Novice teacher– the first few years after the resident teaching experience where they have students on their own, but still require a coach as they gain more experience.
- Teacher– has shown the ability to have more independence as a teacher and has moved out of the ranking as a novice teacher.
- Mentor teacher– has shown the ability to serve as a mentor to those teachers in their resident teaching experience and novice teaching years.
- Master Teacher– They are the lead teacher in the building. They are still a classroom teacher, but they are the go-to teacher in regard to best practice and have received national board certification in teaching. They have proven results in student performance, and they teach a small group of the most challenging children.
There is more that would need to be fleshed out regarding this pathway, but something along this line would be a lot clearer than what we have.
I think back to my friend entering year ten and him thinking about what is next for him. He is a great teacher and one that I believe will remain in the profession. I hope he has an opportunity to do more by remaining in the classroom and I hope he does not leave because he sees no other path.