Financially Sustainable Career Paths for Teachers

Follow the money. Usually good advice to find out what’s actually important—or not—to people or organizations, regardless of the values they profess. In education, what’s most striking is where the money doesn’t go: to a variety of engaging roles and opportunities for education professionals, and expanded impact and opportunity for those who demonstrate excellence. In everyday lingo, that’s called “career paths.”

Public Impact has published new career paths stemming from our school models that use job redesign and technology to reach more students with excellent teaching. These models enable excellent teachers to expand their positive impact on students, and many allow additional time for planning, collaboration, and development—so all teachers can improve.

Prior decades are littered with abandoned efforts to create teacher career paths. Well-intended new efforts risk falling into the same traps. To understand how our career paths are different, it helps to understand what hasn’t worked previously. The fatal flaws of most teaching career paths include:

  • No pay increases. Career advancement often does not come with more pay. Or, add-on pay disappears when special money runs out. Instead of being a compliment, promotions become a reminder to our best teachers of how little their profession values their excellence.
  • Financially unsustainable roles. When schools pay for advanced roles with temporary, special funding, and when new roles do not produce a sustainable financial benefit to schools, even schools that value excellence dearly cannot pay for it.
  • Too few options. Narrow choices have typically been limited to instructional specialists who provide differentiation outside the classroom and “master” or “mentor” roles responsible for coaching other teachers. Coaching is an important role, as is differentiating instruction. But today, these are the only school-level advancement options in the profession, other than becoming a principal.
  • Limited authority. Mentors and specialists typically have no authority. Their advice is useful only if a classroom teacher chooses to adopt their successful methods and techniques.
  • Limited accountability. Mentors typically have no accountability for mentees’ success with students. Data about students whom specialists help are not tracked formally as they are for classroom teachers. So, essentially, many of the best teachers are removed from responsibility for students, rather than having enhanced responsibility.

Public Impact’s career paths, built from school models with input from many partners, address all of these flaws. What makes our career options different?

We give educators at least 15 career paths to choose from. These options allow teachers who achieve excellence to advance, earn more within regular budgets, enhance their authority within schools, and keep clear responsibility and credit for helping more students learn.

The paths include:

  • Teacher-leader roles, in which excellent teachers extend their reach by leading multiple classrooms and a team of teachers—allowing teachers to develop leadership skills earlier in their careers, while helping peers improve their performance immediately.
  • Specialist jobs that let elementary teachers focus on their best subjects and roles.
  • Blended-learning roles that enable teachers to extend their reach by swapping enough teaching time with digital instruction to teach more students, focus on higher-order thinking skills, and increase planning and collaboration time.
  • Remotely located roles that let excellent teachers teach and take responsibility for students anywhere, using new technologies like webcams that allow teachers to connect with students.
  • Boundless teaching roles that let teachers create video lessons, design software, and develop curricula and assessments for limitless numbers of students.
  • Team-teaching roles that allow solid and developing teachers to learn from excellent teachers, focus on their strengths, and pursue advancement, too.

New paraprofessional roles, such as tutors, learning coaches, and lab monitors, make it possible for teachers to save time and reach more students. When people in these jobs enable excellent teachers to help more students, they too can earn more.

Instead of the mixed signals of most education career paths, these send a clear, sustainable message that schools value teaching excellence and their great teachers’ positive impact on students, peers, and their profession. This is just one aspect—but a critical one—of building an Opportunity Culture for teachers.

-Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan Hassel

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