Education Opinion

A ‘Career Options’ Plan for Teachers

By Vivian Troen & Katherine C. Boles — September 24, 1986 6 min read

At a career conference held recently in a large Massachusetts high school, the entire student body was asked, “How many of you are considering a career in teaching?” Out of 1,127 students, one hand went up.

That scene illustrated for us a basic problem: While the exodus of veteran teachers from our schools has begun, the potential candidates to replace them are simply not choosing to enter teaching. Moreover, the tendency of the most academically able students to enter other fields has become painfully obvious.

We must attract better candidates with the promise of a stimulating career. We must give them better preservice and inservice training; we must keep teachers in the profession. To improve the quality of education, we must change the nature of the teaching profession.

As two teachers committed to change in education, we have spent more than a year talking to our colleagues--in teachers’ rooms, hallways, staff meetings, and parking lots--about what should be done to improve the profession. What we have learned from these conversations leads us to one inescapable conclusion: It is time for classroom practitioners to lead the debate on what is to be done about our schools.

Teaching is now a single-level career in which the practitioner IS given the same responsibilities day after day, year after year. The demands of the first day on the job are the same as on the last. Potential for career growth is severely limited in this “careerless profession.”

We are encouraged that the recent Carnegie and Holmes reports have focused national attention on teachers and that many of the reports’ ideas reflect what we ourselve have concluded at the grassroots level. The Holmes Group, for example, supports our contention that teachers--"the one best hope for reform"--should be able to take on new jobs without leaving teaching. Likewise, we applaud the Carnegie task force’s proposal to define progressive levels of skill, responsibility, and reward in the profession.

It may be that such proposals signal a sea change in how teachers are regarded, but recommendations are only words. We await the response of state legislature’ and local school boards.

In the meantime, we are happy to report that some of our own proposals for increasing teachers’ professional opportunities--ideas growing out of interviews with colleagues and other research--are being considered in our district, the Brookline (Mass.) Public Schools.

Two years ago, while we were members of the superintendent’s faculty advisory committee in our district, we proposed a career-option plan for teachers. As a result of our lobbying, the superintendent designated the improvement of staff development as one of his goals for 1985-86, and established a staff-development task force to examine the issue.

The task force incorporated our ideas into a larger staff-development package and presented it to the Brookline School Committee last spring. The committee’s positive response prompted more discussion over the summer, which resulted in a specific plan for implementation. That plan will be presented to the school committee this fall. We are hopeful that career options for teachers will be part of Brookline’s staff-development offerings.

Our proposal called for new teacher occupations, such as:

• Teacher/trainer.

• Teacher/researcher.

• Teacher/curriculum writer.

These new occupations would open up new career possibilities for teachers within the profession, and at the same time encourage academically able students to pursue teaching careers.

Teachers would not leave classroom teaching in order to take on these new occupations; they would be performed during classroom hours. (A few part-time teachers, hired to teach one or two subjects each, would free up teachers to pursue these new occupational opportunities.) Teachers would not be required to choose any of the options, but they would be free to do so at any point in their careers.

Here is how we envision the three options:

Teacher/trainer: Responsibility for the professional training of teachers, currently the sole responsibility of teacher-training institutions, should be shared with specially trained classroom teachers known as teacher/trainers. Teachers interested in training new teachers should be given the opportunity to spend part of the day instructing and supervising teacher interns and part of the day teaching in their own classrooms.

Teacher/researcher: A former classroom teacher told us how stimulating it had been when researchers came into her classroom to observe her unique methods for teaching writing. When the researchers left, she missed that stimulation so much that she left, too. She is now doing full-time graduate work at a local university, and says she won’t be coming back to teaching. If there had been an opportunity to become a teacher/researcher, she would have stayed.

Such teacher/researchers would conduct instruction-related research and development in the schools, thus bringing research more directly into contact with the workplace. Teacher/researchers would bridge the gap between university research and school practice and would make it possible for new teachers to aspire to research roles without leaving the schools.

Teacher/curriculum writer: “Another teacher in my school and I piloted a social studies text,” one teacher from another district told us. ''And teachers in other schools did, too. But we never met, and never discussed our findings. After a while the text was assigned, and we were told by the administration: ‘This text has been piloted in your school,’ as if it had passed our evaluation. This kind of tactic makes you wonder if the text hadn’t already been chosen and our so-called piloting was just an exercise in politics. You begin to think: Why bother?”

Curriculum development should be put into the hands of teacher/curriculum writers. Assisted by such teachers, other classroom teachers would pilot, evaluate, and implement new programs, activities, and materials. The aim is to make teachers legitimate decisionmakers in the planning process, with responsibility for systematically and routinely updating and evaluating all curriculum areas.

Establishing career options within teaching is just the first step toward improving the profession. As the second step, we favor abolishing the bachelor’s degree in education and establishing ''teaching schools” (selected from existing schools) to offer two-year internships for college graduates who wish to enter the profession. This one I change would, we predict, dramatically improve the quality and increase the size of the pool of teaching candidates.

Teacher education on the graduate level should be linked to the university as the natural place for building a knowledge base. University affiliation is therefore vital. However, university education must be firmly rooted in real schools; courses must be taught by professors who have backgrounds in classroom teaching. In addition, teacher/trainers should be granted faculty status at universities, while also continuing to teach at the precollegiate level.

As the third step toward upgrading the profession, we advocate making sabbaticals and improved inservice training an integral part of teaching careers.

Sabbaticals would help attract and retain new and better candidates. They would provide an avenue for increased stimulation and creativity and would help prevent teacher burnout. Implementation of a well-planned and carefully run sabbatical policy would improve teacher recruitment, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Inservice training is now generally considered an add-on that takes place after a full workday. Instead, such training, using the combined efforts of teachers and administrators, should be conducted during school hours as a meaningful part of teachers’ workweeks.

The reforms we support would not be cheap. Their implementation would certainly add to what is currently being spent on education. But we must face the fact that teaching, as a career, is saddled with a 19th-century model. It is obsolete. It needs to be reinvented. If this cannot be done, then education is in more serious trouble than even the most pessimistic of assessors have dared suggest.

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 1986 edition of Education Week as A ‘Career Options’ Plan for Teachers