Note: Zak Champagne, an award-winning teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, is guest-posting this week.
First and foremost I am blown away by the amazing and thoughtful remarks in reference to my first post, “Just a Teacher.” (If you haven’t read that post, it will most likely make more sense to read it first.) It is a topic that has perplexed me for quite some time and I am thrilled that it has resonated with so many. Having said that, I definitely left some ambiguity in the last paragraph of my previous post. If it is so simple to fix the “just a teacher” predicament that we have created, then what does it really look like?
I would like to begin by clarifying and qualifying a few things.
1. In essence the answer to the problem is simple...create a classroom career ladder for teachers. Make sure that there are pathways built into the system that would allow teachers to distinguish themselves socially and financially. Make it so we can stay in the classroom and advance, not be pushed out of the classroom.
2. It cannot be one person (or one group) to define what that looks like. We need all the stakeholders at the table--including researchers, policymakers, administrators, and especially teachers--to delineate each path and how teachers would attain different levels.
Having put forth these qualifications, and since many of you asked, I do have a few suggestions for what this ladder could entail. I think a definite step in the right direction would be to create true “mentor” teachers. Master teachers who have a full time classroom of their own who could meet and share best practices with other teachers in their school. There is one VERY important qualification. These mentor teachers must have a full time classroom of their own. This is key for two reasons. The first is simple: if they stay in the classroom, they will have the most direct impact on students. Number two is a bit more contentious: educators that are not in the classroom lose credibility with current classroom teachers because they are not perceived as one of us. I am not saying that this is right or acceptable at all...it is just part of the deal. This mentor teacher would be a current classroom teacher that would be supplemented monetarily and would have some release time during the day to model lessons, meet with teachers, and perhaps work with the leadership at the school to plan professional development. However, there must be some clear and concise criteria that these teachers must meet. I am not sure exactly what it would look like, but these mentor teachers cannot be just average or above average teachers...they would need to be exceptional and would need to be able to demonstrate that.
Another option would be to create pathways for exceptional teachers to spend more time TEACHING! We spend an exorbitant amount of time on things that are not considered teaching. Don’t get me wrong here...I don’t want to sound like I am complaining about bus duty, or lunch duty, or all the tedious paperwork...but the fact is that there are kids that need to be taught during those times and we have got to find a way to get exceptional teachers to them! This path would be one where teachers would need more planning time (which they should be compensated for) and those duties would be relieved by others while this exceptional educator would actually teach.
A third opportunity would be for teachers to become more active in research, policy, and community organizations. These classroom teachers would need networks of others to become fluent in this work. However, it could potentially make an enormous impact by working to clarify the complexity of what actually happens in the classroom, as well as raise the social status of teachers. When we become the experts in and out of the classroom, the “just a teacher” label can begin to be peeled away. As I am sure many of you know, this type of work is currently being done with the New Millennium Initiative with the Center for Teaching Quality. Barnett Berry and company also made a great video that can be found here if you would like some more information. The part that focuses on teachers can be found around the 2:40 minute mark.
I believe a clear ladder to stay “in” the classroom may be one of the most crucial components in continuing to make our students more successful nationally and globally. After all, if we are losing our most dynamic teachers because they feel there are only pathways “out” of the classroom, then how will we continue to teach tomorrow’s students?
The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.