Just as we now recognize that no one instructional approach works for all children, no one job description outlines the set of duties for all teachers.
What will it take to create and support a core teacher workforce in the high-stakes-assessment environment of the No Child Left Behind Act? School systems are trying to answer this question at a time of not only increased requirements and heightened accountability, but also rising poverty rates, static achievement gaps, growing union demands, and dwindling resources. The district redesign plans they are undertaking to meet the rigors of federal law must and can include a total rethinking of the teacher-compensation system.
Teacher-workforce solutions in most school systems tend to be on the margins: We negotiate additional stipends, per-diem rates of pay, workshop rates of pay, curriculum rates of pay, and other methods of adding bits of time and compensation. We work in this piecemeal fashion because we have not created a compelling vision of what a new teacher-compensation system might look like. Without such a vision, current systems will not change.
We must stop working around the edges of this issue and restructure the whole concept of teacher work and compensation. For such a redesign, we must first recognize that many adults today want to have multiple careers, both inside and outside of education. We also must recognize that people enter teaching to work with children; they typically don’t aspire to become administrators. Yet they do seek an a voice in the decisions that affect their classrooms and their working conditions.
We also must factor into our analysis the fact that we are asking teachers to do a multitude of duties outside the classroom. In addition to teaching, we expect them to perform leadership functions, participate in school improvement decisions, monitor school progress, and involve parents in classroom activities. The list of expectations, pressures, and demands is long, and all of its various parts are issued in the name of “leaving no child behind.” It is time to redesign the work/compensation structure of our teaching force to reflect these developments.
The work/compensation system of the future must recognize five current realities:
1. Teaching is a full-time profession and can no longer be viewed under an “hourly” employment paradigm of so many hours per day and so many days per year.
2. Teachers no longer just teach. To be successful, they must perform a multitude of duties in and out of the classroom.
3. There can be multiple careers within the teaching profession, none of which necessarily needs to include the title “administrator.”
4. Educators must be compensated as well as comparably trained professionals.
5. We must look within a school system’s current resource pool, over time, to make changes. Additional resources may become available if we restructure the work of teachers as well as their work year.
Beyond simply taking these realities into account, we must shift our view of leadership: We must move from a hierarchical model to a shared-leadership model. Today, we are expecting shared decisionmaking and shared leadership responsibilities in school improvement efforts, yet most school structures don’t reflect this. To make progress, we will have to believe—and show that we believe—in the power of shared decisionmaking and shared leadership across multiple school responsibilities.
Finally, to fully embrace a set of professional expectations, professional roles, and professional salaries, we must recognize that the work year (and day) can and should vary within schools and across school systems. Just as we now recognize that no one instructional approach works for all children, no one job description outlines the set of duties for all teachers. Nor does one work calendar address the variety of necessary roles and functions in any school. We must rethink current roles and responsibilities in education and design a system that will work in this “high-stakes, high-standards-for-all-students” environment.
The new model I propose is based on teachers’ opting for and being selected into one of many role options. The options include not only the current set of teaching responsibilities—the traditional role—but also an additional set of role options that would form the core of the redesigned school system.
We must rethink current roles and responsibilities in education and design a system that will work in this “high-stakes, high- standards-for-all- students” environment.
These role options would be built around the core functions of the school. All schools must provide leadership to the entire school community, for example. This function has moved beyond the confines of the principal’s office and typically includes a leadership team made up of teachers and community members as well as the principal. School leadership also includes coordination between school levels—elementary, middle, and high schools. Both of these leadership functions must occur outside the 180-day school year, and they are probably best addressed before the school year starts.
Training and mentoring of new staff members is another necessary leadership function, especially with the No Child Left Behind law’s “highly qualified” staff requirements. This function begins before the school year starts, but must also be ongoing throughout the year. The work calendar for this function is necessarily different from the calendar for the other leadership functions.
All of these new teacher-leadership functions are in addition to the normal 180-day teaching duties. Each underscores the importance of teachers as leaders and decisionmakers in other necessary school endeavors. Because the time demands are different, each will require a different work calendar. But all of the new roles are based on the same lengthened work year: 11 months, instead of the current 10 months.
A complete list of proposed teacher roles includes the following:
School-Improvement Teacher Leader: 11 months of work (including the normal teaching duties), plus additional school leadership responsibilities that are shared with the principal.
Feeder/Cluster-Improvement Teacher Leader: 11 months of work (including normal teaching assignment) focused on connections to and collaboration with schools within a K-12 cluster that students will attend during their school years.
New-Teacher Trainer/Mentor: 11 months of work (including normal teaching assignment) focused on training new teachers prior to the start of school, and mentoring new staff members during the school year.
Extended Student Learning: 11 months of work (including normal teaching assignment) focused on tutoring and nurturing students performing below grade level. Such work would be done after school, during school breaks, and at other times as needed to “leave no child behind.”
Student-Transition Leadership: 11 months of work (including normal teaching assignment) focused on analysis of individual students’ academic and social progress, and coordination of support services for children needing added social or transition skills.
Traditional Role: 180 school days, plus some additional preparation and training days; this includes “normal” duties that are essentially the same as current teaching duties.
Many of these functions are already being addressed in school systems. We often devote a great deal of money to them, but we do so on a piecemeal basis. Rarely do we group them in a way that creates a comprehensive system of teacher work and compensation.
We must create such a system if we wish to become more intentional about leaving no child behind; if we expect and allow professionals to engage in all the necessary roles and responsibilities for sustaining high-performing schools; if we recognize that distributed, aligned leadership is a must in our ever-changing society; and if we hope to compensate professional teachers for the full-time set of duties that are now part of the profession.