In September of 2010 at NBC’s Education Nation Summit, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he wanted to “professionalize the profession” and simultaneously “attract and retain excellent teachers.” As a seventh year teacher in the second stage of my career, I have been frustrated by the flat career trajectory that I have experienced. I have worked very hard to master the craft of teaching, but I wonder what will sustain me over the next 30 years? I am passionate about teaching in my middle school math classroom, and have no desire to leave. However, the options that I have to make a difference beyond my classroom remain a choice between Door A and Door B. Either I can continue what I have been doing for seven years, or I can become an administrator. In the next decade, thousands of talented and ambitious people will enter the teaching profession, and if current statistics hold true, nearly half of them will take their talents and ambitions to another career not long after.
One way to bring driven professionals into teaching and keep them there would be to provide tangible career growth opportunities to teachers while still allowing them to do what they do best: teach children. States should provide Master Teacher Licenses that can provide teachers with additional career opportunities. In many states, a teacher can earn the highest license simply by teaching for three years and writing a check to their department of education. There is no real motivation to earn this license, and no true feeling of accomplishment once it is attained. National Board Certification is currently the gold standard in providing “clear, consistent, and convincing” evidence of excellent teaching and could be used as a model for states in awarding Master Teaching Licenses.
In many professions, those who are motivated to apply for promotions do so based on their demonstrated performance. The Master Teacher license could provide such a promotion to teachers. It could serve as an objective entry point into differentiated responsibilities and additional opportunities for leadership and professional growth. These could include such leadership roles as mentoring, peer coaching, lead teacher status within a school, as well as an option for those who wish to become administrators. Imagine if someone who was once a Master Teacher led every school in America!
While the possibilities for additional roles are endless, we all know that funding is not. States would need to provide the frameworks and supports that would allow districts to find creative ways to provide a career ladder for teachers. For example, a teacher could teach for 2/3 of the day and spend the last 1/3 mentoring an early career teacher or peer coaching. Whatever districts choose, these opportunities must be consistently available to teachers and not just another victim of budget cuts. This will provide an upward career trajectory that can allow excellent teachers to build long lasting careers.
Noah Patel is a middle school math teacher in the Boston Public School District.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.