Where is the Ladder?

Blogger’s note: I know it’s been awhile since I’ve used this space to share.  I promise to be back soon with some really good stuff.  In the meantime, check out my work over at SeizeTheData.

medium_8198404833One of the issues that has bugged me ever since becoming a teacher is our lack of advancement opportunities.  There are few skilled vocations in which there is not a path, transparent or otherwise, for promotion.  In most careers that demand specialized skills, one can move up through a series of jobs that carry increasing responsibility (and often management of others) and increasing salary.  The type of skill is the same, but the level of expertise and the need to build skills in those below you become more important at the higher levels.

At first glance, school administration seems to fit this description for education, right?  I suppose in a perfect world, every principal would be a master teacher at the top of her game, now given the chance to develop other teachers into the best version of themselves.  But, that is not the reality.  Part of the reason is that school administration is a completely different job than teaching.  Principals handle budgets, discipline students, and make organizational choices that have little to do with teaching and learning.

The truth is that most administrators are people better suited for managing large organizations than educating children.  With a few truly outstanding exceptions, the majority of principals are not instructional experts.  These are not teachers who mastered their craft and then took it to the next level.  They are people who worked as teachers long enough to get to the place where they want to be, or where they belong.

That leaves classroom teachers, many of whom have ambitions to make more money and have more of an impact, with few choices.  The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards tries to remedy this situation.  The Center for Teaching Quality is working to create a class of “teacherpreneurs“.  Ariel Sacks even wrote about the problem recently.

But in the trenches, it still looks like the only option is to dig in a little deeper.  Or, pack up and go somewhere else.

What ARE the choices for master teachers who don’t want to become administrators?
photo credit: AstridWestvang via photopin cc

5 thoughts on “Where is the Ladder?

  1. Paul asked:

    What ARE the choices for master teachers who don’t want to become administrators?

    – – — – – – – –

    There really are none, Pal. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

    Of course, guys like you and me have worked our tails off to create opportunities beyond the classroom, but when we do, it often means working our tails OFF.

    My part time work is nice. It challenges me. It gives me a role beyond administration to fill. But it is the equivalent of another full-time job and it is all consuming. I work three hours a night and another 6-8 per day on the weekends.

    What really sucks is that the people who could create hybrid roles beyond the classroom for guys like you and me can’t even BEGIN to understand why anyone would actually WANT to stay in the classroom.

    I had a conversation with a district level leader once about a full time technology leadership position. “Why don’t you break it into four positions,” I said, “and give one to a teacher on track 1, one to a teacher on track 2, one to a teacher on track 3 and one to a teacher on track 4?”

    I explained that doing so would give him a full time teacher in the form of four bodies. Those four people could work together as a team to support teachers in our district. Better yet, because we were all still full-time teachers, the district would save on benefits because we were already getting benefits as teachers.

    His answer blew me away. “Why would I do that, Bill, when there are PLENTY of people who actually WANT the job as it currently stands? If you can’t see the value in what I’m offering you, I certainly can find someone who will.”

    Crazy, isn’t it? I could have turned his statements right back around on him — there are PLENTY of people who would have wanted the job as I described it and the value of having actual practitioners in a technology leadership role would have been high too — but what’s the point.

    In the end, people who leave the classroom truly believe that they stand above us in the hierarchy. They see their work as more important — and more prestigious. So they can’t POSSIBLY dream of new roles for teachers because they never had the same desire to stay in the classroom to begin with.

    Downer, huh?
    Bill

    1. “In the end, people who leave the classroom truly believe that they stand above us in the hierarchy. They see their work as more important — and more prestigious. So they can’t POSSIBLY dream of new roles for teachers because they never had the same desire to stay in the classroom to begin with.”

      * * * * * * * * *

      This is why I have a problem with the corporate ladder as the metaphor. There’s an “up” and a “down”. An “above” and a “below”. It’s linear. I’d like to see the educational structure be more “outside-the box” than that. More three-dimensional.

      Bill’s creative suggestion of how one could be in the classroom and have (paid) tech admin roles is a perfect example. Just think what could happen if we had teacher leaders supported in a way to be able to be in and out of classrooms. They could work with new or struggling teachers, vist each other’s schools, and share best practices with each other. One doctor may be assigned to the patient’s chart, but there are attendings who oversee the resident physicians who oversee the interns at the hospital.

      I agree with Bill’s assessment that it comes to respecting education as a profession, much as we do medicine. And it is especially unacceptable when when this pervasive and pejorative attitude comes from those “above” us on our own “ladder” who we need to be our advocates in this paradigm shift.

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