I remember when I got my first full-time job as a teacher and the feeling I felt when I knew I was going to have my own classroom. I distinctly remember smiling and thinking to myself, “I did it! I am finally a professional!” After six years of college, a master’s degree, and tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, I was finally entering the professional world and becoming a respected teacher.
I pursued the teaching profession because it was meaningful to me. I feel significant as an educator, and every day I feel like I am making a difference in the young minds that I influence. I became a teacher, against all warning, because I wanted fulfillment in my career. But in my fifth year of teaching, I find myself wondering, where do I go from here? How can I advance my career professionally? I often ask myself: is this the height of my career if I want to stay in the classroom?
When we hear that master’s pay has been taken away, or that the percentage of pay that we used to get for it possibly being reduced, it feels like our professionalism and advanced education is not valued. As teachers, we should never stop being students. It should be a goal to continue to grow and learn as a professional and there should be structural incentives to do so. Our students benefit from us learning how to become better educators or increase the depth of our content knowledge, but our careers should benefit as well. We are sent to professional development—sometimes compensated if outside school hours—but what do we do with what we learned? We may use a piece here and there, but rarely is there a discussion of impact. If we are forced to attend professional development during our planning period or during a work day, the most common response is “Ugh! What a waste of time! I have so many other things I need to be doing!,” because often we do not understand the instructional relevance.
Perhaps expectedly, then, one of my wonderings is: where do we go from here? How can we create a feeling of promotion and growth in the profession so that teachers have goals to reach, a reason to continue to improve, and something to strive for to stay in the classroom? How do we break this professional glass ceiling in education? I entered an incredibly dynamic profession with the intention of teaching students in a classroom. I do not want to have to compromise my passion for teaching students to advance my professional career. We need to take all of the things we ask teachers to do and cultivate a feeling of professionalism where teachers are respected and valued both inside and outside the classroom.
We need to create a system within education that rewards teachers not only for their professional development, but for implementing that professional development successfully. In many professions, there are certain trainings and certifications that employers offer employees to move up in their career. We can revolutionize professional development if we align its outcomes with classroom-based professional advancement. I offer this plan:
- Send teachers to earn professional credits;
- Allow teachers to choose to attend professional developments that are meaningful to their discipline and practice to earn credits towards a professional advancement. In order to earn these credits, teachers must demonstrate effective implementation of their training and create a professional portfolio exhibiting these successes;
- And, instead of offering a one time stipend to ‘sit and get’ information with little to no follow up, or mandate professional development during planning periods and workdays, allow teachers to demonstrate and apply their learning while gaining professional traction. We can create a promotional feel inside the classroom where teachers can earn raises–maybe even titles–based on experience AND professional development credits.
It is imperative that we find a way to allow teachers the choice to climb the professional ladder without having to leave their classrooms. Give us the opportunity, time, and space to grow so that we may create culturally responsive, engaging, and positive learning environments, while still working towards advancing our careers. We should not have to leave the classroom to be promoted.
I call on us collectively to build a professional culture in education that allows the best educators to stay in the classroom—let’s all work together to create a system in education that breaks the professional glass ceiling.