Teachers Need Advancement Opportunities, Not Just Professional Development
According to the Missouri Independent, a “Blue ribbon commission on teacher recruitment” told the “state board of education that educators need professional development opportunities.” That line caught my attention. As someone who has worked in and around the public education sector for nearly twenty years, I think we need to be clear about what we mean here. There is no lack of professional development for educators—what they really need are professional advancement opportunities.
Think of it this way. When someone enters the teaching field after graduating from college, they are called “teacher.” Over the next 30 years, they can get a master’s degree, a specialist degree, or even a doctoral degree. They may attend numerous professional development sessions every year. When they retire, they may still be called “teacher.”
There are no ranks. There are no promotions. There are no steps to career advancement. The only pay raises they will receive will be based on getting additional degrees and each year of experience.
Compare this to higher education. At the higher education level, you may enter as a teaching or research professor not on a tenure track or on a tenure track. Typically, a new professor is called an “assistant” professor. After a few years, the professor can be promoted to “associate” professor and eventually to “full” professor. There are also prized “endowed professor” positions. In short, there are tiers to the profession.
This is not to say higher education is the pinnacle of excellence that should be modeled in every circumstance. Rather, this simply demonstrates the key differences between K-12 teaching and most other fields. In most public school districts, there is no room for advancement within the teaching profession. The only way to advance is to leave the classroom by becoming a principal, superintendent, or something else.
We can imagine a system where teachers are recognized for their performance in the classroom and rewarded in title and in compensation. Teachers need a system that recognizes and rewards excellence—call it merit pay, if you will. They need the opportunity to grow, to excel, and to be rewarded. That is the type of advancement opportunity teachers need. With that said, we should be wary of attempts to create a centralized advancement system from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) or the legislature. The state should empower local communities and local school leaders to develop routes for advancement for their teachers. Centrally imposed systems often become bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Local school leaders may be more motivated to create meaningful advancement opportunities. But this sort of reform surrounding advancement is what we should be focusing on—not red herrings about professional development.