Today in Washington, D.C., the National Network for State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), releases a new study called "Teacher Advancement Initiatives: Lessons Learned from Eight Case Studies." It's a review of what's working to train teachers, keep teachers—and improve student outcomes. Kathy McKnight who appears in this LearnED article is a presenter at today's event.
What Teachers 'Care About Most'
"I find it frustrating that we expect so much out of teachers," she says, "but we don't pay them very well and we just keep piling on what they're supposed to do."
Kathy has just collaborated with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and others to highlight programs around the country that reward teachers for gaining expertise in the profession—while ensuring they're able to stay in the classroom.
"That's what teachers tell us they care most about," Kathy says. "They want to continue teaching while learning more and contributing to the field."
Career Ladder Programs That Work
"Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative" is the name of the report co-authored by Kathy and others. It explores national and statewide efforts to make room for career ladder programs for classroom teachers that both recognize good talent and reward expertise at the same time.
The most successful programs include multi-tiered certification systems, leadership training and opportunities, as well as licensing programs that are linked to teacher effectiveness. In these programs, teachers help train each other, building each other up.
In the end, says Kathy, better teaching means better learning.
"The number one influence on any student's learning that's within the control of the school is the quality of teaching," Kathy says.
"Traditionally, teachers who wanted to grow in their profession or move up the career ladder had to leave the classroom and become a principal or school administrator."
Staying in the Profession
The focus on building up the quality of the teacher workforce comes with challenges.
"Any career ladder program has to align with district and state policies, even the culture within a school," Kathy says.
Kathy says money has to be involved in the process, too. "You have to find a way to reward expertise financially," she says.
"Some of the teachers we interviewed told us they were thinking about leaving the profession," Kathy says. "But they've stayed in the classroom because of these new opportunities to learn and be recognized and rewarded for what they're already doing so well."
The "Teacher Career Pathways" report says this about the future of the teaching profession:
"Largely due to anticipated teacher retirements, Generation Y (defined as those individuals born between 1977 and 1995) teachers are projected to make up nearly half of the educator workforce by 2020. ... Without structural changes to the teaching profession—including better working conditions, competitive compensation, flexibility and career staging—it will be increasingly difficult to attract and retain enough highly motivated and qualified teachers into the profession."
It follows that good teachers create positive learning environments, and positive learning environments promote better learning and student outcomes.
"This is really important to me personally," Kathy says. "I care about learners in the education system—and we need to invest carefully in what our teachers do."