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Making Teaching a 21st-Century Career

This week's entry comes from Grant Newman, an education consultant who partners with states, districts, and schools to develop and celebrate effective teachers. Newman has served in various leadership capacities within the New York City Department of Education and is a passionate advocate for children, having begun his career as a 3rd grade teacher at Acheivement First Bushwick Elementary School. Here, he shares his clear insights about how we can attract, develop, and keep the best teachers. 

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School systems are only as strong as those working within it. John King knew this during his tenure as New York State Education Commissioner, putting an intentional (and correct) focus on the quality of teachers and school leaders. As he transitions to the U.S. Department of Education, King should continue advocating for these reforms at national scale, working with states to create clear trajectories for a professional career within teaching, aligned to new generational attitudes and expectations.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1.6 million new teachers will be needed in the next 10 years to take the place of teachers who will retire. Below are three recommendations that build upon the progress of John King's administration in New York to fill the upcoming human capital void across the country with the top talent of the millennial age.


State must explore methods for ending the use of traditional compensation systems, including step-and-lane salary schedules and defined-benefit retirement funds. Changes in generational attitudes about work and pay cannot be ignored; millennials (like myself) are less interested in the comfortable, consistent, routinized careers of our parent's time. Having grown up in the age of quickly changing technology and information, we are looking for careers that allow for rapid promotions and new experiences, frequent salary increases, and the opportunity to work in many positions for multiple organizations. Lockstep compensation systems simply do not align with the interests and values of the new workforce. These structures are also not financially sufficient for individual educators nor sustainable for the system at-large. The New York Times reported in August that, "[New York] city's pension hole just keeps getting bigger, forcing progressively more significant cutbacks in municipal programs and services every year."

On an individual level, particularly for those farther away from retirement, rising housing costs and student loan debt are requiring young professionals to earn far more income earlier in life to reach the desirable middle class status. Deferred compensation plans simply don't provide newer teachers with the monetary resources needed to get a steady financial footing. This may keep highly qualified candidates from entering the profession or push current teachers out of the classroom, regardless of how effective they may be.  Many have written on the topic and developed alternative ideas (like allowing teachers to reach their top earning years sooner, or creating bonus opportunities for teachers that align with a district's priorities and needs); however leadership is needed at the state level, with support of the U.S. Department of Education, to implement these reforms.

Career Ladders

States must expand their support to districts implementing formal career ladders for teachers, including increased compensation and leadership opportunities, for those who stay in the classroom and have demonstrated consistent effectiveness for students. Great teachers need to be identified, not simply by the neatness of their classroom or years of experience, but by multiple measures that demonstrate their vast skills, expertise, and value to a school community. In recognizing these educators in meaningful ways, teaching is more likely to be perceived both by educators and the general public as a professional career worthy of increased compensation for consistent quality achievements. In implementing a clear career path such as LIFT in Washington, D.C. or Achievement First's Teacher Career Pathway, districts can keep great teachers in the classroom while meeting the professional aspirations of the millennial generation. 

 Evaluation & Development

States must increase the number and type of measures included in teacher evaluation systems, including use of student and family feedback. From Instagram likes to YouTube views, millennials have grown up in an age of instant feedback. Teaching, however, remains an isolating job, with far too few opportunities for consistent, regular, criterion-based feedback. Efforts to implement teacher-evaluation systems are a healthy start in defining success for new (and veteran) teachers, but the next generation will want more feedback, more often, in order to individually assess and grow their level of impact within a school community. Incorporating feedback from students (and their families) not only makes a clear statement about the value of culturally competent partnerships, but also provides teachers with actionable, statistically valid, feedback directly from the source.

I believe Commissioner King laid tremendous groundwork for improved teaching and learning in New York State. In his role with the federal government, he should build upon that momentum by working with states to bring the teaching profession in-line with the goals and expectations of the next generation of teachers and leaders.   


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