By Paul Friedmann, Guest Blogger
This post was originally published on the TNTP Blog.
At TNTP, we believe that a worthy teaching profession should be built around its most outstanding members. To find out what attracts and keeps exceptional teachers in the classroom, we surveyed 117 of the country’s most celebrated educators for our recent Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers project.
Today, we continue those efforts by turning over this space to Perspectives participant Paul Friedmann, a 2012 Fishman Prize finalist who teaches seventh grade math and science at Brooke Charter School - Roslindale in Boston. In our Perspectives survey, 60 percent of teachers told us they were planning to leave the profession within five years—a disturbing statistic that should be an urgent call to action. For Paul, a 10-year teaching veteran, having opportunities to grow and carve out a teaching career path that meets his particular needs is a major factor keeping him in the classroom. It’s a lesson that schools everywhere can adapt.
In the week before my first year of teaching, I met my colleagues, learned about school rules and systems, and was then sent off to do…well, I didn’t really know what. I was entirely unprepared to step into a classroom—and yet, according to my job title (and my responsibilities), I was the same as the guy down the hall, who’d been teaching for 10 years. Now I’m the guy who’s been teaching for 10 years, and I’m a very different teacher from the one I started out as.
Though teaching has traditionally been a career in which year one looks much the same as year thirty, I’m pleased to see that this is starting to change. Increasingly, creative district and charter schools are starting to see what teachers have always known: Teaching isn’t a static career. Teachers in years one, five and twenty bring different strengths to the table, and also have different professional growth needs.
I’m fortunate to teach at a school that is embracing those different career stages. Brooke Charter Schools, where I’ve worked for the past seven years, takes an innovative approach to supporting long-term careers for educators.
Unlike my experience, at my current school, we start off new teachers with a gradual-release approach. In their first year in the classroom, our associate teachers are partnered with mentor teachers who guide their development. They have responsibilities like lunch, recess and dismissal from day one, but are also given time to observe hundreds of classroom hours to gain perspective on the hundreds of different skills and tasks a full-time teaching job requires. With their mentors’ guidance, they deliver partial and complete lessons, learn to manage a classroom and build relationships with students. Then, if an associate teacher is offered a full teaching position in the Brooke Charter network, he continues his professional growth under the guidance of one of our principals.
In their first years of full-time teaching, our associate teachers often produce results similar to their more experienced peers. If I could start my teaching career again, this is how I would do it.
This approach also allows experienced teachers to serve in teacher-leader roles. Over the past two years, the opportunity to mentor has made me more reflective of my own teaching practice—and I’ve taken great pleasure in watching my two mentees step into full-time teaching roles with aplomb. Experienced teachers can also sit on hiring panels, work on curriculum committees or develop internal assessments.
Our best veteran teachers are trained to become school leaders, or—if their goal is to remain in the classroom—they’re nominated to be “master teachers.” Master teachers coach teachers and associates and plan professional development, while remaining in the classroom full-time. For these additional responsibilities, master teachers, whose statuses are evaluated annually, see a significant bump in pay. This program recognizes strong teachers who want to remain in the classroom, rather than stepping into administrative roles.
Like all professionals, teachers’ skills mature over time, and our goals and priorities shift, too. Brooke understands this, and that’s part of why I re-up my contract each year. My school has recognized my strengths by providing me with leadership opportunities outside of my classroom. It commits to helping me develop in my areas of weakness, and it shows me multiple pathways that I can follow through my long-term career as an educator. I wish more teachers had the same opportunities.