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The Search for a Middle Ground Between Teacher and Administrator

It’s a question that all teachers ask themselves -- or in many cases are asked by friends and family -- stay in the classroom and continue to teach or move to an administrative role? For educators in the United States, moving up to a principal or other school leadership position is often the go-to path in order to advance their careers and make more money. The dilemma is that a large number of teachers have little interest in leaving the classroom.

On his first day of summer break after his fifth year of teaching, teacher JP Fulger had the all too familiar question thrown at his way after running into an acquaintance at the store. “You seem like such a talented teacher. Have you ever thought about becoming a principal?” Fulger offered a simple and honest response, “I belong in the classroom.”

Fulger isn’t alone in his career stance either. A 2013 survey found that 84 percent of teachers who responded were either “not very” or “not at all” interested in ever becoming a school principal. When great teachers leave the classroom in order to advance their careers, that’s one less classroom of students that’s benefiting from the expertise of a great teacher.

Utah educator Spencer Campbell now spends his days patrolling the halls of Elk Ridge Middle School after leaving a 9th-grade English teaching position at another school. The father of seven and sole income provider for his family said it was a necessary career move because even with his $43,000 a year teaching salary and second job on the side, he wasn’t making enough money. He’s now making nearly double the income as one of two assistant principals, but misses the classroom.

"The effect that a classroom teacher has on a student is second only to a parent," Campbell told The Associated Press. "And as an administrator I don't know if I'll ever be able to have that same effect. And that's kind of heartbreaking."

Some schools and organizations are beginning to recognize this issue and looking into hybrid positions that bridge the gap between teacher and educator. Achievement First, a charter network founded in New Haven, Connecticut is trying to develop teacher leadership that advances teachers through five stages with greater financial compensation along the way. It’s a way to keep teachers in the classroom and hopefully make them masters of their craft. It’s not without its critics though, who feel the program’s highly competitive nature and constant evaluation and critiquing can stifle the lesson planning of good teachers.

There are other programs out there like Teach Plus that aim to change the mindset about teaching, because at the end of the day, every teacher wants to be recognized for their success. The program recruits teachers who have been teaching between three and ten years and are committed to staying in urban schools for at least an additional three years. “We really want to change that paradigm and say, if you’re a highly effective teacher and you want to be able to have influence beyond your classroom, let’s pay you to take the time to be able to do that well,” Celine Coggins, the CEO of Teach Plus told The Atlantic.

Financial incentive programs like this can be a tricky issue for teachers' unions that fight to increase teacher salaries statewide, but also fight to keep them equal across the state.

Many teachers, especially younger Millennials, simply look to administrative roles for a change of pace. Ninety-one percent of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years before moving on to something else and younger teachers are no different. While no one can be faulted for wanting to advance in their career, the problem with teachers bouncing from school to school in search of a higher salary or leaving the classroom to step into a vice principal role is that districts must reinvest in the training of a new employee.

With nearly 25 percent of teachers surveyed in the aforementioned 2013 survey saying they would be interested in a hybrid role that includes teaching and some sort of leadership, finding another step in the educator career ladder is desperately needed. Otherwise many a great teacher might feel that leaving the classroom is the only career path available, and our teachers deserve more than that.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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