When I first began working towards my bachelor’s degree, it seemed that everyone I spoke to asked about my major. I would always respond with “elementary education,” which was, surprisingly and quite frequently, met with, “You’re going to teach for the rest of your life, good luck.” As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 18-year-old I was confused. I had wanted to be a teacher since I was little, but I began to question if teaching would be a good career choice. In the four years I spent at Niagara University I learned that the majority of my fellow education majors would remain teachers for their entire careers with little to no change in their title. I was still content with the choice I made, but deep down I wondered if I could do the same thing for 40 years.
After graduation, I moved to New York City and was hired at Classical Charter Schools in April 2013. I started as a “floater” or what is now called a Multi-grade Learning Specialist. I began learning Classical’s core values along with the basics of curriculum and classroom management. I hoped that the following school year I would get a classroom of my own, but never really thought beyond that.
That was until August 2013 at our yearly kick-off event where our Executive Director, Lester Long, addressed Classical’s entire staff telling us that he believed that teaching was a career and, here, teachers are constantly growing and being developed. He stated that he does not want teachers to feel like that the classroom is the only option. He gave examples of teachers becoming grade team leaders and growing in their careers as Classical. That intrigued me. Mr. Long’s address to our staff made me realize that with growth and development I could access a whole host of professional options.
In August 2013 I became a classroom teacher at Classical. In August 2015 I was promoted to Grade Team Leader. In August 2019 I became Dean of Students. Each of these steps in my career was fueled by leaders’ willingness to support and develop me as a professional. At Classical, professional development is built on three major tools: professional development, gap analysis, and observations/feedback.
Each month teachers and staff are given several different options for professional development sessions. The topics range from curriculum and academic skills to behavior management. The sessions are written and presented by Classical staff and provide teachers new strategies to implement in the classroom immediately.
This is done twice a year for any staff member looking to change their position at Classical. The gap analysis is used to look at your strengths and weakness in your current position, but also in the new position you hope to earn. Your instructional coach and your school director then give feedback surrounding your strengths and weaknesses and provide you with resources to help close the gap.
Observations are an integral part of Classical’s structure. Observations allow instructional coaches to get a pulse on what is happening within each classroom. It also allows coaches to develop new teachers quickly and in real-time. Teachers are given three goals at the start of each year and as the teacher progresses, their goals change to focus on areas that need improvement.
I was lucky to grow my career at a place like Classical Charter Schools where leaders are dedicated to helping each teacher view their job as a career with many opportunities to grow. Unfortunately, not all school environments operate within a similar culture. If you’re a current teacher and looking to expand your career, I encourage you to consider the following strategies…
Engage in Professional Development
In today’s teaching world there are several ways to engage in professional development that is not provided by your school. Each year hundreds of conferences are help across the country focusing on everything from classroom management to special education.
Carefully Choose your Master’s Program
If you have not received your Master’s degree yet I highly recommend looking for a master’s program that focuses on a career outside the classroom. Since I was not sure if I wanted to spend my entire career in the classroom, I chose a master’s program that did not directly involve in-classroom teaching. I received my master in Instructional Coaching which allows me to be more marketable and gives me the option to move out of the classroom.
Books, articles and journals are great resources to expand your knowledge of education. It allows you to find a topic that really interests you and explore it without leaving your classroom.
It’s time to dispel the idea that being a teacher is all teachers can ever hope to be professionally. As all current and former educators know, the skills you learn as a teacher are valuable and transferable to many different careers in many different industries. There are many people who find fulfilling careers as life-long teachers, but there also those who do not. Either choice is admirable. The important thing to remember is choice exists.
This post was contributed by Ms. Rebecca Rockwood, Dean of Students at South Bronx Classical II. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.