Jen Loescher testifies on the recommendations she and the coalition submitted to the Nevada Legislative Committee on Education about the creation of a career pathways task force.

Nevada’s Teachers Need Strong Career Pathways

By Jen Loescher

When I was growing up my parents, who both worked in the education field, discussed a difference between a job and a career. A career, they told me, was driven by passion from within. When I chose my career as a public school teacher, I quickly accepted that the entry point of my profession would also be my ceiling — unless I wanted to leave the classroom. I didn’t question it, nor did I question how I introduced myself in social settings by saying, “I am just a teacher.” I didn’t feel belittled by it; this is just how it has always been.

I am now questioning this mindset. After teaching math to 6th graders at a Title 1 school in one of the most impoverished areas of North Las Vegas, I realized that I wanted to increase my impact beyond the 165 students I taught each year. To fill up my efficacy tank and know that I was working at my optimum level, I felt the need to affect more teachers and students. I had already been contributing outside of my classroom, including serving on the School Performance Plan team and leading trainings for teachers at my school. I knew I had developed the skills, expertise, and mindset that could help my colleagues impact their students in even more targeted and meaningful ways. But I had no desire to become an administrator and was unsure of how to do what I wanted to without losing the connection with my students and my classroom.

In the end, I left the classroom to become a math strategist and coach at my school. This role allows me to facilitate targeted intervention classes for students, lead professional development for staff and colleagues, and design and implement ideas and projects to increase student achievement. My colleagues have expressed their appreciation for the added support in various ways. Students across campus have begun to seek me out to ask for additional help on a project. All this has increased my sense of purpose and value as a teacher and a professional.

While positions similar to mine exist in many schools, information about them is not clear or consistent across our district and state. The roles also rarely come with commensurate compensation or a clear set of guidelines about the expertise an educator should have in this position. While I was fortunate to have the flexibility to mold my coaching role into what my school and I needed, many of my colleagues have not had the same opportunities. Some of them have left teaching because they saw no path for growth. Every time an experienced teacher leaves the profession, our students lose out.

Historically, the profession of teaching has been recognized as an “unstaged occupation” with few opportunities to access the higher financial rewards and status that exist in other professions. The very definition of a career, however, includes opportunities for upward movement. Teachers’ roles as they advance on a career pathway could include team leader (helping their team work cohesively and track student growth), master educator (developing and leading professional development), instructional coach (an accomplished educator who coaches other teachers and helps colleagues improve their skills), demonstration teacher (modeling excellent teaching for peers), and hybrid teaching roles (teaching part time and participating in tiered leadership opportunities).

Examples abound. The Center for Teaching Quality, located in North Carolina, has been advancing teaching as a profession for the past 20 years by working with school systems to create new career pathways. One of the options is implementing micro-credentials as endorsements on the license. This helps principals and colleagues to leverage the specific skills in which a teacher has demonstrated mastery. In New York City, there are three formal teacher leadership roles: Model Teacher, Master Teacher, and Peer Collaborative Teacher. These roles are accompanied by corresponding pay increases and time in the workday for school-embedded coaching.

Nevada’s state’s model needs to be focused, competency-based, and equip teachers with the specific tools necessary to effectively lead other adults within their profession. Teachers who choose to advance along a career pathway must be given time, tools, and support to meaningfully engage in their leadership positions.

As a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow, I am actively working to realize that vision. I am part of a coalition with other Teach Plus Fellows, Nevada Succeeds, and the Clark County Education Association. In June, we submitted recommendations to the Legislative Committee on Education that would ultimately allow for movement towards a statewide solution. We must reimagine how the teaching profession is structured in order to attract, recruit, and retain the best teaching talent in our state, allowing for every student to have access to highly effective teachers.

Jen Loescher is a middle school math trainer at Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program. She is a 2018–19 Teach Plus Nevada Teaching Policy Fellow.