How to Fix Education

When You Deserve a Promotion

Last week, I sat down with some college friends of mine and as we discussed our families, our professional lives, and our hopes we came across the topic of career advancement. Two of my friends talked about a recent promotion in which both of them gloated on the bonuses they received from “closing” a major deal they had worked many months on with their teams. The discussed not only the bonus but how closing this major deal put them in a position to move higher up in the company- securing their financial futures.
As they talked, I felt pangs of jealousy– almost borderline resentment. Not because my friends did not deserve the accolades, but as a teacher promotions are not something we are used to getting or even discussing without the risk of feeling like a bragging teenager.
As a teacher promotions are not something we are used to getting or even discussing Click To Tweet
Don’t believe it? Think about two scenarios.
Amber* is a mid-career Advertising Executive who last week landed a big account with Coca-Cola* for her firm. She worked for months on landing this account and because of her connections at her Alma Mater, The University of Chicago, she was able to navigate relationships she made in college to get in front of a top executive at Coca-Cola to discuss how her Advertising Company to take their brand to the next level. Once the deal was “closed” and the celebratory dinners and handshakes, Amber received a substantial financial bonus and was told to keep being ambitious- at all costs.
In Corporate America, if you are a hard-working, high-achieving professional, with multiple advanced degrees you are not only applauded for your accomplishments but are encouraged to seek out other professional opportunities to show your ambition.
Now take that same scenario as a teacher.
Anthony* is a mid-career teacher who last week all of his students showed a 50% gain on their mid-semester ELA and Math Benchmark exams. Anthony worked for months in getting his group of 5th graders ready- despite having students who are reading 2-3 years below grade level. He stayed after school nearly every day to tutor his small population of ESL students and even stayed on Saturday for those students who needed more work. Wanting to do something to celebrate this big win, Anthony reached out to his Alama Mater, The University of Georgia, to arrange a day for the students to not only visit the campus but to meet with members of the football team. While the school didn’t have the money to pay for buses, Anthony’s old professor decided to sponsor his class for the entire day- at no cost to the school. The next day,  Anthony was called into his administrator’s office and applauded for his records, but also reminded that unless all of his kids were proficient on the state end of grade exam, he would be marked down on his evaluation.
Does that sound familiar? If you’ve spent any time in a public school then you know there are hundreds of teachers like Anthony in classrooms across America- working hard, yet never given any recognition for the hard work they do every day in the classroom.  These teachers have multiple advanced degrees and most times are not given the chance to grow professionally. If they hint at wanting to be promoted within the school, they are instead encouraged to stay in the same position, doing the same work (or more)  for the betterment of the students- most without any additional compensation.
The Research
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8 percent of the men and women teaching in public schools during the 2011-12 school year left the profession the next school year. While there could be a myriad of reasons for teachers to leave, one reason teachers continually cite for leaving is the lack of recognition (whether financial or verbal) that they receive despite working “day and night” for the students.
Which led me to ask…
Could we retain more teachers if we promoted qualified teachers into positions as teacher leaders?
There’s no clear research if that could work, but based on the number of teachers seeking other career opportunities and citing declining mental health, it could be a viable way to acknowledge your “rock star” teachers.
Last week after my training with teachers in a large, urban district, there was one teacher who lingered behind and asked a question that I hadn’t heard in a couple of years. It was direct and said in a way that I knew this particular teacher was at the end of her proverbial rope. Quietly, she pulled me aside and asked, “what can I do to get out of the classroom?”
What can I do to leave the classroom? Click To Tweet
I responded with the most appropriate follow-up question I could muster up without drawing attention to our conversation. I asked, “what do you exactly mean get out of the classroom? Are you leaving for good or are you looking for some leadership opportunities to further your career?” Sensing, this was going to be a long conversation, we sat down and this veteran teacher poured her heart out to me.
She discussed feeling “dead” in the classroom and no longer being able to “teach” and instead her administration wanted her to “test prep” for the rest of the year with no acknowledgment of all the “wins” that she had with her students. She explained how for the past two years she’s put in for other jobs in education that would give her a “break” from the political frustration from testing mandates. Finally, she described how she needed something (anything) to give her a break– or else she was going to turn in her letter resignation before Spring Break.
As I listened to this teacher, my eyes welled up because I’ve been there- the point of desperation where you love the kids, but you need more money, more career advancement, more professionalism if you’re going to stay in the classroom.
Honestly speaking, the starting point for getting more teachers to love (and stay in public education)  is recognizing the teachers who deserve a raise.
One of the dirty secrets is that the most qualified teacher is usually passed over for promotions. Click To Tweet
However, one of the dirty secrets working in public education is that most times the most qualified person for a position (whether it’s a teaching position, principalship, instructional coach job, etc.) is usually passed over for a promotion- if one is even offered at all. This elusive “passing over” doesn’t usually happen like in the corporate world where someone calls you into the office and gives you pointers on what you can do to grow, but usually it comes well after the hiring decision has been made and the person is scheduled to start any day.
After years of experiencing this disappointment,  most teachers are disillusioned and angry- rightfully so.
Why does this happen?
While the reasons are complex, one of the main reasons promotions seem to be “few and far between” is the current model of public education treats teachers as a liability instead of a critical part of the establishment.  In addition, in teacher training teachers aren’t trained with negotiation based on their expertise, experience, and educational level. Instead, we are given a contract and are expected to sign with no counteroffer.
In addition to the model of education, we operate in a society that not only doesn’t value education, but they don’t operate from a viewpoint that teachers need professional growth. If you look at the cuts proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget, there will $2.4 billion dollars less in grants for teachers training. While we know that this is the initial draft of the budget, to suggest that we can do without grants in teacher training is an indication of how legislators really feel about teachers- we are disposable.
While my conversation with the distraught teacher ended up being very positive, many times these conversations lead to teachers leaving not only their schools but the profession as a whole. So, how can we encourage school districts to empower their teachers and to promote “within” so that teachers are not leaving in droves?
For starters, we have to have conversations about why teachers may want to leave. The conversation will be uncomfortable for all involved, but school districts should know why their teachers want to leave.
Instead of looking outside the district for talent, school districts should invest in finding their teachers who are content leaders and empowering them to take on more roles within their district.
For teachers who may not be ready to move into various roles, there should be talent management workshops that help grow them into leadership.
Engage veteran teachers in roles where the can effectively mentor teachers with less than 5 years of experience. Allow them to use their expertise to “pour” back into their district.
All together, the art of promotion is one that’s tied into not only the culture of your school district, but the legalities of human resources, but the message is clear. If school districts do not find a way to acknowledge the expertise of their teachers we will continue to see a rotating door of teacher professionals in our neediest school and communities.
*Names have been changed. 

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