February 10, 2011 15:01 Age: 7 yrs

The AF Teacher Career Pathway acknowledges the importance of great teaching

Category: Home, Development
By: Sarah Coon

I’ll be joining 10,000 other Teach For America corps members and alumni this weekend at the 20th Anniversary Summit in Washington, DC. I could not be more excited.

Several years ago, for the first time, I was beginning to question my career path. I had started my career as a TFA corps member and then entered education policy, but was beginning to wonder if I wanted to continue working in education. Was this a fight that could be won? At this pivotal moment, I attended Teach For America’s 15th Anniversary Summit and was filled with the inspiration and hope that was first ignited in my classroom. I talked with countless friends who were doing extraordinary work for children – both in and out of the classroom. I listened with awe as a long-time friend stood on stage and spoke about the summer camp he had started for students at Yes Prep. I met with another friend from the corps who shared her impressive special education research, and another who shared stories of the school where we met and she continues to teach. My passion for education reform was once again sparked as I looked across the large ballroom at people who were -- and still are -- changing the world.

The AF Teacher Career Pathway

Re-energized, I joined Achievement First and have the honor of working with our teachers to develop the AF Teacher Career Pathway, an initiative designed to identify and reward excellent teachers as they advance through five career stages. I am extremely proud to be a part of an organization that truly values great teaching. As a corps member, I wanted to be the best teacher possible. I wanted to understand what excellent teaching looked like, to receive honest feedback and to have a clear path to improvement. Like many others, however, when I first started teaching I did not have that experience and struggled in the classroom. It was through this struggle that I came to know, without a doubt, that there is nothing more important for a child’s education than his or her teacher.

The AF Teacher Career Pathway acknowledges the importance of great teaching. We have spent the last two years working with our teachers to create clear standards of excellence, fair evaluation and exceptional rewards. With the Teacher Career Pathway, AF teachers have the opportunity to progress through five career stages, accompanied by increased compensation, recognition and professional growth opportunities. In addition to significant salary increases, our teachers encouraged us to include individual professional development budgets because, more than anything, they want to hone their craft. They also reminded us that teaching is a team effort, so we included a school-wide bonus for all members of a school that successfully meets its goals. Partnering with our teachers resulted in one of the most comprehensive teacher evaluations in the country, and includes both student outcomes (student achievement and student character) and teacher inputs (quality instruction and planning and core values and contributions to the team).

The Beginning of a National Movement

We believe that this investment in our teachers will lead to greater student achievement at AF because it will set clear standards and raise the bar for instructional excellence, while at the same time enable talented teachers to remain in the classroom through professional-level compensation. Achievement First’s mission, however, includes ALL children, not just the nearly 6,000 in our 19 New York and Connecticut schools. As a promising sign, many districts and charter management organizations across the country are beginning to reward excellent teachers. In fact, I’ll be joined at the TFA Summit by colleagues from DC, Los Angeles, Louisiana and Texas on a panel entitled “Defining Teacher Excellence” – all cities and states beginning to reward their very best teachers. This shared movement is going to change how teaching is perceived and re-define the type of person who chooses to enter the profession. If teachers can earn professional salaries, our very brightest high school and college students will see teaching as an attractive and long-term career. Their families will support them to enter teaching because, as Lee Iacocca said, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.” 

I am encouraged by the message that President Obama sent in his recent State of the Union speech: “Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’ Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.   And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you.” I’m even more encouraged that my young cousin posted the President’s words on her Facebook page and made a commitment to teaching when she graduates. This is the beginning of a national shift. I’m proud that Achievement First is a leader in this movement and is partnering with others toward this goal.

The AF Teacher Career Pathway celebrates teachers who are committed to mastering their craft and affecting change from within the classroom. At the TFA 20th Anniversary Summit, I look forward to meeting many teachers who are eager to become part of Achievement First, a network that truly celebrates excellent teachers. Please find me -- I’ll be wearing my “Bay Area ’01” badge with immense pride.

To learn more about the AF Teacher Career Pathway, click on this link, visit the AF booth at the TFA Summit or attend the “Defining Teaching Excellence” panel on Saturday, February 12th at 1:15 p.m.

Sarah Coon is the chief of staff at Achievement First.