Innovating teacher careers in New York City

04 June 2019

teacher_web_news_photo_small.jpg

New York City Department of Education
Sergio De Mesa, a Model Teacher, in his class at P.S. K225, The Eileen E. Zaglin School in New York City, New York.

A new case study from IIEP investigates the impact of a programme to retain, motivate, and encourage collaboration among teachers.


In New York City, there are over 76,000 teachers working in over 1,700 schools. As the largest teaching force in the United States of America, an innovative programme - Teacher Career Pathways (TCP) - is enabling teachers to advance in their careers while fostering a culture of collaboration and peer support to improve teaching and learning. 

Researchers from the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) have now published a case study, Teacher Career Pathways in New York City, giving a comprehensive look at the design and impact of this programme. The new study is part of global research on teacher career reforms that aims to provide governments with policy options on how to recruit, manage, and retain a strong teaching force.

Known collectively as Teacher Leaders (TL), the programme offers three roles of varying intensity to help support the professional growth of teachers. The Model Teachers open their classroom to other teachers as a way to share effective teaching strategies. For those looking for more responsibility, there is the Peer Collaborative Teacher who coaches other teachers, brainstorms solutions to teaching problems, and facilitates professional learning opportunities, or the Master Teacher who helps cultivate a collaborative learning culture and promote best practices within the whole school and district at large. As described by one city principal, these positions are “the cog that gets everyone together. They turn on the machinery of the team.” 

Teachers accepted into the programme take on the new responsibilities - for additional pay - alongside their normal teaching roles. The idea is that they can advance in their career while boosting the teaching practices of all colleagues and the learning outcomes of their students.

One Peer Collaborative Teacher said the programme has made them feel less isolated in their profession. “It’s a chance to facilitate and help other teachers in their classroom. Not being an island. I like it. It’s made me a stronger teacher.”

“It’s a chance to facilitate and help other teachers in their classroom. Not being an island. I like it. It’s made me a stronger teacher.”

The New York City Department of Education (DoE) and the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, piloted the TCP in 2013 after securing a five-year federal grant from the Teacher Incentive Fund. Today, there were 1,291 teacher leaders working in 602 schools city-wide. The DoE and UFT have also created an additional 17 roles – Teacher Team Leaders – to provide full-time support to the three TL roles.

The programme also has historical significance. Teacher salaries in the United States have typically followed a single pay structure. While performance pay has been explored in various contexts, this differentiated pay scale based on responsibilities offered an alternative that did not break with the UFT’s commitment to equality between teachers.

The impact of the programme is largely measured by self-reports from teacher leaders, colleagues who work with them, and school principals. Those interviewed for the case study were overwhelmingly positive about the programme and cited a strong impact on teacher voice in decision-making on school goals and practices, collaboration, professional development for teachers who work with TLs, teacher satisfaction, retention, and overall school culture.

One DoE official quoted in the study said that his Department and the UFT believe that “if you extend teacher instructional impact you are empowering them [teachers] in their roles as educators and also extending themselves as change agents for the school. So it is not only a retention strategy but it is also empowering educators and the school community.”

“If you extend teacher instructional impact you are empowering them [teachers] in their roles as educators and also extending themselves as change agents for the school. So it is not only a retention strategy but it is also empowering educators and the school community.”

Teachers who work with TLs have shown to improve faster, especially in schools where TLs work in teams, according to data from the programme’s monitoring team. In an external survey conducted by Eskolta, which was used in the case study, over 90 percent over principals agreed that having TLs helped build institutional capacity.

“Definitely the pedagogy has improved,” said one principal. “More so, the planning of lessons and curriculum planning has improved a lot. There is a TL guiding the conversation, asking the right questions.”

A significant majority of teachers also reported that their instructional practice had improved as a result of working with TLs, and the share was larger for teachers who had support from a TL more than once a month, highlighting the importance of frequency.

Part of the programme’s success also stems from the fact that teacher leaders remain teachers. “It is peer support, not support coming from the administration or borough. These are true colleagues,” said one school principal. “There is no evaluative measure to it. … I understand and I get that. When I was a teacher, I would freeze up when I’d see my administrator coming in my classroom. You feel much more comfortable when a colleague comes to your office without a rating sheet.”

New York City’s TCP also provides a number of lessons for other governments considering a similar programme. These include the importance of teacher buy-in and trust, which includes a strong link with the union throughout the design and implementation phases, support and accountability from multiple sources, consistent engagement with school leaders, and overall monitoring and strong management.

IIEP’s research on teacher careers also includes country reports on teacher career structures in Colombia, Ethiopia, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Scotland, South Africa, and Thailand. IIEP will also publish in-depth case studies on Ecuador and Western Cape in South Africa.

IIEP would like to thank the New York City Department of Education for its support in carrying out this research and for granting access to the city’s public schools.

Training
Wednesday 15 February 2023
Wednesday 26 April 2023