George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

A Guide to Planning Career Paths for Teachers

Acquiring new skills and knowledge can support you in your current role and aid you in the event that you change roles or leave education.

September 1, 2022
Hot air balloons.
Maria Carluccio / The iSpot

The last two years have highlighted several challenges that may have educators looking for either other employment or another role within education. This is where meaningful professional development (outside of the days when educators learn from colleagues, district officials, etc.) or professional advancement (coursework and other activities that teachers undertake on their own to further their knowledge) can be a gateway into the future of what can be possible for both personal and professional growth. 

Is There a Teacher Shortage?

It seems like almost weekly there are articles published on the “teacher shortage” in the United States. I have always held firm that we don’t necessarily have a new teacher shortage, but what we do have is a shortage of professionals who want to teach. This can be due to a multitude of reasons, but it has been routinely reported that low pay, increasing expectations, pressures from administration and legislation, and lack of work-life balance are drivers of educators leaving.

For years, politicians, community members, the media, and more have told educators that if they don’t like what they’re doing as a career, they need to leave, and some educators are beginning to take that advice to heart. The rise and transparency of platforms such as LinkedIn have clued educators into what other career opportunities can be available to them, as well as what types of experience or credentialing may be needed to enter different roles.

Teachers, in particular, have determined that they can use the skills they’ve acquired to potentially make a better life for themselves, increase their salaries, have more flexibility (such as remote or flexible work or a flexible schedule), have better benefits for themselves and their families, and have more autonomy.

In contrast, with all of the talk about educators leaving, there is still a sizable number of educators who are staying in the classroom or in schools. It has been fairly consistent that 8 percent of educators leave the classroom each year. While that number has been affected by the pandemic and educators’ switching careers, there’s no doubt that there are educators who will stay in the profession of education.

There are also educators who have planned to leave the classroom or their school, but their job search might not have panned out as they anticipated. These educators are looking for a different type of employment but have returned to their previous roles for economic stability as they continue to search for what’s next for them. Essentially, they’re doing two jobs: the job that pays their bills, and the search for whatever job they hope will pay their bills.

Regardless, it’s clear that with these post-pandemic shifts, professional advancement can be important for all educators–whether or not they remain in the classroom or schools.

Why Look Into Professional Advancement?

At its core, professional advancement exists to enhance our professional goals. When we think about it in this modern climate, it can ultimately help educators do the following:

1. Learn about current and new topics in education and industry. Outside of the classroom, it’s also worthwhile to see what is current in the education industry as a whole. For example, what kinds of new technology (such as data collection and artificial intelligence) should we be on the lookout for? What are some major new shifts in education that may impact our roles? And what kinds of new skills may be needed for our students in the future?

2. Gain insight into how to market your job credentials. As educators, we’re often asked to maintain our credentials for certification purposes, but not necessarily how to market them to potential employers or even your current employer. By attending professional advancement sessions or classes, you can learn best practices to highlight your expertise and market yourself.

3. Determine what your next career path might be. If you’re looking into other career opportunities, professional advancement can help you explore possibilities for what might be next on the horizon. It can help you learn from industry experts, craft your résumé, and identify your interests if you’d like to pivot from education.

While professional advancement can be meaningful, there are situations where it might not be the right fit or perhaps more training may be needed. In that case, it’s important to find ways to make it more effective.

How Do We Make Professional Advancement Count?

To make professional advancement count, it has to be taken seriously. When we take it seriously, we’re encouraging ourselves to think critically about our goals and how we want to achieve them. Here are four steps to consider:

1. Find your focus. Getting into professional advancement—particularly the type that occurs outside of the field of education—can be overwhelming, especially with so many courses, modules, and certifications. To begin, narrow down your focus on what you’d like your end goal to be, and select courses and networking events that can help you achieve it. Examples include courses on Microsoft Learn, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning.

2. Start mapping out your plan. How will you accomplish your goals of  professional advancement? Here are some things to consider:

  • Potential prerequisites—Are there any required or suggested courses for you to take or consider before you enter professional advancement? For example, if you are taking a higher-level course (e.g., Python for Advanced Learners), is it recommended that you take a beginner-level course first?
  • Timeline—About how long is it estimated for you to complete the professional advancement? Once that’s determined, how will you budget your time to ensure that you complete it within that timeline? And if it can’t be, does it need to be communicated (to the course moderator or facilitator for synchronous or asynchronous programs) that you may need some more time? While the desire to increase your skills may be strong, it’s important not to overwhelm yourself.
  • Materials/deliverables—Are there any materials, deliverables, or end products that you are expected to turn in when you go throughout the journey of completing the professional advancement?
  • Proof of completions—Proof of finishing the professional advancement/course/certification is crucial, especially if you’d like to add it to your résumé or portfolio. Determine what you’ll receive when you complete the professional advancement so that it can be added to your credentials.

3. Find support. If you’re looking to stay in education, current colleagues can offer great support. Otherwise, you can find thought leaders on social media, LinkedIn, and community websites to follow so that you can stay current with trends in that space. In addition to staying current with trends, you may also be able to connect with folks within that community and ask questions, gain feedback, and receive positive support throughout your journey.

4. Follow through and celebrate. Follow through with your plan and be realistic with your timeline or if you need to extend the time frame. Once you’re done, celebrate in a way that not only honors this new step but also refreshes you (for me, it’s going on a long walk or gardening). Completing professional advancement—whether it’s for personal or professional growth—is an accomplishment!

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