For an aspiring teacher looking for the place to launch her career, or an experienced teacher looking for something new, Great Districts for Great Teachers (Great Districts) is an excellent place to start. Great Districts recognizes public school districts around the country that excel in five areas:
- Professional compensation structure
- Professional support
- Effective management and operations
- Career pathways and leadership opportunities
- Adequate support services for students
Choosing the right district for you is not easy if you don't have the right information. Oftentimes, it's not even clear what the right information is. Here's how you can use Great Districts to think about places where you might like to work. We'll use the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as an example -- because Great Districts has already done the work for you in evaluating DCPS! -- but you can use the Great Districts questions to guide your research into wherever you may be interested in working:
Will I earn a competitive salary? Am I rewarded for doing a good job in the classroom? What if I want to work in a high-needs school?
Yes! Yes! Opportunities are there for you!
At DCPS, a teacher with a Bachelor's degree earns a base salary of $51,539 and qualifies for bonuses based on effectiveness and the type of school in which she works. For example, when teachers in high-poverty schools reach the "Advanced Teacher" stage, the district awards them two additional years of service credit, permanently increasing their base pay. Highly Effective teachers can earn up to $25,000 in annual bonuses and see increases in their base salary of up to $27,000.
Most districts publicize their current salary structures, allowing you to compare districts based on cost of living using a cost of living calculator.
Am I supported as a new teacher? Will professional development include feedback and coaching? Am I supported in teaching the district's curriculum?
Yes! Yes! And, yes!
DCPS created LEarning together to Advance our Practice (LEAP) to help teachers to become experts in delivering Common Core aligned curricula. LEAP Teams, consisting of content-specific learning communities led by LEAP Leaders -- content experts -- meet weekly. DCPS LEAP training emphasizes content knowledge using LEAP Leader classroom observations and debriefs to ensure that every student experiences rich, engaging, and challenging instruction every day.
Are there opportunities for career advancement while staying in the classroom?
DCPS created Leadership Initiative For Teachers (LIFT), "a five-stage career ladder that provides high-performing teachers with opportunities for advancement inside the classroom, as well as additional responsibility and increased recognition and compensation." LIFT rewards top performing teachers, rewards a long-term commitment to the district (e.g., minimum of 6 years in the classroom), broadens recognition for high quality teachers, and ensures career stability (once a teacher reaches a particular stage, she will not drop down).
Are there classroom and non-academic supports for special needs students? Will I receive additional training if I have students with special needs?
DCPS uses the IMPACT system to assess teacher and school-based staff performance. It has, for example, specific performance assessments for autism teachers. IMPACT assessments "will help ensure that all autism teachers are providing the highest quality services for students with autism and related disorders." Teacher and paraprofessionals working with special needs students receive specialized training during DCPS professional development days to ensure they are prepared for IMPACT.
It doesn't matter whether or not the district where you want to work is in the Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative! You can use the criteria on your own to guide your thinking as you review the district's website, talk to people who work in it, or get to the section of a job interview when you're asked, "Do you have any questions?"
Well, yes! Now you do. Good luck!
-- Curtis Valentine