Second-Stage Teachers

What We Learned

Having investigated the experiences of novice teachers between1998 and 2002 and found that they were substanitally affected by their school's work environment, we decided to study teachers from roughly this same cohort when they had reached the second stage of their career--years 4-10.  Megin Charner-Laird,  Cheryl Kirkpatrick, Stacy Szczesiul, and I focused on the work of 85 second-stage teachers (SSTs) in 14 low-income schools located in 3 underperforming urban districts. We were interested in learning how these SSTs, who we assumed would have achieved a sense of confidence and competence as teachers, experienced four aspects of their work environment in in these low-income schools: access to curriculum, relationships with colleagues, demands for accountability, and instructional coaching. 

We again found that principals strongly influenced the quality of these teachers’ work environment and whether they found it  supportive. For example, we found that curriculum and instruction were strongly affected by the demands of state-based accountability systems. Under the leadership of some principals, teachers responded in a coherent and collaborative way to these new requirements, but In other schools, leadership was uneven, weak or punitive. which  led to substantial dissatisfaction. 

Cheryl Kirkpatrick also explored whether and how SSTs in two large public high schools remained actively engaged in their teaching at this stage of their career. She found that  their engagement was influenced by competing demands presented by family responsibilities, whether they wanted to develop  deeper pedagogical skills, and whether they had opportunities to exercise formal or informal leadership. The school had an important influence on these teachers' initiative and responses, although the principals in the two schools she studied neither encouraged nor discouraged  teacheres' further investment.         

Teacher Leaders

in our early interviews with the 50 new Massachusetts teachers, many said that they would be interested in becoming instructional coaches, even though the role was in its earliest stages of development in most districts and schools.  These novices' interest in leadership roles was a notable characteristic of this new generation of teachers. And, in fact, as these teachers moved into the second stage of their career, some had access to formal roles as teacher leaders. 

Therefore, throughout our school-based studies of SSTs we tracked their interest and involvement in formal or informal leadership opportunities. We studied several prominent reforms, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), which showed promise for addressing the professional interests of  teachers, who not only expressed an interest in exercising leadership, but also being recognized and compensated for their expertise and time. 

In our first study of teacher leadership, a team including Jill Harrison Berg, Morgaen Donaldson, Sarah Fiarman, Anne Jones, Cheryl Kirkpatrick, William Marinell, Emily Quazilbash, Stacy Szczesiul, and Jennifer Steele interviewed a sample of 25 second-stage teachers, who had assumed a wide range of leadership roles that were compensated with pay or released time.  Through those interviews, we came to understand the difficulties that teacher leaders encountered when they assumed formal roles, such as instructional coach, which were intended to influence their colleagues’ classroom practice.  In the eyes of many of their colleagues, these new leadership responsibilities of their peers--who might be consisderbly younger and less experienced than they--violated the traditional professional norms of egalitarianism, seniority, and autonomy.  As a result, other teachers often resisted and rejected what they saw as inappropriate interference in their work. According to these SSTs who had assumed roles as teacher leaders, their principal could moderate that rejection by explaining to other teachers the benefits of their new role to and by brokering their new relationships.

In a subsequent study, Jill Harrison Berg examined several schools' efforts to make advanced certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards a priority for their teachers. She found that teachers encountered difficulties assuming leadership roles based on their designation as “accomplished” teachers and that principals were essential agents in efforts to recognize them school-wide and draw on their expertise. 

Teacher Union Presidents

We had anticipated that second-stage teachers might also increasingly assume leaderhip roles in their local teachers union.  Therefore, I set out with Morgaen Donaldson, Mindy Munger, John Papay, and Emily Qazilbash to interview 30 union presidents in 6 states.  All had been elected to their post in the previous 8 years and we hioped to understand  the priorities and practices of the newest generation of local union leaders.  However, we found that most of the presidents in our sample were long-time union members, closer to the end of their career than to the beginning. We did, though, find considerable evidence that the new generation of teachers was influencing the  agendas of these union leaders.  No longer were they exclusively focused on advancing the traditional union goals of gaining better salaries, benefits, and working conditions.  Most reported that these conventional union priorities were necessary, but not sufficient, given the increasing expecations of the new generation of teachers for instructional support, the growing demands of accountability, and increasing competition from charter schools. These presidents described their efforts to lead two groups of teachers--veterans and members of the new generation--who had different and often competing needs, interests, and beliefs about the appropriate role of teachers union.