Teachers at mid-career should think about taking on new roles like library science or STEM leadership
For Administrators

Fresh Ideas for Mid-Career Teachers

By Brian Gatens July 21, 2014

What makes some mid-career teachers want to get out of the business, while others are as passionate about their work as they were the first day on the job? Researchers have made some intriguing discoveries.

For instance, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers published a report in 2005 exploring a wide range of topics including the recruitment, length of service and retention of teachers. The part that caught my eye was the section on mid-career teachers. While the research shed a lot of light on retaining newer teachers, it also revealed the stresses and strains on teachers at the midpoint in their careers. Respondents in the study cited boredom, frustration and an overabundance of routine as the primary forces motivating people to leave the profession.

Teachers at mid-career should think about taking on new roles like library science or STEM leadership

More importantly, the report also examined the factors that helped the teachers not only remain in the profession, but also thrive as they passed the mid-career mark. The findings of this excellent report and my own professional experience suggests these are some great ways to cope with a sense of mid-career malaise:

Get more professional development

Harvard’s report made it clear that seeking out further development is the best way for teachers to counteract feelings of boredom and routine. I’ve found that mid-career teachers who, by their own admission, feel they’ve grown “stale” in the classroom enjoy the growth that comes from approaching teaching and learning in new ways.

Altering your teaching practice makes the classroom feel fresh and new again, providing an opportunity to take advantage of all the healthy advances that have come to the profession since you started out. Most school districts offer opportunities for growth. If that’s not available, just reach out to colleagues to form your own study groups.

Try a new role

If you need a new challenge, take on a new role. Job titles such as lead teacher, mentor, STEM coordinator, and literacy specialist are just a few examples. These hybrid jobs enable mid-career teachers to apply their classroom experience to the life of the school.

These opportunities are borne from the complexity of the new Common Core State Standards and the need for the district to bring in professional support via part-time use of current staff. More importantly, the majority of these jobs are non-evaluative in nature and don’t require teachers to evaluate their colleagues.

Become a mentor

If the school district lacks formal opportunities to work outside the classroom, one option for the mid-career teacher is to act as a resource and guide for new teachers. The topics can be as mundane as how to operate the copy machine or as complex as working with a difficult parent.

A wonderful way to become reinvigorated professionally is to see young colleagues grow in their skill and practice. Many master teachers I know look back fondly on these relationships as the years pass.

Be the voice

Having put in after many years of successful and capable work, the mid-career teacher holds a certain position of authority a school. Using that influence for the good of the school, whether in maintaining positive morale or taking part in school-spirit activities, is a great way to reinvigorate your professional practice.

This unspoken and unofficial leadership role is an extremely powerful force in the life of a school. Not everyone can aspire to these positions, but those who do can make things better for everybody (administrators are especially grateful for these teachers).

Effective, dedicated and positive mid-career teachers are vital to the school community. The ability to speak with authority on the history of the school, offer guidance to new teachers (and administrators) and be a strong representative for the district is extremely valuable. It’s a role that should be fostered and encouraged.

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