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Volume 26, Number 3
May/June 2010

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher?

Specialized roles offer new promise for retaining and developing talent


25th Anniversary ImageWhen I started teaching in the late 1960s, I was lucky to work in a public high school that never functioned like the traditional egg-crate school, with its isolated classrooms linked only by corridors. Instead, team teaching and peer observations were common. In the summer, my colleagues and I wrote curriculum together and then in the fall watched each other teach it to see what we could learn. Although all of us were teachers, some of us held specialized roles for part of our day. One year I taught three classes rather than four, spending my nonteaching time supporting other teachers who, like me, were introducing an individualized English curriculum for ninth-graders. The following four years, I taught two classes and spent the rest of my time as a “house teacher” with administrative responsibility for 200 students. Although these roles had no administrative title or pay raise to signal greater authority or status, they did allow me to understand the larger school, learn new skills, work jointly with administrators, and exercise influence beyond my classroom.

When I left my classroom for graduate school and compared my high school workplace with those of other former teachers, I discovered that my experience had been unusual. Most of my peers told of working in isolation, being confined to their classrooms, and having no opportunities for new challenges or broader influence. That apparent difference in our experience has fueled my research, teaching, and writing ever since.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

M.L. Donaldson, C.L. Kirkpatrick, W.H. Marinell, J.L. Steele, and S.A. Szczesiul. “Angling for Access, Bartering for Change: How Second-stage Teachers Experience Differentiated Roles in Schools.” Teachers College Record 110, no. 5 (2008): 1088–1114.

S.M. Johnson and The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

S.M. Johnson. “How Best to Add Value: Strike a Balance Between the Individual and the Organization in School Reform.” Briefing Paper. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, October 2009. Available online at

S.M. Johnson, S.F. Fiarman, M.S. Munger, J.P. Papay, and E.K. Qazilbash. A User’s Guide to Peer Assistance and Review (a Web site reporting on research in seven school districts):

M.M. Mangin and S.R. Stoelinger. “The Future of Instructional Teacher Leader Roles.” The Educational Forum 74, no. 1 (January 2010): 49–62.