Teaching-- a field where you can start at the middle and work your way up to the middle.
Many commenters on many sides of various tracks periodically note that one of the problems with the teaching profession is that there is no career path. You start out teaching a bunch of kids in your classroom, and thirty-some years later, there you are, still teaching a bunch of kids in your classroom. You are probably better at it for any number of reasons, but you're doing the same job, with the same responsibilities for the same classroom teacher pay.
Lots of folks (again, from all sides of all tracks) note that this is certainly not one of the more attractive features of a teaching career, and that we could probably hang onto teachers more easily (those of us who actually want to, anyway) if we could offer some sort of career advancement. Unfortunately, here are the teacher ladders that have presented themselves to date.
The Escape Ladder
The problem with a career ladder is that it adds non-teaching tasks to a teacher's day. There are some traditional career ladders open to teachers that involve moving up to administrative or supervisory jobs. If I had to guess, I would bet the two most common reasons that teachers do not climb that ladders are 1) being an administrator looks like a miserable job and 2) they don't want to leave teh classroom.
Administrative jobs have been so hamstrung and depowered that they have lost the luster that usually makes advancement appealing. The usual desire to climb a career ladder goes something like this: "At my level I can see problems to solve that would make The Work go better, and if I climb up a rung or two, I'll be able to effect those changes and make the place work better." But in schools it looks like you have to climb a ladder to the clouds before you can actually get your hands on the power needed to straighten out much of our mess.
Even lesser jobs, like taking on dean of students or athletic director, mean less classroom time. Career ladders lead not to another, higher step in a teaching career, but to another career entirely, a career where you no longer get to do the work you went into the biz to do in the first place. Teaching, even after a few decades, requires a huge hunk of your regular day, and all of your school day-- nobody is sitting in the lounge thinking, "Boy, I just have so much time left over after handling classes-- I need another project to fill up all this empty time."
The Vapor Ladder
Nevertheless, many teachers take on extra projects and responsibilities anyway. Committee chair. Heading up the implementation of New School Program #1452. Taking responsibility for applying the lessons from that cool in-service.
All of these in-house teacher-leader career steps have one thing in common-- the teacher holds the job at the pleasure of the administration.
Teachers all across the country can tell similar stories. Teacher brings back great idea to school with desire to implement, and administration says, "Sure, but you can't have any money, you can't use our facilities, and you'll have to meet with people on your own time. Whip up an implementation plan and we'll tell you whether we'll let you do it or not (Spoiler alert: not)." Teacher gets job of heading up a program and is free to lead as long as she does exactly what her administrator tells her to do. Teacher heads up and leads a program implementation, only to come to school one day and discover that somebody else is now leading meets that she is not even notified about; nobody even bothered to tell her she wasn't in charge of Project X any more.
In other words, teachers are given tasks, but not ownership. They're allowed to ride in the front seat of the bus, but they can't drive. A real step on a career ladder gives you ownership and the power to chart a course, to make your mark by using your judgment to make things better.
The Invisible Ladder
Every organization has it. There's the organizational chart that's written on paper, and then there's the real organizational chart, the one that describes how the company really works.
Schools are no different. In your building, there are teachers who have unofficial roles. "Call Ms. Clearheart if you need help with that software." "Stop by Mr. McWhittlebutt's room if you need some extra paper supplies." "See Mrs. Johnsonville-- she has the key to that closet." "Check with Mr. Gallonoches about that-- he's always in charge of that event."
There's a certain amount of regard and responsibility that comes with these unofficial jobs, and they can be really important, a part of your institutional tradition.
But they don't come with any of the trappings of a real career ladder. They usually don't pay more, and since they're unofficial they are more vapor jobs, jobs that can be taken away by administration for any reason at any time.
The Ladder of Imaginary Excellence
Reformsters often propose a career ladder based on excellence-- teachers who demonstrate their awesomeness can move up a step, get more pay, bigger desk, maybe a tiara. Perhaps we could give them a big raise and have them teach 300 students, or just oversee a bunch of teacher apprentices.
I understand that many reformsters feel compelled to fix what they view as major design flaw in the teaching profession-- people who get a raise every year (well, unless they're in North Carolina) whether they did anything swell to earn such an advancement. Even as I'm compelled to note that the private sector is filled with examples of people who get huge bonuses even when they've, say, crashed the entire economy, I get their point. I think there are compelling reasons to do it the way we do, but that doesn't really matter because (I'll type this for the gazillionth time) we do not have any system at all at all at all that can tell us which teachers would deserve advancement in a merit-based system.
And even if we could, there's another issue-- financing such a system. No school board is going to go to the public and say, "We have so many excellent teachers that we need a five mill tax hike to pay them properly."
Plus, the idea of a system in which teachers climb a career ladder by taking on more supervisory jobs gets us back to a career ladder that leads away from the classroom.
Can It Be Done?
Okay, I started to lay out my ideas here and it tripled the length of this post, so I think I'd better mull it over and save all of that for another, better-focused day. Suffice it to say that my idea would require some major structural and cultural changes. Also, getting rid of administrative jobs. At the same time, we could probably do a little with simple things, like office space and autonomy.
So it's not easy, and it's especially not easy if what you're really trying to do is come up with a system that would let you scrap tenure and reduce the total cost of staffing. But I can agree with those from all sides of all tracks that the current version of a teacher career ladder looks suspiciously like a step-stool, and is probably not optimal.