The Bellarmine Blog

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Teacher Career Path: 5 Advancement Opportunities for Ambitious Educators


We’re accustomed to hearing professionals talk about “climbing the ladder”as they progress through different levels of advancement in their industries. But,as a teacher, it can seem like your career trajectory isn’t quite as clear.

While you may love working with students as a classroom instructor, it’s possible you still have a desire to branch out from what you know and expand upon the expertise you’ve already gained. That might equate to transitioning to a new role entirely or simply enhancing your duties while remaining in the classroom with your students.

5 Ways teachers can drive their careers forward

Whatever your ultimate goals are, know that there are opportunities for advancement in the education field. Join us as we explore the teacher career path by identifying five distinct opportunities that could take you to the next level.

1.  Specialist roles

Within the field of education, there are a number of specialist roles that are distinct from typical classroom instruction. These include literacy specialist, STEAM specialist, curriculum specialist, and instructional support specialist roles, and more. While the specific duties will vary depending on the type of specialist role, these positions exist to provide support to teachers and students alike.

Consider, for example, the following specializations offered within Bellarmine University’s online Master of Arts in Education program:

  • STEAM education–Designed to equip practicing educators with best practices in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, the STEAM education specialization can help transform your approach to teaching. STEAM instruction provides a place where students can take a deeper dive into integrated content, learning to problem-solve across disciplinary boundaries.
  • Literacy specialist–Offering educators an in-depth study of teaching, learning, and literacy leadership, literacy specialist certification enables classroom teachers like you to explore literacy issues related to elementary, middle, and high school students. In many cases, literacy specialists will practice with an emphasis on issues related to struggling readers.
  • Trauma-informed practices–Created to develop teachers who are well-versed in trauma-informed leadership, this focus area informs educators on the ways trauma can impact students’ learning and behavior, appropriate interactions with and responses to children impacted by trauma, and strategies for developing trauma-informed classrooms and schools.

Other responsibilities in a specialist role can include evaluating current programs, implementing new initiatives, and, in some cases, conducting professional development or coaching exercises. To advance to a position in this realm, you’ll typically need teaching experience paired with a master’s degree.

2.  Department head

Depending on the age range of the students you teach, the department in which you work or even the specific school where you practice, department head positions can go by a few different names. In addition to department head, you might see things like lead teacher or grade level chair.

Generally speaking, education professionals in these positions act as liaisons between teachers and the administration. They may facilitate regular meetings to collaborate on things like curriculum, assessment practices, and school/department policies. The overarching goal of this role is to provide support for other teachers, helping to foster a positive atmosphere.

Teachers who exhibit leadership qualities and a strong command of their subjects are prime candidates for these positions. Some school districts will select classroom instructors to serve in dual roles as teacher and department head. Others hire individuals at the administrative level. The latter requires a master’s degree.

Positions like this may or may not come with a pay increase, but it’s a way to gain valuable leadership experience while still potentially retaining your typical in-classroom duties.

3.  School principal

Some who are looking to advance on their teacher career path may opt to leave the classroom entirely and transition into jobs at the administrator level. One of the more common options is school principal.

Regardless of the age range of the school’s students, principals are tasked with setting an academic vision and supporting their staff in ways that help that vision come to fruition. They are a critical component in cultivating a school’s overall culture by building meaningful relationships not only with faculty members, but also with students and parents within the school community.

Principals may also help provide professional development plans and resources to aid in teacher growth. Some schools also employ assistant/vice principals who assist with the principal’s duties.

In most cases, principals begin by gaining successful teaching experience. They must also obtain an advanced degree and achieve their principal certification.

4.  School counselor

Great teachers inevitably become invested in the overall well-being and success of their students. That’s why it’s not all that uncommon for classroom instructors to transition into roles as school counselors.

Professionals in this capacity advocate for students in all areas, including academic achievement, social development, and preparation for college and future careers. They perform assessments to evaluate students’ abilities and interests. This helps them pinpoint issues that may affect school performance, while also identifying a clearer path to help students develop skills that can improve their educational experiences.

School counselors will meet with students both one-on-one and in groups. They also collaborate closely with teachers, administrators, and parents to help young learners succeed. In most states, you’ll need a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field to qualify for this role.

5.  College professor

For some elementary, middle, or high school teachers, their teacher career path leads them to the collegiate level. As a college professor, your subject-specific expertise will be highlighted as you are tasked with teaching multiple different courses within your field. A math professor, for example, might teach one course on calculus, one on statistics, another on linear algebra, and maybe even a graduate seminar on top of it all.

In addition to daily teaching responsibilities, college professors are tasked with crafting well-rounded syllabi that meet college and department standards, advising students about which classes to take to achieve their goals,and working with colleagues to develop or modify applicable degree or certificate programs.

Article Review To become a college professor, you’ll likely need, at minimum, a master’s degree in the field you plan to teach. Some institutions, however, prefer candidates who have earned a doctorate degree.

Where will your teacher career path lead you?

Whether your desire is to take on some extra responsibilities while resuming your post at the head of the classroom or to progress to a new education role entirely, it’s clear there are opportunities for advancement within the teacher career path. The question is, in which direction is your journey headed?

No matter the end goal, the best way to ensure success is to start with a high-quality, well-rounded education. If you’ll need to level up by earning an advanced degree, head to Bellarmine University’s School of Education page to learn more about the range of program options that can help you achieve your teaching career goals.

Tags: Education

About Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.