Career Pathways: Does Remaining Close to the Classroom Matter for Early Career Teachers? A Study of Practice in New Zealand and the USA

Apr. 15, 2011

Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 37, No. 2, April 2011, 213–224

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper presents a case study of an early career teacher in order to illustrate and provide a platform from which to consider two teacher leadership roles – the consulting teacher (CT) in Maryland, USA and the specialist classroom teacher (SCT) in New Zealand.

The teacher leadership roles of CT and SCT

The CT position is a formal teacher leadership role designed to provide greater differentiation within the teaching.
The CTs are full-time coaches who are taken out of their classrooms to work with a caseload of 13–18 ‘client’ teachers. The CT observes and advises these teachers on a regular basis in order to help them meet the district performance standards.

The role of the SCT was established in New Zealand secondary schools after the 2004 settlement of the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement.
Teachers in this role are expected to mentor beginning teachers across departments and subject areas as well as experienced teachers who seek assistance (Ward 2007).
The role enables talented early career teachers to commence teacher leadership and to work alongside their colleagues in order to identify, discuss and address the challenges of classroom practice they are experiencing (Fiarman 2007).

Case study: Ruby
The authors draw on the experience of one TOPS teacher, Ruby, who relatively early in her career took on the work of a SCT.
Ruby’s story describes not only of an early career teacher who took on a role beyond her classroom work, that of SCT, but also of one beginning teacher’s aspirations, motivations and experiences relative to classroom teaching.

Discussion: the value of the CT and SCT roles

Ruby’s experience Ruby’s experience provides an example of a teacher who has not been lost to the profession because the profession has been able to offer her new challenges to keep her enthused and interested.
Her experiences also show how teachers can be mobilized to accept the leadership of their colleagues when their talk is about learning.


There is evidence in the literature that early career teachers are being considered a vital commodity for the future well-being of the teaching profession, given the willingness of some schools to give teachers with four to 10 years of experience specialized teacher leadership roles, such as the CT and the SCT.

Fiarman, S.E., 2007. It’s hard to go back: career decisions of second-stage teacher leaders. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 10 April, Chicago, IL.
Ward, L. 2007. Review of specialist classroom teacher pilot: report prepared for the Ministry of Education. Auckland: Cognition Consulting.

Updated: Jan. 12, 2012