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Building and Maintaining Equitable Teacher Career Pathways

photo of a black male teacher smiling and sitting on a desk in a classroom

Once established and well-maintained, strong teacher career pathways can strengthen recruitment and retention efforts while enhancing the teacher pipeline.

Historically, to advance their careers in a sustainable way while remaining in education, teachers generally had to leave the classroom to become school administrators. This type of advancement is a double-edged sword in that it is often the most talented teachers who are recruited into administrative roles.

This has been changing with momentum generated by educational entities developing new career pathways for teachers that may entail some or all of the characteristics displayed below.


Such pathways offer options for top talent to remain in the classroom over the course of their career, maintain their commitment to the classroom while leveraging their skills to train other teachers, or move into administrative roles.

Ensuring a True Promotion

It’s important for districts to ensure that any movement intended to be a promotion actually results in one in terms of responsibility and pay. Inequity within the teacher career pathway can often be traced to either a pay issue, a structural issue, or both.

For some districts, fostering this career pathway will mean improving on preexisting leadership roles. For instance, a district may already have established roles, such as a campus-based instructional coach, but instead of the incumbent receiving a higher daily rate or stipend for the new role, their increase in take-home pay is just the result of working additional days.

For other entities, the teacher with the elevated job responsibilities may receive an additional stipend but remains on the teacher salary schedule. If the incumbent will spend the majority of their time outside the classroom or not delivering classroom instruction to students, the best practice would be to move the role to the administrative professional pay schedule. The teacher salary schedule is intended to pay market competitive rates for classroom teachers. Most other instructional-related roles will have their own market value.

Establishing the New Rate of Pay

For jobs in the teacher career path that are moved to the administrative pay structure, vigilance will be necessary to reduce the risk of undermining your efforts. 

Generally, teachers who leave the classroom to take on teacher career pathway jobs like instructional coaches, counselors, and assistant principals should not make less on a daily rate basis, including any degree or subject area stipends, than they would as a classroom teacher within the same district. When these individuals are paid less, this creates a substantial disincentive to leave the classroom. Staff handling promotion calculations should crosscheck the new daily rate of pay with what they would make as a teacher if they had not been promoted and make adjustments as needed.

One exception to this might be when a teacher makes a career move after spending many years in the classroom. The solution for this would be to choose a cutoff point for how many years of teaching experience you are willing to compare to when checking for teacher pay equity. 

Avoiding Compression

A common structure-related issue is when the administrative professional paygrade is not strong enough to ensure a teacher that leaves the classroom does not make less than they would as a teacher on a daily rate basis. This problem was unintentionally exacerbated in 2019 when House Bill 19 increased teacher pay by a historic margin.

To avoid this sort of compression in the teacher career pathway, a good guideline is to ensure that the daily rate minimum for the first pay grade that includes jobs in the teacher career pathway is higher than at least the 0-year teacher daily rate on the current teacher hiring schedule. Another possible source of the problem could be the district’s compensation procedures and how promotional raises are calculated.

In the Pay Procedures Template, available in the HR Library (member login required), it is suggested that a promotional increase be the higher of a 3 percent of base pay increase or what a new hire would be placed at with similar experience. If a teacher is promoted to another certified educator position in a different pay range, incentives (e.g., advanced degree, certification field, career ladder) will then be rolled into the base starting pay for the new position and no longer be paid as stipends. Coaching or other extracurricular stipends would continue to be paid as an additive and not included in base pay.

Moving Forward

If the new salary of teachers who move into teacher career pathway positions that are included in the administrative professional pay structure don’t receive higher pay, then the pay grade that the job is in may need to be increased. In rare cases, it may be warranted to move a particular job to a higher pay grade to fix the issue, subject to internal and external equity considerations.

A final potential source of a breakdown in an entity’s teacher career pathway could be the result of boards continually advocating for stronger general pay increase (GPI) percentages for teachers than for administrative and professional staff. While defensible under the right conditions, this practice can lead to compression in the teacher career pathway over time.

Final Thoughts

Building and maintaining meaningful teacher career pathways requires due diligence by both the administrators making program decisions as well as those tasked with developing and maintaining pay structures and pay procedures. In addition to the retention and recruitment benefits, there is great value accrued from bringing recognition and prestige to your best teachers and to the professional image of teaching as a career.

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Keith McLemore
Keith McLemore
HR and Compensation Consultant

Keith McLemore joined HR Services in 2015 and assists districts with compensation planning and development. He has 17 years of experience traveling the state supporting public education employees.

McLemore received a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University and a master’s degree from Texas Tech University, both with a focus on research analysis and design. He is a SHRM-CP.

HR Services

TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.
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