Model of Career Stages for Professional Development

Pat Kornelis

Betty Steffy’s model of career stages for teachers recognizes the developmental process all professionals experience in their careers. Teaching, unlike many professions, is often viewed as a stageless career—that is, one begins their career with the same responsibilities and expectations as one who has been teaching for twenty years; there is no progression of responsibility or expectation of change. Steffy’s model, which is based on Jack Mezirow’s transformation theory, recognizes that growth as a professional happens through a process of reflection and renewal (Steffy, 2001).

Steffy describes the beginning stage of the teaching profession as the novice stage (Steffy, 2001). This stage is characterized by the preservice teacher’s first practicum experiences and extends through student teaching and/or internship. The next stage is the apprentice stage and this includes the induction period for the newly practicing teacher. This stage is includes the first 2-3 years of the new teacher’s career. In our class model of the career stages, we included both the novice and apprentice stages in the anticipatory stage (class notes).

During the anticipatory stage, the new teacher is enthusiastic and eager to perform the tasks of teaching. This eagerness can be squelched by the overwhelming tasks and frustrations of the first years of teaching. While the teacher in the anticipatory stage may be well trained, many issues and questions will arise in these first years. A savvy supervisor of the teacher in the anticipatory stage will carefully and continually monitor the needs of this new teacher. Frequent discussions on curriculum and instruction will occur. Setting up the new teacher with a mentor or expert teacher will allow the new teacher to observe and discuss good teaching practice in a supportive environment.

After the initial years of teaching, the novice or apprentice teacher may move into the next stage of career development. Steffy breaks this stage into several components as well. First the teacher moves into the professional stage. Here the teacher is growing in confidence about his or her teaching ability. Positive relationships of respect are evident with students, parents, and other colleagues. Successful completion of this stage leads to the expert stage of the teaching profession. In this stage the teacher has reached a level of expertise that would meet the qualifications for national certification. The distinguished stage follows with the professional teacher who exceeds all expectations of current practice. This teacher is often involved in city, state, and even national educational decision-making (Steffy, 2001). In our class discussions on career stages, these three categories are grouped together in the expert/master teacher stage (class notes). Teachers in this stage are at the height of their career in that they are excellent practitioners of their craft. The supervisor’s role with teachers in this stage is to encourage and affirm their expertise. Offering them roles and opportunities that foster continued growth will allow these teachers to maintain their expert role. Supervisors might suggest an area of professional development that the expert teacher could further explore through conferences or workshops. Or the supervisor may ask the expert teacher to serve as the leader of a school improvement project or to serve as a mentor or peer coach for colleagues. The supervisor should be intentional and supportive of the areas of growth that best meet the needs of expert teacher and not just serve the needs of the school organization.

Steffy notes in her model that teachers progress through their stages through a process of reflection and renewal. To avoid stagnation, supervisors must always be vigilant about providing and endorsing opportunities for their teachers to grow and develop. Sometimes personal and life experiences can cause a teacher to begin to withdraw from their current stage. Sometimes organizational factors such as job-related stress and time issues can cause a teacher to begin to withdraw. The supervisor must do what he or she can to help the teacher to resolve these conflicts that impede their professional growth.

Teachers throughout their career cycle have two options for the direction of their development. Teachers either enter a renewal cycle or they enter a withdrawal cycle. Supervisors who provide the proper degree of support and direction have teachers that enter the renewal cycle. These teachers are support in further refining their skills, or developing new skills that will help them to be refreshed and able to contribute positively to the school. Whether the individual teacher is in the anticipatory stage or in the expert stage, renewal is a vital part of the development cycle.

Teacher who are not encouraged by the supervisor may enter the withdrawal cycle. In this cycle, teacher move into a detached and cynical stance. If the supervisor does not provide positive opportunities for growth and development, the teacher may progress further and further into withdrawal until the only option left is to leave the profession. Again, this move into withdrawal can occur at any stage in the career cycle. Novice teachers who are not supported by the supervisor may become so discouraged and frustrated that they decide to leave the profession after only a year or less. Master/expert teachers who are no longer challenged by the classroom environment may decide on another career option that offers the challenge teaching once did.

The final stage of the teaching cycle is the exit stage. Whether the exit is because the teacher has fulfilled a satisfying career of continual development or because the individual teacher has moved through a painful withdrawal cycle, the role of the supervisor is to ensure that the exit is as positive as possible. If necessary, the supervisor should help the individual explore other career possibilities. However, the supervisor must conduct some sort of exit interview and ensure that the teacher leaves with dignity (class notes).

Steffy’s model of career stages is one of many models that recognize the complexity of professional development (Bartunek, 1990). Recognizing a framework for career development is of vital importance for the successful supervisor. These models recognize the element of growth in a professional career. All teachers are not at the same stage or have the same needs for supervisory support. The successful supervisor will recognize that he or she cannot supervise each teacher in the same way but that successful school will have teachers who are growing at all stages of development.


Bartunek, H. (1990). The classroom teacher as teacher educator. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. ED375297.

Class notes (2003, July). The Administrator and Instructional Supervision.

Steffy, B.E. & Wolfe, M.P. (2001, Fall). A life cycle model for career teachers. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 38(1), 16-19