Being an experienced educator does not necessarily mean expert

In many education systems the teacher pay scale is linked to experience; the more years that you have taught, the more you are paid. Similarly, when applying for school leadership positions, it is possible to come across the statement: “Salary to be determined based on the suitable candidate’s experience.”

I am not quite sure what the thinking is behind experienced-based pay scales. My gut instinct tells me that the education profession and policymakers recognize experience in teachers and school leaders and, therefore, pay is commensurate with experience. On the other hand, I wonder if the increase in pay is service related; it is an inducement for sticking with the profession and being committed to students. Either way, I have over the years found myself having a taking issue with how we acknowledge experience in education.

Great teachers, while they may be aided by experience, are experts in their profession. They are not expert in all things but in many things and they are striving to learn how to do things better. The same cannot always be said for the experienced teacher.

In the book, Professional Capital, Hargreaves and Fullan talk about the need to ‘Teach like a Pro’. In this statement alone, the notion of Pro, or professional, carries with it expertise rather than experience. Hargreaves and Fullan talk about the good habits of the Pro and their first rate qualities. They talk about the Pro as a learner striving for excellence in what they do. Experience can definitely help us to develop expertise by giving us the time to develop a repertoire of high impact skills that positively influence students as learners. Though given the time in the profession, have all experienced teachers made the most of these opportunities for learning? Some have and some have not.

Summing it up, Hargreaves and Fullan state: “To ‘teach like a pro’ is a personal commitment to rigorous training, continuous learning, collegial feedback, respect for evidence, responsiveness to parents, striving for excellence, and going far beyond the requirements of any written contract.”

Taking this on board, then looking around your own school the experts will begin to stick out and they may not necessarily be the most experienced. When it comes to respecting the evidence, the first words we may hear in a conversation about teaching and learning is: “In my experience…” or “from my experience…” An educator’s experience may not acknowledge any other sources of evidence, which can be problematic.

Experience allows us more opportunity for reflection, experience allows us more opportunities to get it right and experience gives us more opportunities to learn and develop wisdom. Though to be an expert teacher, we cannot rely on experience alone, we have to spend time looking at education research, questioning it, discussing it, applying it and, at times, refuting it. My experience does not carry the same weight in conversations about education, if I have not taken time to read about my profession and how I can better support students.

With 20 years in education, I can certainly call myself an experienced educator but there are colleagues that I work with who have spent less time in the profession and have considerably more expertise in certain aspects of education; I can learn from them. I have to keep reminding myself that “if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”

As this is my 100th blog post, I can comfortably say that I have some experience with blogging but an expert I am certainly not.

 

Connect with me @richard_bruford

Originally posted on http://richardbruford.com

 

References:

Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne.

Hargreaves, A and Fullan, M. (2012, March). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press. ISBN: 0807753327.

 

5 Comments

  1. If the message is “don’t be complacent,” I feel as though you could have said that without implying that experience doesn’t matter, or that it matters very little. It matters a lot. One of the most serious indictments of Teach for America, for example, is that is sends young and inexperienced people into classrooms that desperately need high-quality teachers with deep connections to their communities. It’s great to be young and smart and full of energy; it’s better to more experienced and effective, and just as fired up about being in the classroom.

    October 8, 2015
    • Thank you for taking the time read the post and respond. You make a good point about complacency and it certainly is worth including in a discussion about experienced versus expert teachers.

      It was not my attention to imply that experience does not matter; it was my thinking to include enough qualifying statements to show that, in my opinion, it is valuable.

      I do think your note about inexperienced teachers misses the point of what I am arguing for us to consider. My main point to consider is that, when someone calls themselves experienced they are not necessarily an expert.

      With regard to sending you inexperienced teachers into classrooms, my question would be: What is the expertise level? I think in some instances, not necessarily lots, there would be some young teachers, with less years of experience, who will have a greater impact on student learning than older, more experienced, colleagues who may not have taken the time to develop expertise.

      I do, however, agree with refraining from sending lots of inexperienced teachers into classes, if the expertise is lacking. Similarly, young and full of energy does not mean expert either.

      October 8, 2015
  2. Debbie Etterling said:

    You are implying that experience is not valuable. If I have taught 30 years and have taught 6 classes a day times 180 days I certainly have some knowledge about teaching. Interestingly, no one wants doctors who are performing an operation for the first time out of medical school but being young in teaching is in itself a virtue. You are saying that without really saying that. An older teacher is really a researcher about education in the field on the fly. How should teachers get paid? Administrators are paid same
    way. I never read articles that say administrators should not get paid much as they do.

    October 9, 2015
    • Exactly, Debbie! It’s the dismissal of how much time in the classroom matters that irks me, and the general lack of respect for teachers it seems to imply. I also suspect that administrators prefer younger, more tractable teachers because they tend to be less critical of administrative decisions and tactics.

      October 9, 2015
    • Thank you for reading and commenting on the post Debbie. I certainly support your point about administrators. The same principle applies in terms of experience versus expertise. There are leaders with less experience but may have acquired greater expertise. This could be owing to their natural leadership ability and / or greater willingness to learn.

      Depending to which schools you apply around the world, it is interesting that some school leadership positions have a salary range attached, with the final salary to be determined based on experience. Again, this reasoning possibly implies that experience = expertise = better leader.

      I applaud school systems that are looking at how they can reward teacher expertise, for example having advanced teacher scales. Teachers apply to be on such scales, presenting evidence of the impact they are having on student learning and their ability to work collaboratively with other teachers to make teaching teams more effective. A downside to this, always is subjectivity. This is probably why we cannot break away from the experience-based pay scale.

      October 9, 2015

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