I’m going to put it out there. Years of teaching experience matters.
I recently spoke about this to a room of 150 teacher experts--teachers who had a combined total of about 3,000 years classroom teaching experience and 3,400 years education experience (which included advocacy, policy, association and school leadership, etc., work in education engaged in after these teachers left the PreK-12 classroom). The majority were National Board Certified Teachers, who had achieved a certification after a rigorous and standardized assessment process. I made a case to the room at our National Board Academy that teachers are experts, and I posted the total number of years of experience to the room and the Twittosphere.
I received some pushback on Twitter, saying that this fact is cool, but the research states that teaching experience doesn’t translate to student learning and expertise.
But I disagree.
Yes, I’ve seen the research stating that experience does not equal expertise (Hattie & Yates, 2014). But I am most certain that years experience of deliberate practice does lead towards expertise, and I’m not the only one (Eckert, 2016; Ericcson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993; Hattie & Yates, 2014).
So what does this deliberate practice look in education? According to my colleague Jon Eckert in his new book, The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher, deliberate practice involves guidance, goals, feedback, assessment, and reflection. And this is something that most teachers go through every hour of every day. And yes, I understand the argument that we all know some teachers who don’t always operate in the mode of deliberate practice. I’ve taught next to them, too. But I’ve been with many teachers in many states, and I’d put my stake in the ground around the fact that most teachers do live in the land of deliberate practice. If you think otherwise, I think your education lens might be smudged by layers of cynacism. Wipe it off!
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell spoke of the magic number of 10,000 hours or practice needed to reach expertise, and though there have been some studies debunking this number, let’s try a little exercise using it. According to a recent survey, teachers reported working an average of 53 hours a week. With 36 weeks in a school year, we are looking at about 1,908 hours a year. By my calculations (and please correct me if I’m wrong), teachers could reach the magic number of 10,000 hours by 5.24 years. And this seems to fit the research as well, which looks at pedagogical expertise potentially being reached in a window of about 5-8 years (Berliner, 2008, & Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986).
Anecdotally, I consider the many teachers I have worked with. Veteran teachers (and not the jaded, burned out ones--yes, I know about the anomalies) have so much knowledge of students, have been through so many cycles of change, and have taught so many lessons so many ways. They have a truly deep level of understanding of learning and the 1000 ways it can manifest, with tried-and-true strategies that support each one of those 1000 ways. They have seen so many misunderstandings of learning as well, and know how to predict and prevent them. They have hours and hours of deliberate practice under their belts, with many have mentored other teachers to engage in that deliberate practice as well.
Personally, I know every experience I have as a teacher gives me a new layer of understanding. Every conversation I engage in gives me a new perspective to consider. And I’m only in the beginning of my career...I’ve spent seven years in the classroom teaching and then five years sprinkled throughout in other positions in education.
So I always welcome other opinions. And I do know the research that states that there is no link between years of experience and expertise. But I think when those years of experience are spent in deliberate practice. I’d argue that very little in teaching is going through the motions, but IS deliberate practice, and that years of experience engaging in that deliberate practice do build expertise.
So my stake is in the ground. Years of experience have impact on student learning, and those years of deliberate practice do build expertise. Experience matters. Big time.
What do you think? What research have you found? I’d love to hear your thoughts--let’s engage in conversation below.
Stay tuned: The next blog post in this Teacher Expertise Blog Series is “Does Society View a Teacher as an Expert?”
The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.