Education Opinion

Why Teachers Should-and Must-Claim Their Expertise: Part 3

By Megan M. Allen — July 29, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Part 3 of the Teacher Expertise Blog Series

Teachers must claim their expertise. Here’s a few reasons why:

Rebecca Klein, an editor for the Huffington Post, wrote an article in 2013 titled: “These 11 leaders are running education but have never taught.” In it, she outlines that many of the people who have the most pull in education nationally have no education experience. Period. Not that they don’t have good intentions, but that they just don’t have the experience or know-how to be making the kinds of high impact changes that they were making. The list of leaders includes Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Wendy Kopp, all the way to our former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Another well-penned piece was written by Scott Goldstein, a DC charter school teacher. He examined the archival, public data of large, education non-profits that were involved in influencing and advocating for education policy. He looked at 58 national staffers and found that only 22 had ever worked in a classroom, and of those 22, 19 had taught for less than three years. An Einstein Fellow that he interviewed in his article, Steve Ruthford, who was on leave from his classroom for a year to work on national education policy issues, stated that there are just not enough teachers at the table.

Another reason for teachers to claim their expertise: If we don’t claim it, others will. Dan Lortie wrote a book called Schoolteacher in 1975, and in this book he outlines something called Apprenticeship of Observation. This is the phenomenon that has to do with time we have all spent in classrooms as students...do you know how many hours? By the time the average American graduates from high school, they have spent 15,000 hours as a student. This is time watching teachers, teaching, and learning. Observing. And this can lead people to assume that they have some expertise with what happens in a classroom since they have spent so much time in them, as an “apprentice.” But they really have minimal undestanding of this deeply complex profession.

Think this isn’t problematic? Look at the poster below, a photo taken from a Texas airport, courtesy of Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National teacher of the Year.

Been in an airplane before? Become a pilot...when can you start? Spent a lot of time with your child’s pediatrician? Become a doctor...when can you start? Turned on light switches your whole life? Become an electrician! When can you start?

Expertise and experience matter, especially for such complex and high-stakes professions. Posters like this make me realize that some may think that expertise doesn’t matter, that any warm body can do the job of building and preparing the future citizens of tomorrow. I realize that supply and demand plays it’s part in this kind of all-call for teachers, but this really, REALLY scares me. I don’t want someone teaching my children who came in off the street because they saw a poster in an airport and signed up for a few training classes with a for-profit, TFA-like company. No, thank you.

If we are not stepping up as the experts, others will step in. Making decisions on policy and practice that impact our classrooms, our schools, and most importantly-our students. Making decisions with no experience or expertise that have huge impact and consequence. And that, my friends, is another scary thing.

So let’s claim our expertise. And this doesn’t mean to storm in every room and demand that people recognize you as the expert. In fact, demanding to be seen as an expert can and will have the reverse effect. Expertise is a way of being and knowing, not a title or something demanded. We must also know that being an expert doesn’t mean that you aren’t continually learning and gaining more expertise. It means that you have a combination of knowledge plus experience that gives you a high level of understanding. We must encourage one another to recognize within ourselves that we are the experts, that this is a true profession.

Here is my call to action: We must see ourselves as experts. We must embrace our expertise and we must encourage our colleagues to do the same. We must take hold of the narrative around teacher expertise so that when people close their eyes and picture an expert, a teacher is the first image that comes to mind.

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.