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.
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.