Everybody seems to be thinking about experts and novices this week! Well, maybe not everybody, but lots of people – including the organization TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project), which just released a report about how school districts fail to retain “irreplaceable” teachers. Here’s a Huffington Post article that summarizes their findings, and here is the TNTP page from which you can download the report as a PDF. In my Twitter stream yesterday, I saw one minor criticism of the study’s methodology for identifying “irreplaceable” teachers, but no one seems to be arguing with the central point: as a rule, school districts don’t expend very much effort on retaining their expert teachers.
I actually find the phrase “irreplaceable teacher” funny, because when I was a new teacher, I learned very quickly that no one is irreplaceable. My colleagues were quite blunt. “There’s a lot of teachers out there,” they said, “and THEY will just replace you if THEY want to.”
I can’t actually think of any teachers who were “replaced” by the mysterious THEY in those days, but the paradigm was clear. Teachers, it seemed, were essentially interchangeable … at least within the confines of certification areas and subject-matter knowledge. The job description of a new teacher was identical to that of a veteran, and everyone seemed to assume that novices and experts did essentially the same things. And what they did, all too often, was what we’ve called a “rote and ritualized” performance … which was also what they tended to expect from their students. More about that tomorrow, if you’d like.
- given that schools tend not to distinguish between novices and experts in their own operations, as we’ve noted here, and
- given that many “school people” chose careers in education because they enjoyed the school environment in their student days, as we discussed here on Google+
Should we be surprised that schools have difficulty helping students become experts?
Or that schools tend to confuse “rote and ritualized” performance with real expertise?
quid respondētis, amīcī?