by Oskar Cymerman @focus2achieve
"The sky is the limit. You never have the same experience twice" - Frank McCourt
I was a “hot shot” science teacher in 2003, my first year of teaching. I mean: I was young, eager, and driven to be the best educator out there; one to change the world one action and one student at a time.
I really cared about providing the best possible education to the disadvantaged youth of the Chicago’s Dunbar Career Vocational Academy, and though I was as fresh as it gets in my profession, I held a conviction that somehow my lack of experience did not preclude me from being one of the best teachers at my school.
Was I? I don’t know, but I believe that I had an influence on how some of my students viewed the world and life as a whole even back then. My first few years at the tough Chicago south side high school were difficult to say the least, and however infrequently, it was gratifying to find out from students they appreciated me as a teacher or were thankful for opening their eyes to the world they were unaware of before. I worked hard, was adequate, and that was okay then.
But from the perspective of time, and through continuous self-reflection, I know that I perform this gig a whole lot better now. I am a better teacher and a pedagogue. I am quite simply a better and more experienced educator.
What Recent Research Says About Teacher Experience
I looked for and examined research studies conducted in the last decade, and while some were inconclusive, I found at least ten that report strong correlation between teacher experience and student achievement.
Sawchuk (2011) REVIEW OF MORE THAN 40 RESEARCH STUDIES, SYNTHESES, AND INTERVIEWS with quantitative researchers found that the EFFECT OF EXPERIENCE ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT APPEARS TO BE GREATER THAN MOST OTHER TEACHER CHARACTERISTICS.
Wiswall (2013) used data covering all 5TH GRADE PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS FROM NORTH CAROLINA and concluded that “FOR MATHEMATICS ACHIEVEMENT THERE ARE HIGH RETURNS TO LATER CAREER TEACHING EXPERIENCE, about twice as much dispersion in initial teacher quality as previously estimated.”
Dial (2008) found that a teacher’s degree level alone had no effect on student achievement, but he discovered that EXPERIENCE HAD AN EFFECT ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN BOTH COMMUNICATION ARTS AND MATHEMATICS.
Harp (2010) studied the relationship between teacher characteristics, including experience, and eighth grade students’ science achievement. His sample consisted of 44 8th grade science teachers and 4,119 students in TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS. He concluded that TEACHER EXPERIENCE ACCOUNTED FOR 24% OF THE VARIANCE with TAKS Structures and Properties of Matter.
Parsons’ (2011) study of student achievement as measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) suggests that teacher preparation and qualifications do not predict achievement, but TEACHER EXPERIENCE, ATTITUDES, AND BELIEFS ARE SIGNIFICANT PREDICTORS OF STUDENT SUCCESS. The study involved 31 CHARTER SCHOOLS operated by Mosaica Education.
Huang and Moon (2009) performed a MULTILEVEL ANALYSIS of teacher characteristics and student achievement in LOW PERFORMING SCHOOLS and concluded that “YEARS OF TEACHING EXPERIENCE AT A PARTICULAR GRADE LEVEL, WAS FOUND TO BE SIGNIFICANTLY ASSOCIATED WITH INCREASED STUDENT READING ACHIEVEMENT.”
Ladd and Sorensen (2014) discovered that TEACHER EXPERIENCE WAS POSITIVELY ASSOCIATED WITH STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES AND BEHAVIOR. They found the IMPACT OF TEACHER EXPERIENCE TO EXTEND WELL BEYOND THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF TEACHING.
Thus, there is strong evidence that links teacher experience to:
1. Enhanced student success in the classroom.
2. Improved test scores in reading, math, and other areas.
3. Increased positive student behaviors, such as better attendance and classroom behavior.
What I Learned
There were a lot of bad teachers out there in the school system when I started out in 2003, but there were also plenty of good and great teachers too. There were teachers who cared about their students and were really good at helping students learn then, and I observe considerably more of them now.
I think it was easier to find examples of long time teachers unwilling to adapt their methods to their learners at the turn of the century. This in turn, made the assumption that a new teacher, inexperienced but full of passion, is better than the OG (“original gangsta” = old guard), who is simply indisposed to meet their students where they are at.
What Does It All Mean?
EXPERIENCE MATTERS. IS IT CRUCIAL TO BEING A GOOD TEACHER? NO.
I observe plenty of young educators working hard and well with teens every year. Often, what they lack in experience they make up with enthusiasm and persistence, and they teach their students well.
What I also witness, is that these new teachers get better at teaching every year as they arm their “teaching arsenal” with new ways of interacting with students and innovative methods of delivering instruction. If they chose so - through continuous reflection, improvement, and self-growth - they become great educators.
What is most encouraging here is that all teachers, not just the new ones, can chose to continually improve. We have the tools, the resources, and the intellectual capacity to become ever-better educators, free of charge. We do not need more advanced degrees (which can help) to achieve this, as there are free resources we can access and almost instantly grow our teaching superpowers. Our only kryptonite is ourselves.
I still observe a few OGs here and there, who think their way of doing things is best and who, despite the “learner evolution” that is constantly occurring, are unwilling to change, because they might be a few years from hanging it up and do not want to venture outside of their comfort zone.
But, if anything, I find their existence encouraging, because they are a dying breed and we now have the opportunity to once and for all entomb this way of educating, or rather “miseducating,” our students.
We can become the OGs who promote and cultivate continuous professional growth and student development, rather than the guard of antiquated educational procedures and methods that are detrimental to student success. To do this, we have to commit to grow as individuals and professionals, which requires an acceptance of the fact that some of the things we find effective now will be fruitless in the future.
This incessant improvement has to be a conscious effort. I know, because I’ve allowed myself to relent in this work in the past. I could make excuses and say that life got in the way, but I know that would only be a half-truth, as we are all responsible for our own actions. I’m back on the wagon now, as I am reading more, reflecting more, looking for new ways of teaching my students, trying new ideas, researching trends, signing up for workshops, collaborating with my colleagues to a greater degree and effect, and locating and creating new resources I can impact my students’ success with.
I would love to hear from you about what new things you are doing in your teaching/classroom now, that you haven’t done before. What are you trying out and is it working? Please comment below and let’s get the conversation going. Remember: You have the power. Use it.
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Huang, F. L., & Moon, T. R. (2009). Is experience the best teacher? A multilevel analysis of teacher characteristics and student achievement in low performing schools. Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Accountability, 29, 209–234. Retrieved from http://christyhiett.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Is+experience+the+best+teacher.pdf
Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2006). Teacher–student matching and the assessment of teacher effectiveness (NBER Working Paper No. 11936). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w11936.pdf?new_window=1
Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2007). Teacher training, teacher quality, and student achievement (Working Paper No. 3). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from http://www.caldercenter.org/PDF/1001059_Teacher_Training.pdf
Ladd, H. F., & Sorensen, L. C. (2014). Returns to teacher experience: Student achievement and motivation in middle school. Washington, DC: National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from http://www.caldercenter.org/sites/default/files/WP-112_final.pdf
Rice, J. K. (2010). The impact of teacher experience: Examining the evidence and policy implications. Washington, DC: National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/1001455-impact-teacher-experience.pdf
Sawchuk, S. (2011). EWA research brief: What studies say about teacher effectiveness. Washington, DC: National Education Writers Association. Retrieved from http://www.ewa.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/teachereffectiveness.final.pdf
Wiswall, M. (2013). The dynamics of teacher quality. Journal of Public Economics, 100, 61–78.
Dial, J. C. (2008). The effect of teacher experience and teacher degree levels on student achievement in mathematics and communication arts. Unpublished manuscript, Baker University. Retrieved from https://www.bakeru.edu/images/pdf/SOE/EdD_Theses/Dial_Jaime.pdf
Harp, A. (2010). Eighth grade science teacher quality variables and student achievement. Unpublished manuscript, University of North Texas. Retrieved from http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc33159/.
Parsons, E. (2011). A comprehensive study of the relationships between teacher characteristics and value-added to student achievement (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest Dissertations and Theses (Publication number AAI3492295).
FitzGerald, Eileen (2013) Teachers retiring this year in high numbers. NewsTimes. http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Teachers-retiring-this-year-in-high-numbers-4628502.php