I was chatting with a teacher who is regarded by all who worked with him as exemplary, he taught an inclusion class (2/3 general ed, 1/3 special ed).
“After a couple of years I figured out the discipline issues, then I began to deal with differentiating instruction, and, eventually started fine tuning lessons and assignments … checking each kid’s answers on tests and trying to figure out how to become effective in teaching and reteaching a particular skill or topic, each year I delved deeper into how to reach and impact my kids.”
As the teacher gained experience he mastered more and more skills – his toolkit expanded.
We only measure improvement by increasing test scores, most teachers slowly improve early in their career , the student test scores then flat line and may decline after fifteen or twenty years. What we can’t measure is the teaching of non-cognitive skills; however, over time, some teachers are clearly more effective than others, the old bell-shaped curve.
In the current set of contract negotiations the city probably has put a demand on the table that some part of any salary increase should be based on a measurement of growth – increasing achievement.
The conflict between the traditional seniority-based system (steps, longevity increases and differentials) and a system that includes some measurement of teacher effectiveness, especially in an era when charter school teachers see teaching as a brief stop in their career (see NY Times article here)
The case for seniority:
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, refers to the 10,000 rule, “the magic number of greatness,” the idea that, “skills that appear to be predicated on innate gifts are often nothing more than the manifestations of thousands of hours of practice.”
“No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, ‘achievement is talent plus preparation.’ But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that ‘the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.’ In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgeon.”
Chess players, neurosurgeons, musicians, experts in “cognitively demanding fields” require extensive expert guided practice.
Is teaching a “cognitively demanding field,” and, if so, does the 10,000 rule apply to teaching?
How do we assess expertise in teaching?
Are supervisory observations “expert guided practice”?
The answer is complex.
In some schools principals or assistant principals or coaches or “critical friends” guide practice – teachers work in collaborative settings – in many ways they work in settings that fit under the 10,000 rule. In most schools teachers are observed once or twice a year and work in isolation, the new teachers evaluation plan, in New York City called ADVANCE, changes very little, teachers will be observed more frequently, can the observations be called “expert guided practice”? Absolutely not, the observation will simply be a compliance activity.
Teacher contracts in Baltimore, New Haven (see contract here) and a number of other cities include salary increases based on metrics other than seniority.
Experience, in a guided practice setting, will make you into a more effective teacher; experience in an isolated setting may not. Will “rewarding” teachers who perform let us say two standard deviations above the mean motivate other teachers? There is no research. In fact, high performers may have inherent skills – that old nature/nurture argument.
Maybe the next guy or gal will get it right … see proposed list here