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Expect more, get more


"It is ridiculous to think that teachers can become proficient in this very complex experience, called teaching, in a few years. To think otherwise de-professionalizes the profession."

This comment was left on a previous entry a couple weeks back, and I feel compelled to respectfully disagree-- in a very long blog entry. I spent the past four hours writing it not only because I have a deep sense of conviction for this idea, but because of all the amazing first- and second-year teachers I've had the honor of working with this year. They showed their students, their communities, their peers and me just how much first- and second-year teachers can accomplish in a very non-magical, dedicated and long-lasting way. This is to all of you and the incredible work you've done this year with the children of the Rio Grande Valley. Honor your kids no matter where you go.

I have to respectfully disagree that it takes many years for teachers to become proficient. I do not deny the invaluable experience that time in the classroom adds, however, I don't think it should take many years for teachers to be proficient and attain strong results-- in fact, I think we need to start expecting those things of first- and second-year teachers. More importantly, we need to change and improve our support structures to help them get there. With even better preparation and ongoing support and training, many of our first- and most of our second-year teachers should be able to achieve great results.

Controversial, perhaps, but I don't think the skills from seniority necessarily guarantee effectiveness in the classroom or at the administrative level. In my short time in the field, I have worked with excellent teachers who have 35-years of experience as well as excellent teachers in their first year. These teachers inspire students, constantly improve their instructional skills, analyze what's keeping their students back, and work so, so hard to make every second count to lead their kids to reach high results on an absolute scale. These excellent teachers I've worked with-- whether novices or veterans-- share similar attributes in their thinking, planning and teaching that are concrete, learn-able and teachable. At the same time, all of us also know teachers who widen the achievement gap regardless of time in classroom. I genuinely think excellent teaching proficiency can be learned through coaching and collaboration-- quickly.

I don't think the number of years in the classroom is the primary driver of student success. Nor do I believe this conviction de-professionalizes the profession. To the contrary, I think it makes it more professional. What other certified field allows their first- or second-year professionals to barely meet the mark? While years of experience will make you a stronger, faster, sharper teacher with a bigger and smarter bag of tools and ideas, we should expect first-year teachers to help their students reach at least a year's worth of growth. All teachers already receive trainings, classes, coaches and mentors-- not all of which is used or useful. By improving this process through direct and critical coaching and making these support structures more targeted to individual teachers' developmental needs, I believe we can create a system that allows all novice teachers to reach the kind of gains we expect from more experienced ones.

In my first year of teaching, my colleagues kindly assured me that it was all right for me to be not so good my first year because it takes several to see a real change. While assuming that it takes more than one or two years to become "just OK" recognizes the incredible challenges in teaching, it nonetheless lowers our expectations. Consequently, our professional development tends to gear toward these lowered expectations across the board for novice teachers. In addition to the love and care we have for kids, it takes high levels of critical thinking, data-analysis, and skill development to be a great teacher-- quickly.

Sure, I'm biased-- this is my work and passion. But it also gives me a unique perspective in seeing first and second year teachers and their students succeed. Seventy-five percent of my first- and second-year teachers made the equivalent of one year of growth or more in this past school year. That is astounding, but after seeing their work this year, it's not surprising. They work in under-resourced schools where most students are more than one year behind academically. In their first years of teaching, most are leading their departments and schools in student achievement, and they are department heads, team leaders, content leaders and more. I am super proud, but not surprised.

That fantastic 75% demonstrates that the equivalent of one-year's worth of growth should be the bar for novice teachers. The sobering counterpoint to the 75% is that 25% of my teachers failed to reach that mark. While many factors kept those teachers' students from reaching one or more years of growth, I do not believe it was a failure of teacher or student ability. Rather, it was a failure of the coaching and support they received and the way the teachers used it. A humbling thought, but also an empowering one, because that is something we can change-- quickly.


In every field, we achieve through a combination of our raw talent combined with hard work and coaching. Once we get ourselves to a proficient level, we still must continue practicing and growing.

To use a musical analogy, even good mucicians playing a new piece of music call it "sight reading." Once they practice it a few times, they become proficient. After lots of practicing, some can take that sheet of music and use improvisation to make it even better.

The great musicians move quickly from sight reading to proficiency to improvisation.

For teachers, a classroom full of students is like an orchestra. Unlike an orchestra, however, not all students are there to make music and help the common enterprise move forward. The teacher must "conduct" this orchestra while operating on many levels - teaching the notes and encouraging better playing of the instruments, while also striving for better attendance and participation. Learning disabilities, problems at home, substance abuse, and other issues make some student "musicians" less than stellar participants in the classroom "orchestra."

Coming back to Jessica's original point, I agree with her that teacher proficiency can be learned quickly if the teacher is motivated and if the coaching and school environment are available. Veteran teachers still have a lot to teach newer teachers, but newer teachers also bring new energy, new insights, and better understanding of new technologies that are impacting the classroom and the broader world the students inhabit every day.

Kudos, Jessica for helping first and second year teachers set a brisk pace for us senior teachers to match. I agree with your premise: Expect more, get more. The student performance you report appears consistent with results in Project FollowThrough, the largest controlled empirical study of affects of teachers' instruction on student learning. Your report matches my experience with learners of all ages in and out of schools. I hope you and your teachers pick up the student learning pace even further. Keep pounding until the myth shatters that teacher classroom experience matters most. I wonder how much your sped background contributes to the direct approach of teachers you coach?

It depends upon how you define success. If it is defined narrowly by standardized test scores, then perhaps first and second year teachers can become somewhat proficient. I'll still put my money on the very veteran teacher who would never define success/student achievement by test scores. To view children through those narrow lens does everyone, kids, teachers, community, the profession, the future---a huge disservice.

I have seen, on several occasions, relatively new teachers more than compensate for their lack of experience with enthusiasm much stronger than that of some of their older, longer tenured colleagues. My choice would be to have a good mix of new and experienced teachers in a school system.

I strongly agree with the belief that novice teachers can be highy effective.
Teaching is in large part a talent. We are not all equally gifted. The musical analogy previosly memtioned is
powerful. It speaks of "good" musicians, those who have abilities.
We all remember Salieri, who was certainly competant and had a great desire to be distinguished but paled in the light of Mozart's real genius.

I have been eventually fired from every position I have held. This is particulary surprising because I have dule certification in both math and science. How incompetant does one have to be in these high need areas? I have also never been told where my problems lie. To be let go within three years requires no explanation. I thuroughly enjoy teaching and am well liked by my colleagues. I have had all the training in the world, and pocess a strong academic background in my subjects. Why is this so hard for me? We tell our students to "keep on trying" and "dont's give up on your dreams" but at some point it comes back to talent and ablility.

I am honored to work at a school that has a mix of both veteran and new teachers. I work PT and share a job in a district that will only recognize me as temporary unless I work two years fulltime first so I recieve no mentor and no outside support except the support network that I create and my peers have been so kind to give me. This is the price I pay to raise my children. None the less - I agree with Jessica - My socks have been blown off by the level of dedication and resolve those newer teachers have. It helps to be young and have a greater amount of time but the greatest thing I see is the open heart they come to the classroom with. They are willing to examine themselves, ask for help, have a beginner's mind and they LOVE the students no matter what. It takes time to grow a teacher but you have to be willing to change,grow and learn just like our own students. You have to have good people to go to and you always have to remember what is it that you want to teach. The most valuable advice from a mentor teacher I have ever had is what is it that you want them to learn? This is a provocative discussion becauses it raises the question of how we judge what makes a teacher good? and all that we think about when we ask that. Anthony Cody's blog today also brings up some of these issues as well. I ask myself all the time how can I do a better job which can be stressful and counterproductive. We all need dialogue and time to examine our practice so we can grow. I would love to have a mentor teacher that was truly given the time to be just that. Your teachers are lucky to have you, Jessica

We stand on the backs of giants. I completely agree with Phil that while new teachers can reach great results, it's the work and practice over time that makes it truly refined. This week, we're welcoming 174 new TFA teachers in the Washington, DC region. One of the points we're driving home just in the first week is that they need to seek out and use the excellent veteran teachers at their schools. First- and second-year teachers can and must reach high results-- but in order to do so, they must access all the best support systems out there like teaching coaches, effective developments, and great veteran teachers. (Shout out to Mrs. Heberling =) My most successful first- and second-year teachers did these things, and are now leading their departments, teams and giving professional development trainings. We stand on giants while being enormous ourselves.

Some of the BEST leaders in my school building are the teachers that have less than 5 years experience. I actually began my first leadership experience in my 2nd year of teaching. I was my team's manager...a team of 9 teachers! And I must say that I did it well (not just on my own accounts)!

With less than 6 years under my belt I started an induction model (Cross Career Learning Communities) that created reciprocal mentoring between veteran and novice educators. The culture that was created was unbelievable! There is no hierarchy of expertise in this group...we all have a voice!

That's what makes it so powerful! Leadership and expertise does not come necessarily from experience...it comes from passion, the willingness to admit that we do not know everything, and that together we can move toward our ultimate goal...empowering educators and children!

Sometimes that comes in a tiny package called "novice teachers"!

I definitely agree with all the comments and believe first- and second-year teachers can have the same effective impact on students as a teacher who has been teaching for ten years. First- and second-year teachers may have the upper hand on some levels because they have been taught how to effectively teach with the most up-to-date materials and strategies, whereas, a teacher who has been teaching for ten years might not be as up-to-date on new and improved teaching materials and strategies because they have probably been sticking to their same traditional teaching style for the past ten years. On the other hand, a ten-year teacher may have the upper hand with classroom management and time consistency because like the saying, “practice makes perfect,” they have had time to critique their teaching styles. It truly comes down to how the teacher was trained and how the teacher teaches. I believe what a teacher puts into teaching is what he or she will receive from it. I think it is important to take into consideration how many years a teacher has been teaching but the most important thing to focus on is if a teacher is effectively teaching so that students can receive the best possible education.

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Recent Comments

  • Haley: I definitely agree with all the comments and believe first- read more
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  • Jessica Shyu: We stand on the backs of giants. I completely agree read more
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