There are, of course, teachers who are outliers in this system – teachers who, regardless of how or where they prepared, are effective upon entering the classroom. Instead of treating these teachers as outliers, our system should strive to ensure that all teachers reach this standard of excellence. These teachers should be studied and their teaching techniques emulated. To be sure, however, education is a human endeavor, so what works for one teacher may not work for another and what is effective with one group of students many not produce the same results with another group. But education policymakers and advocates must insist on a baseline of instructionally sound practices that teachers must know before entering the classroom, and teaching candidates should be required to show their knowledge of these practices in a clinical-style assessment as opposed to the current theory-based exams required for certification. From there, teachers should receive tailored professional development to help them improve in areas where they struggle.
Trends support a growing number of teachers with five or fewer years of experience. As Motoko Rich pointed out in the New York Times, this younger generation of teachers may be more restless in their careers and leave the profession earlier than previous generations. Instead of shaming these teachers or fighting this trend, it is important to consider how to accept the change and adapt accordingly. If these teachers are only going to work in the profession for a few years, it’s imperative that they are effective on day one. Then, it is their choice to stay or leave. In addition, states and districts should consider strategies, such as career ladders and performance compensation, to keep the outstanding candidates in the profession.
When teachers are prepared to teach students well in their first year of teaching, our education system will become more equitable. It should not matter if a teacher has one year of experience or 10 because experienced and novice teachers are equally challenged to educate students every day. Experience will always count for something, but it can’t be the only tool to ensure effective teaching.
Kaitlin Pennington, guest blogger, is vice president of communications and outreach for YEP-DC and an education policy analyst at a think tank. She can be reached at kaitlin(dot)pennington(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter (at)KPennington23.