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The People Who Want To Get Rid Of Tenure & Say Teacher Experience Isn’t That Important Should Read This Interview


As most readers know, there’s a concentrated campaign going on to get rid of teacher tenure and to claim that years of teacher experience aren’t that important.

You can read more about those efforts, and why I and others oppose them, at The Best Articles For Helping To Understand Both Why Teacher Tenure Is Important & The Reasons Behind Seniority-Based Layoffs.

Here is some more evidence to oppose those efforts.

Gary Klein has been researching decision-making and insight for the past thirty years. Edge has a lengthy interview with him that is fascinating to read. It focuses on his research with firefighters, and he connects those lessons to other areas. I’d strongly encourage you to read it. Here’s an excerpt:

That became part of our model — the question of how people with experience build up a repertoire of patterns so that they can immediately identify, classify, and categorize situations, and have a rapid impulse about what to do. Not just what to do, but they’re framing the situation, and their frame is telling them what are the important cues. That’s why they’re always looking, or usually looking, in the right place. They know what to ignore, and what they have to watch carefully.

It’s telling them what to expect, and so that’s why performance of experts is smoother than the performance of novices, because they’re not just doing the current job, they know what to expect next, so they’re getting ready for that. It’s telling them what are the relevant goals so that they can choose accordingly.

Sometimes you want to put a fire out, and sometimes the fire has spread too much and you want to make sure it doesn’t advance to other buildings near by, or sometimes you need to do search and rescue. They’ve got to pick an appropriate goal. It’s not just put the fire out each time.

It seems to me that Klein’s research can be directly related to the fact that a teacher has to make .7 decisions each minute during the school day (you can read about that data at Larry Cuban’s blog).  In fact, Klein does relate it directly to teaching throughout the interview, and seems to me to make another important point supporting the use of guided discovery instructional strategies — for both teaching our students and for teacher professional development (also see “If Students Believe That A Teacher Has Taught Them Everything, They Will Be Less Motivated To Explore”):

I think helping people to arrive at insights isn’t a question of pushing the insights on the people, or trying to explain it in words as much as helping people to gain the experience so they can see the inconsistency for themselves, then all of a sudden the mental model will shift naturally and easily, and to me that’s a gift that good teachers have, to be able to help the people who they’re trying to support.

Experience does matter, and so does respect — for our students, and for educators as professionals.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I haven’t heard any serious reforms suggest that experience doesn’t matter.

    What I have heard is that years of service alone does not make someone a better educator.

    Plus, I believe you are confusing two topics.

    Those attempting to end LIFO layoffs speak of placing a higher priority on effectiveness, rather than time served.

    Those attempting to reform tenure are simply trying to make sure that effective teachers stay effective, and that those who are ineffective will either return to their previous level of effectiveness, or will move on.

    • Mike,

      You may be hearing different people than I hear. It’s pretty clear that many are very clearly dismissing experience and hoping to use it as a tool to dismiss higher-paid (and effective) teachers with lower-paid novices.


  2. Pingback: I do do Technology but ….. « Educational Discourse

  3. Tacit knowledge is important. I wonder, however, if for many educators (teachers, administrators, professors) that tacit knowledge becomes solidified over time into something more like concrete instead of putty. In other words, ways of doing and thinking become fairly entrenched, so that one’s experience begins to get in the way of flexibility and adaptability. That becomes particularly dangerous during times of rapid change and ecological transformation such our present era.

    • Scott,

      I agree that “fossilization” (a term we use in ESL when when certain errors in language become a habit) can occur — for anybody in any position — over time. What I have seen, though, is that high quality professional development (very different from the kind of useless PD many teachers are forced to endure) from providers who have a long-term relationship with the teachers and individual school can trump experience turning into “concrete,” along with agitation from other teachers whom have developed relationships and learned the self-interests of their colleagues.


  4. I agree with you that most PD is simply awful. Shame on the leaders who design and deliver it.

    Whether we call it fossilization, ossification, or whatever, the challenge is to somehow tap into educators’ experience and tacit knowledge while simultaneously keeping them in learning mode, particularly around higher-order thinking skills and the pedagogies and mindsets and technologies to support them. That’s hard to accomplish in bureaucratic, risk-averse systems laden with top-down control issues and a generalized lack of respect for classroom teachers.

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