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“Years of Experience”: What Kind?

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If your school is like mine, your pay is tied to your years of teaching experience. I'm 11 years in, so I'm on the 11th pay scale step at my school.

I'm not writing today to critique this method of teacher pay determination. I'm certain that there are better ways to determine how much a teacher should be paid — for example, developing some type of career ladder for teachers as Linda Darling-Hammond suggests in this article — but I'm also certain that there are worse ways, like tying teacher pay to student standardized test scores.

That's about as deep as I'll go on my policy views, mainly because that's about as much insight as I've got. Today I want to spend our time not on policy, but on ensuring that we think as clearly as we can about “years of experience” — what they mean, what they don't mean, what they're good for. Whether you're sitting on a hiring committee this summer, or applying for a different job in education, or just preparing for your next year of this work, let's dive in to this oft-cited term, “years of experience.”

First, “years of experience” is a blunt instrument. There is a huge difference between a teacher with 11 years of experience who has become increasingly cynical and increasingly adept at doing as little as possible, and a teacher who has spent 11 years working slavishly at All the Things, saying yes to everything with no discernment and constantly chasing after the latest new fad. And then of course there's the teacher like you and me, who is constantly seeking to get wiser at the work, to do the right things really well while satisficing all the rest.

Second, beware of your biases. It is common for younger teachers to undervalue years of experience, and it is common for older teachers to overvalue years of experience. The best path is not to judge someone based on how long they've been teaching, but rather on the results their work produces. Since we're the kinds of people who seek the long-term flourishing of kids, we want to take a wide-angle lens on what kinds of results are desirable. Academic results are a non-negotiable objective — so here we've got test scores, AP exams, grades, skill proficiency — but so are motivational ones — helping kids believe five key things — and social-emotional ones. Some teachers balk at being expected to attend to so much in every child, but such is the high call of long-term flourishing. Eleven years of aiming at long-term flourishing and learning aggressively from mistakes, day in and day out, are going to be 11 high-impact years invested toward attaining expertise.

So, for my younger colleagues, be humble! Set your face like flint on putting in the work over the long haul. And for my older colleagues, be humble, too! Don't rest on the years — rest on the persistent, measured pursuit of the best possible long-term flourishing outcomes.

Finally, keep asking yourself: What kind of experience am I building today? If we build the right kind — the kind filled with warm self-critique, humble-boldness, and the focused pursuit of excellence in six key areas — and if we do this year in and year out, then we're going to arrive at a place where the work is consistently rewarding.

Never easy, never guaranteed, but rewarding nonetheless.

5 Responses to “Years of Experience”: What Kind?

  1. jnolds June 30, 2018 at 7:31 pm #

    Maybe label it “years of service,” or is that just as problematic?
    Dave, your emphasis on long-term flourishing and focusing is part of what got me revisiting Stephen Covey’s book on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People this summer. Both of your angles on self-discipline and working effectively with others are extremely helpful. Reading your post today led me to reflect on how blessed I am by the significant relationships that I’m getting to develop with people of different ages, and not just in education. This morning I was flying remote control planes along with older, highly skilled pilots, and I can find this intimidating at times, but I was so encouraged to hear how many times they mentioned “humility” and how open they were about their own blunders and challenges. Dave, I look back at my own growth and learning curve in teaching, and I sometimes have to fight off a little bit of envy that (12 years ago), I wasn’t even close to being as mature, knowledgeable, and skillful as you are now. (Taking complements requires humility too!) Thanks for your hard work and transparency about the struggles to find and to focus on the things that matter most. Keep up the good work. Onward!

    • davestuartjr July 2, 2018 at 5:56 pm #

      John, I feel the same way about so many of the young teachers I meet, people like Warren Roth and Sean Daigle in the Student Motivation Course come quickly to mind. It’s a beautiful thing, brother, this internal work. Onward indeed 🙂

  2. Nadine July 2, 2018 at 9:57 am #

    What a nice comment above and something many of us share who follow Dave’s inspirational works. The concept of long-term flourishing is a value that can inform our entire lives’ work – and when we model that in the classroom our students are receiving a truly “wholistic” education that includes improving their cognitive, affective (social/emotional) and experiential skill set.
    Note to Dave – Dave, you started a sentence with the number “11” – hope my kids didn’t see that!…. I tell them to write out numbers at the beginning of a sentence …. I do understand however, your output of work is phenomenal!!!

    • davestuartjr July 2, 2018 at 6:05 pm #

      Nadine, I fixed it! I don’t want your students getting tripped up! 😉

      “The concept of long-term flourishing is a value that can inform our entire lives’ work.” <--YES

  3. Wendy Heyd July 4, 2018 at 2:22 am #

    Couldn’t agree with your more on this post, Dave, especially this: Don’t rest on the years — rest on the persistent, measured pursuit of the best possible long-term flourishing outcomes. As an aside, in Hawaii our years of experience do not result in annual pay increases; our pay increases are negotiated through the union contract process. Not sure if that results in a better outcome for teachers or not. Staying humble at any point in one’s teaching career is wise advice, as is the need to constantly be alert to our own biases. Thanks for reminding us.

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