There is a terrible cost to our students that teachers work without the conditions of a true profession around them. Legions of teachers operate at a highly professional level anyway, despite the odds, but the majority are denied the professional pathway that would give them the expertise they need and want. And it is our children who suffer, especially those marginalized by poverty and racism.
The knowledge and skill for high expertise teaching is:
- Far larger and more complex than acknowledged by our policy makers and our systems of professional learning
- Crucial for marginalized students who could meet proficiency if they had expert teaching
- Significantly absent from most teachers’ opportunity to learn
The “opportunity gap” has appropriately replaced the “achievement gap” as a term to describe the difference in academic achievement between white children and children of color. The point of the phrase is that our education system denies children of color the same opportunities to learn as their white peers, so don’t blame the children. There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s adult decisions and policies that have created what is called the “ gap.” It is the same with teachers and the “expertise gap.”
The defining attribute of a profession is expertise that is commonly acknowledged and codified. It has a common language and concept system that goes with it. (Saphier 1994). There is a clear career path that allows, nay requires, that practitioners enter the workforce with competent novice capacity, and then continue to learn through structures and experiences through which they must travel.
In this piece I'd like to add a layer of content and urgency to the argument so many have urged over the last 40 years (Art Wise, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Bransford, Deborah Ball, Richard Elmore, etc...) about creating a true profession of teaching (and leading).
First, we can name the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that comprise high-expertise teaching across its full range, describe them in detail, and show what they look like and sound like in action. We can do this now and with agreement across the field. Second, we can identify the main levers of influence on teaching expertise, the processes that could influence teacher knowledge and skill, most of which are internal to school districts and shown in Figure 1. We can redesign them so they systematically contribute to individual teacher’s expertise – consistently, and powerfully aligned with the needs of individual teachers and their students. Finally, we can align these processes and make them operate from an ethos of both support and of accountability. Figure 1 names these processes.