I know many teachers dismiss those of us in higher education as “out of touch”. Those of us who left the K-12 classroom to teach teachers seem to lose credibility quickly. However, the logic of this view would mean that experience is inversely related to expertise – and that is just not true. Let me explain.
Let’s consider teachers. We don’t think that teachers who have not been K-12 students very recently to be “out of touch”. Instead, we value the expertise and pedagogical content knowledge those teachers have gained in the years since they were students themselves. Yet, we do want to teachers who were effective learners (notice I didn’t say “good students”). If a teacher was not an effective learner, they likely do not understand their content well enough to develop the pedagogical content knowledge to become an effective teacher.
Similarly, we should expect those who teach teachers to have been effective teachers. If they were not effective teachers, they likely cannot hope to become effective teachers of teachers because they don’t understand their content (teaching). However, just like learning science is very different than teaching science, teaching science is very different than teaching teachers to teach science (that was a fun sentence). Just like many people who were effective learners make terrible teachers, many people who were effective teachers make terrible teachers of teachers. While being an effective learner is required to be an effective teacher and being an effective teacher is required to be an effective teacher of teachers, those attributes alone are not enough – practice, at the very least, is required.
Instead of having been “out of the classroom” for seven years, I believe I have been developing my skills as a teacher of teachers for 7 years. While I still spend a lot of time working with K-12 students, being a K-12 teacher does not qualify me to teach teachers. Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for teaching K-12 students is hard-won and should be valued. Similarly, the pedagogical content knowledge for teaching teachers is hard-won and should be valued. I am a much better teacher of teachers today than I was 7 years ago just like I was a much better teacher of kids on my last day than on my first.