Teacher experts are teachers who have continued teaching in a P–12 classroom while also serving the field and growing their educational knowledge and pedagogy continually throughout their long careers. Teacher experts have many roles within their schools and the greater education community. They are often called upon as formal mentors to early career teachers, and, informally, their colleagues seek their wisdom and expertise throughout the school day. They are asked to serve on school, district, and state committees for curriculum development and educational reform. They seek out professional development opportunities to attend, and they often present at conferences. They are longtime, active members of professional organizations, and they serve on boards and committees within these organizations. Teacher experts often author professional articles and books and are constantly sought out to join educational research projects. Teacher experts serve children and families in their classrooms while also serving their professional communities and the field at large with the work they do outside of their classrooms. The journeys to becoming a teacher expert are varied and wide. And because so much of the work that teacher experts are called to do happens outside their classrooms but during the school day, they need support from their schools and professional communities so that they can engage in the work that makes our field richer and more knowledgeable because they are included.
In the current climate, which deprofessionalizes P–12 classroom teachers, many are leaving the profession (García & Weiss, 2019). One important reason is the failure to recognize classroom teachers as experts equal to their peers in higher education, administrators, and stakeholders outside the field. The specialized knowledge of classroom teacher experts (including but not limited to content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, relationship building, classroom management, culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy, social-emotional learning, and information and communication technology), which can only be obtained from sustained professional learning throughout a teacher’s career, is often absent from curriculum development teams, professional communities, and leadership groups.
The National Council of Teachers of English has recognized the specialized role of teacher knowledge and expertise in past statements and policies:
- The July 2019 policy statement, Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning: Centering Teacher Empowerment, lays out key components of professional learning, including becoming “empowered educators, visionary leaders, and inspired knowledge producers through professional learning and cultural competency.”
- In the 2012 Resolution on Teacher Expertise and the Common Core State Standards, NCTE delineated the classroom practices that strong and knowledgeable teachers use effectively in their instruction.
- During the implementation of national policies and mandates such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core State Standards, NCTE reminded stakeholders of “the wisdom of NCTE members with deep knowledge of effective teaching and assessment practices influential at every stage of curricula, assessment, and standards development” (Resolution on Challenging Current Education Policy and Affirming Literacy Educators’ Expertise, November 20, 2011).
The specialized knowledge needed by classroom teachers is a core component of who teacher experts are. However, teacher experts also pursue further professional learning, growth, and leadership opportunities that extend beyond the teaching and learning inside their classrooms and into their schools, districts, communities, and profession at large.
NCTE considers teacher experts to be practicing classroom teachers who develop, refine, and cultivate their practice while also serving in collaborative roles and leadership positions. Further, NCTE encourages other professional organizations, administrators and policymakers, and higher education professionals to promote the role of teacher expert as an aspiration; to support teacher experts with opportunities to learn, grow, and lead while fairly compensating them for their time and energy; and to celebrate valuable educators who have earned the classification of teacher expert.
Definition of Teacher Expert
While NCTE celebrates veteran teachers who have given decades to their classroom teaching careers, being a veteran teacher is not the sole definition of a teacher expert. Instead, teacher experts can be defined as teachers who continue teaching in their P–12 classrooms while also making a commitment to intentional professional growth that is sustained over time and years of practice (in and beyond classroom spaces). They
- continually hone the art and craft of teaching by studying their own practice;
- engage in teaching that responds effectively to particular moments in the context of their classrooms and work with students;
- foster authentic, equitable, and caring relationships with students, their families, and the communities in which they teach; and
- seek leadership opportunities and professional learning within their schools and elsewhere while remaining active classroom teachers.
However, beyond exhibiting these components of excellent teaching, teacher experts chart a pathway that pursues further professional learning and growth that impacts their teaching and learning inside the classroom and in their profession at large.
Pathways to Teacher Expertise
Pathways to becoming a teacher expert are individual and varied. An educator who is committed to sustained professional learning and reflective practice, whether through formal or informal design, may be a teacher expert. Some examples of pathways to teacher expertise include but are not limited to
- classroom-based action research;
- coursework and advanced degrees;
- mentorship of early career educators;
- involvement in instructional leadership teams;
- leadership in curriculum committees;
- leadership in professional organizations;
- National Board Certification for Teachers; and
- publication in the field of education.
The keystone of a teacher expert is their impact on teaching and learning with students directly and more generally in the profession while remaining active in their classroom.
Contributions of Teacher Experts
We recognize teacher experts as contributors and leaders in the school sites and local communities, as well as at district, state, and national levels. Teacher experts, while continuing to teach in P–12 classrooms, can additionally serve in a variety of roles that demonstrate their curricular leadership and expertise, including
- coaching and collegial support;
- model teaching;
- participating in community initiatives;
- collectively constructing knowledge with the community;
- mentor teaching for student teachers or participate in mentorship programs for novice teachers (induction);
- department chairing and curricular leadership roles at the school and/or district level;
- coadministrative/administrative/teacher on special assignment role;
- teaching in teacher education programs;
- conducting action research in their classrooms/departments/schools or participating in research projects with education researchers;
- authoring/coauthoring classroom-based inquiry and reflections on practice in practitioner-focused and scholarly journals;
- editing practitioner-focused and scholarly journals;
- authoring books drawing from their expertise for a variety of audiences; and
- participating in national, state-wide, and regional professional organizations (e.g., conference presentations, committee work, leadership positions).
While teacher experts can serve in a variety of roles, including those listed above, it is critical to recognize the strength and importance of creating sustainable structures that allow teacher experts to remain teaching in P–12 classrooms for at least part of their professional work. This might involve creative partnerships with teacher educators or colleagues including job-sharing, administrative or curricular leadership roles that come with partial course releases, and compensation/funding for professional learning opportunities.
Teacher experts can also share their leadership in a variety of ways, including
- teaching (at P–12, higher education, and teacher education levels);
- participation in school/district decision-making processes;
- community engagements;
- one-on-one or group mentoring relationships;
- publications (blogs, journal articles, books);
- facilitating professional learning sessions;
- local, state, and national conference presentations;
- social media presence.
In supporting teacher experts in leading within and from their classrooms, we challenge notions that expertise necessitates an exit from ongoing P–12 teaching and recognize the power and continued relevance of classroom teaching to developing professional expertise.
Supporting and Sustaining Teacher Experts
Teachers are the key to school communities. Specifically, teacher experts engage in continuous professional learning and growth that supports the foundation of the school community and educational community at large. With this, the educational field must recognize their essential role in supporting and sustaining teacher experts within the community. Furthermore, the field must understand their responsibility to dismantle oppressive structures to provide sustaining, affirming, and nurturing environments for the celebration and growth of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) teacher experts along the course of their careers—from recruitment into teacher education; through preservice and entry into the profession; and in early, mid, and late stages of their careers.
A vital part of supporting teacher expertise is creating sustainable structures that promote teachers staying in classrooms to develop their expertise. This requires efforts not only to recruit teachers into the field but to retain them. Efforts must be made particularly both to recruit and retain Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, Pasifika, and multiracial teachers given research that indicates their greater effectiveness with all students (Cherng & Halpin, 2016) and the increased rate of push-out for these teachers beginning as early as teacher education (Mawhinney & Rinke, 2019).
Therefore, teacher experts call upon the field of education to dismantle current structures that create barriers to the development and well-being of teacher experts and co-develop the following:
NCTE and Other Professional Organizations
- Promote a policy that each appointed Council committee must include a practicing P–12 classroom teacher.
- Actively recruit and support teacher experts’ writing in spaces such as journals, professional books, and articles.
- Encourage affiliates, P–12 conferences, and sections to include teacher experts in any member group.
- Respect that the availability of teacher experts differs from that of higher education colleagues and should be taken into account when involving teacher experts on committees and in other working groups.
- Nominate teacher experts to assume leadership roles and responsibilities within all Council governing bodies.
- Include teacher experts in mentoring programs.
- Elicit expertise of teacher experts when policy shifts occur at the national level and within the organization.
Administrators and Policymakers
- Use this resolution to support teachers in their professional journey to become and continue to grow as teacher experts.
- Provide time, space, and resources for continued growth and leadership.
- Recognize and respect the multiple roles a teacher expert embodies.
- Consult teacher experts in developing and implementing teaching methods and curricula.
- Consult and include teacher experts in decision-making processes at the school, district, state, and national levels.
- Respect each teacher’s level of experience and expertise.
- Advocate for teacher self-care and structures for community care and sustainability.
- Shift the discourse around veteran teachers as resisters/resistance to change.
- Count service toward continuing “units” or pay scale—formalize ways to develop professionally and support development of teacher expertise.
- Develop formal partnerships with universities/colleges in multiple forms (mentor teacher pipelines, distinguished faculty in residence—teachers and teacher educators).
- Make structural shifts to teacher-on-special-assignment/instructional coach/ administrative experiences that support flexible movements back and forth into and out of classroom spaces to support students and colleagues.
- Include teachers in decision-making processes through improved communication and partnerships between teachers, administrators, and school board members.
- Partner with teacher experts in teaching and research, recognizing their credibility and expertise in the field.
- Collaborate fully with teacher experts and share equally in the creation, recognition, and compensation of research and scholarship.
Note: These partnerships/collaborations can be particularly powerful if teacher educators who keep their P–12 credentials current can serve as co-teachers/substitute teachers/collaborators with classroom-based teacher experts to allow the teacher experts time to engage in scholarly work while providing a consistent, cohesive learning experience for students.
Teacher Educator Programs in Colleges/Universities
- Establish/develop clinical lines—“distinguished faculty in residence” = teachers with experience who may not have a doctorate.
- Encourage bidirectional movement—moving flexibly between P–12 and university teaching.
RESEARCH SUPPORTING THIS STATEMENT
Berliner, D. (1993). Teacher expertise. In A. Pollard & J. Bourne (Eds.), Teaching and learning in the primary school (pp. 83–89). Routledge.
Berry, B., Johnson, D., & Montgomery, D. (2005). The power of teacher leadership. Educational Leadership, 62(5), 56–60.
Cherng, H.-Y. S., & Halpin, P. F. (2016). The importance of minority teachers: Student perceptions of minority versus white teachers. Educational Researcher, 45(7), 407–420.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Chapter 8: Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. Review of Research in Education, 24(1), 249–305.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2015). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. Teachers College Press.
Crowther, F., Ferguson, M., & Hann, L. (2009). Developing teacher leaders: How teacher leadership enhances school success. Corwin.
Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2019). The reflective educator’s guide to classroom research: Learning to teach and teaching to learn through practitioner inquiry. Corwin.
Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Teachers as learners. Harvard Education Press.
García, E., & Weiss, E. (2019, March 26). The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-teacher-shortage-is-real-large-and-growing-and-worse-than-we-thought-the-first-report-in-the-perfect-storm-in-the-teacher-labor-market-series/
Harris, A., & Muijs, D. (2004). Improving schools through teacher leadership. McGraw-Hill.
Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership redefined: An evocative context for teacher leadership. School Leadership & Management, 23(4), 421–430.
Mawhinney, L., & Rinke, C. R. (2019). There has to be a better way. Rutgers University Press.
Muijs, D., & Harris, A. (2003). Teacher leadership—Improvement through empowerment? An overview of the literature. Educational Management & Administration, 31(4), 437–448.
Pine, G. J. (2008). Teacher action research: Building knowledge democracies. SAGE.
York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316.
This document was composed by the following working committee:
Tiana Silvas, chair, New York City Public Schools, NY
Melissa Guerrette, Oxford Elementary School, MSAD 17, Oxford, ME
Betina Hsieh, California State University Long Beach, CA
Jennifer Ochoa, New York City Public Schools, NY
Islah Tauheed, New York City Public Schools, NY
Deborah Vriend Van Duinen, Hope College, Holland, MI
Ella Farinas, Pasadena Unified School District, CA
Stephany Garcia, Long Beach Unified School District, CA
Shiela Lee, New York City Public Schools, NY
Karen Maria Rowe, Black River Public School, Holland, MI
Nekia Wise, New York City Public Schools, NY
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.