Do teachers’ years of experience make a difference in the quality of early years classroom interactions?

Year: 2018

Author: Graham, Linda, Sonia, White, Cologon, Kathy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The comparison of student performance in international assessments and ranking of participating countries has generated public and political anxiety, leading to an intense focus on factors believed to influence student achievement (Sellar, et al., 2017).  In the 17 years since the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) began, focus has shifted from in/equity in student achievement to declines in overall performance with a corresponding increase in focus on ‘teacher quality’ (Scholes, et al., 2017).  This shift in focus has been propelled by claims that “in excess of 40 percent of the residual variance in measures of student performance (adjusted for students’ background and intake characteristics) is at the class/teacher-level” (Ingvarson & Rowe, 2007, p. 3).  Increased scrutiny of teachers through the establishment of statutory authorities to develop and oversee teacher professional standards, the development of value-added models of teacher effectiveness based on student achievement, and the reinstatement of formal inspections has followed (Baxter, 2013; Sachs, 2016).
More recently, scrutiny has moved to the effectiveness of teacher preparation (Mayer, et al., 2017).  University initial teacher education (ITE) has been criticised for being too theoretical and inadequately preparing teachers for the practical realities of the classroom (Darling-Hammond, 2017), especially in the area of behaviour management.  The effect of coupling ITE and teacher quality is that it frames graduate or beginning teachers as “the problem” and this, in turn, frames the development of solutions (Mockler, 2017).  A deficit framing of university ITE is particularly prominent in Australia, where university teacher education replaced Teachers College in the 1990s and where most practising teachers are now degree-qualified.  Recent solutions to “the problem” of quality teaching in Australia have therefore focused predominantly on university teacher education and the quality of graduates (Gore, 2016) without rigorous empirical evidence to support the claim that beginning teachers are less competent than teachers with more years’ experience. In this paper, we draw on classroom observations of 67 early years classrooms and interview data with 67 classroom teachers to investigate whether there is any association between teachers’ years of experience and the quality of classroom processes that are important for children’s academic, social and behavioural outcomes (Hamre, et al., 2005). Our findings provide no evidence to support the claim that beginning teachers are inadequately prepared for the classroom and may instead provide evidence of a decline in the quality of teaching after the first three years for some teachers.