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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


The Highly-Experienced Staff and their Professional Development

Elizabeth Bernhardt, Stanford University

How realistic is the concept of teacher professional development within a highly experienced staff? A glance at the literature on the topic of staff development paints a fairly positive picture. Teachers are supposed to be life-long learners; they are supposed to be able to monitor and reflect on their own experiences and to analyze their own professional trajectory; they are supposed to value learning as a process of growth and understanding, to be flexible in their thinking and open to alternative structures and modalities. The literature also tells us that experienced teachers need to have different sorts of professional development experiences from their less-experienced counterparts. They need to have greater input into these experiences (i.e., they need to plan them and for the most part choose them) and the professional development opportunities need to be conducted by persons perceived as peers with equivalent experience.

This contribution to Plenary Theme IV, Processes of Language Teacher Education, focuses on what happens when one acknowledges all of the research literature, tries to apply it, and is, nevertheless, confronted with these kinds of statements: "But, I've been teaching effectively for more than 25 years..." "But I've been here for 25 years..." "But I only have 5 years to retirement..." "But what about the test statistics?" "But, I've been teaching effectively for more than 25 years..." There is no denying that teachers have always been in classrooms and that many of their students have come away from the instructional experience quite satisfied. It is also true that this satisfaction with the instructional experience can be linked to the amount of learning, but also to more ephemeral matters such as personality and engagement.

Teachers often equate "effective" with positive student evaluations. This is not necessarily an appropriate equation. "But I've been here for 25 years..." Teachers often view longevity as a significant predictor of success and effectiveness. The threat of the less experienced, yet potentially more highly educated and more pointedly educated teacher (in the second language education literature) is real and significant. How to balance the self-esteem and revere experience and yet allow new ideas to take hold and bring leadership is difficult. "But I only have 5 years to retirement..." Dealing with staff who take pride in their careers and yet who have little energy or engagement for change in their reflection is also challenging. Who can blame those who want to slow down? How can we insure that their desire to slow down does not interfere with the progress of the staff development program? "But what about the test statistics?"

This section of the remarks refers to the intolerance of many academics in second-language acquisition toward notions of teacher development. The experience of those in the trenches needs to be acknowledged and respected. Sometimes the technical information is revered and constructed as if it holds more importance than teacher knowledge. This is a particularly threatening situation to those staff members who are not well versed in the literature generated in the past 10-15 years.


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