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IN MY OPINION

Should education professors have school-related experience?

Many job postings in the field of education across the country do not require a minimum number of years working in schools.

By JEROME ST-AMAND | August 30, 2016

This past spring marked the end of my first academic year as an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta. As every new faculty member well knows, the first year is a stressful one – and cause for reflection. In my case, I had to move to a new city in a new province, adapt to a new working environment, get to know many new colleagues and learn a new academic culture. Despite these challenges, I have realized along the way that I have exciting and rewarding professional responsibilities that very few people have the opportunity to experience. Since day one, my research and, above all, my students and colleagues, have contributed immensely to my sense of satisfaction in my new position.

Before joining U of A, I taught for 12 years at a high school near Montreal, which greatly influenced my understanding of the challenges facing schools across the country. More than my formal training, my school-related experiences have enabled me to learn about school culture.

As a high-school teacher, I spent thousands of hours in a classroom where I taught many teenagers facing social and psychological difficulties. Throughout these relevant experiences, senior colleagues taught me about effective learning strategies and ways to engage with and support my students. Parents, school principals, and school psychologists also had much to offer in terms of teaching me how to foster a sense of school community.

The informal education from these trusted relationships, coupled with my postsecondary degrees, have enabled me to examine educational theories critically and to thoroughly analyze educational policies. I have also developed a clearer picture regarding how we should structure our school system and a method of teacher training that I hope to implement in the future.

My academic and professional background allows me to combine theory and practice, which proves relevant and fruitful for student learning. Mary Leaky, a British paleoanthropologist, writes: “theories come and go, but fundamental data remain the same.” In my view, the essentials of educational research and teacher training should be grounded in the professor’s life and professional experiences.

All of which brings me to the question: Are school-related experiences relevant criteria for hiring academics in the field of education across Canada? I first started to consider this issue when looking at job postings for faculty positions a few years ago, more specifically at the beginning of my doctoral program. I was astonished to find that many job postings in the field of education across the country did not require a minimum number of years working in schools.

In my view, practical teaching experience is the most critical factor in hiring. A faculty member with field knowledge can have a positive impact on teacher training and educational research. On the other hand, professors with no field experience might argue that education is at the crossroads of many disciplines and, in this context, hiring scholars with no professional classroom teaching experience is appropriate. The debate continues.

I was hired in part because I have firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing school principals, teachers, behavior intervention workers and other trained staff at the school level, as well as policy makers outside the school. As a scholar, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge in the classroom with students, colleagues, politicians and scholars. Our future teachers need university professors who understand the relationship between the faculty of education and K-12 teaching on a practical level.

In this context, connecting educational theories and practice is of paramount importance, which is why I believe that Canadian universities should prioritize school-related experiences in hiring. As Immanuel Kant suggests, “experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”

Dr. St-Amand is an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta.

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  1. Gavin Moodie / August 30, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    I disagree with this argument.

    First, there are important areas of education outside schools: adult and community education, apprenticeship, college, university and workplace learning.

    Secondly, there are important aspects of even school education that don’t benefit from classroom experience such as psychometrics and the economics of, history of and the sociology of education.

    To offer a particular example, in applied education measurement and evaluation there are several more important criteria than school experience.

  2. Robert N. Bérard / August 31, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Having had school teaching experience myself, prior to (and after) going into university teaching, I can appreciate the relevance of Dr St-Amand’s critique, particularly in the area of curriculum and instruction courses. At the same time, having worked with (and hired) many colleagues over the years, there are many areas of teacher education (e.g., in history, philosophy, or sociology of education) in which direct classroom teaching experience is of much less relevance to providing a good course as expertise in the major discipline.

    Further, one’s teaching experience, gained prior to entering academic life, is often (and, year by year, increasingly) different from that of the students and student teachers with whom we deal today. To some extent, of course, we all should try to keep connected, either through our research, cooperative projects with schools or school districts, or through our interactions with the teachers who are in our graduate programs,

    In my experience, the most effective teacher education programs have included research- and teaching- oriented academics with an active interest in schools, cooperating with sessional instructors with recent or current school teaching experience, ideally, enriching one another’s knowledge base and practice.

  3. Denis Hanson / August 31, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Right on! I spent 4 decades at a university and could never fathom why profs in the Education Faculty never had k-12 teaching experience and never took sabbaticals in the classroom that they profess about.

  4. William Woolrich / September 1, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I’m pretty sure “education” is more than what happens in schools from K-12. I’m working on theories of post-secondary education. Neither I, nor my work, should be considered?

  5. Vicki Rose / September 3, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I’m not sure why an article on this topic has been written in 2016! Better late than never I guess.

    When I was in the Education program 10 years ago, we sat in in many classrooms completing unrealistic assignments or leaning about unrealistic pedagogies that would only be practical if one taught a single class of 10-15 students.

    Much of what I leant in generalized education classes, such as management, inclusion & assessment, was so unrealistic when I finally got to a classroom for my career, none of what I had learnt was relevant.

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