Experienced teachers: why confidence can be a problem

Experienced teachers have been warned against using their intuition because it could lead to them making “unreliable” judgments when it comes to student outcomes.

David Didau (pictured), an education consultant and former teacher, urged attendees at a packed-out Festival of Education session to think carefully about when to trust their “gut instincts”.

He said: “As teachers we rely on our intuition a great deal to make decisions and we essentially trust that because we feel that as we become more experienced, as we spend more time in the classroom, we become more expert and better able to make reliable and intuitive judgments. Well, maybe not.

“There has been a number of studies that have indicated that teachers really improve, in terms of student outcomes, in the first three years of their career. But then they seem to start to plateau and that after about ten years, we begin to get less good, in terms of student outcomes.”

Didau said this “arch” of performance is not uncommon and does apply to other professions, such as radiologists.

He said: “As a radiologist you work remotely and get sent X-rays and you make a decision, you send them back, but you never find out whether you were right. But what does happen is that you become increasingly confident over time about your decisions, but you don’t know whether the judgment you are making is a good one.”

Didau said that there are some aspects of the profession where teachers get “excellent feedback”, such as in behaviour management, but added that areas such as the “quality of instruction” can show bad intuition.

He said: “What tends to happen to teachers is that we teach and then take feedback from the response of students during the lesson and we say it seems to work.

“I started to notice that sometimes a lesson has gone well and the students show me they have learned, but the next time you see them they have forgotten it all.

“We often don’t actively look for this to try and find out or test them again on that lesson. How then do we know whether our instruction was any good?”

Didau added: “I think that what happens is that if you are certain about something you don’t think about it and you’re not concerned. But sometimes that can lead to what I refer to as the illusion of knowledge.

“When you are uncertain and you think about it and you mull over it, like when you teach a bad lesson, you notice that students learn the thing because you go back to it.

“Knowing that you don’t know something could be a useful thing. Confidence and certainty can be problematic.”

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