PhD Candidate at the Center for Professional Studies, Oslo Met
The specialist master scheme has great potential. But there is a need for clearer and higher qualification requirements.
This is a discussion post. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.
Through the specialist teacher scheme, the teaching profession has become more specialized. Or is it really that? A new government should re-examine both the content and the framework of the plan.
The government wants 3,000 specialist teachers by 2023. The purpose of the new role is to raise the status of the profession and strengthen the professional community at the school.
Although the scheme has great potential, the premises are unclear.
The goal of higher status is to help increase recruitment for the teaching profession. The Teacher Specialist role provides opportunities for advancement, managerial responsibility, and higher salaries.
The expectation is based on the premise that prospective applicants for teacher training consider career opportunities important to their choice of profession. This is the case with many other professions, but teachers have historically had a flat organization.
So will new students be tempted by more career paths?
It becomes more like status professions
The teaching specialist role means that the teaching profession on paper more closely resembles status professions such as medicine and law, where the possibilities for specialization are many.
Here, students first receive a basic education. They can then go on to specialized higher education that qualifies for specialized positions in working life.
Therefore, it is understandable that in 2016 the authorities established continuous training for specialist teachers. Therefore, formal education can determine whether one should be considered a specialist teacher or a “regular” teacher.
No higher education requirement
However, this has not been the case. It is not a requirement to have completed specialist teacher training to access the role as a specialist teacher. This means that the professional opportunities of teachers in practice do not change significantly.
It is equally challenging that with low formal requirements there is a risk that neither the teaching specialists nor the scheme itself will gain legitimacy among teachers.
Because, how can you recognize that some are specialists if you are not sure if they really know something else or something different from others?
The question seems particularly timely at a time when teachers with a five-year master’s degree are in training and teacher competence is constantly growing stronger.
In other words, with low formal education requirements, specialist teachers may disappear into a myriad of competent colleagues.
Are professional communities getting stronger?
The second purpose of the specialist teacher scheme is to strengthen professional communities in the school. Herein lies the expectation that specialist teachers will be a resource to their fellow teachers. They can be, for example, through observation, guidance or challenging established practices in the school.
However, in my recently completed PhD at the Center for Professional Studies (Oslo Met), I find that specialist professors did little to accomplish such tasks.
The job consisted largely of tasks they already had prior to entering the teaching specialist role. Rather than making the new role visible, this was rather disguised in other leadership roles they already had.
The scheme challenges ideals of equality
Historically, teachers have often been described as highly equality-oriented. Current social and relational norms suggest that one should not excel. With higher salaries and expanded areas of responsibility, it is not surprising that both principals and specialist teachers made the new role less visible.
But the dissertation also shows that the standards of equality for teachers appear to be changing.
For example, peers of teacher peers were confident that individual teachers through the scheme assumed special responsibility for doing professional development work. At the same time, the findings indicate that other relational norms remain strong. For example, it should not interfere with the work of colleagues in the classroom.
The authorities have not established formal education requirements higher than basic education to enter the role of specialist teacher. It may then appear that they overlook the fact that the scheme challenges historically central and important ideals of equality in the teaching profession.
This is especially unfortunate as teachers seem to increasingly accept differences in responsibilities, skills and pay.
It must be said that the framework of the plan relies little on this development. They do little to replace egalitarian attitudes with ideals of differentiation, promotion, and recognition that some teachers have experience that others do not.
Need for new guidelines
The teacher specialist scheme has great potential to strengthen the status and development work of teachers. But if the goals are to be achieved, there needs to be clearer and higher formal qualification requirements to enter the role of teacher specialist.
A new government should enter into a dialogue with the profession to formulate these requirements. In this way, specialist teachers can differentiate themselves from other teachers in practice, not just on paper.
At the same time, it is necessary that the profession is not only involved in the debate about the framework of the scheme, but also the content. In particular, questions must be raised about what should be the areas of responsibility of specialist teachers, what standards of equality should be safeguarded and which should be questioned.
In this way, the chances that the role will raise the status of the profession and strengthen professional communities will likely be increased.