The answer is experience counts, but to a very limited extent. Teaching experience in tuition centre Jurong separates two teachers of almost equal calibre. Say there’s instructor A who’s just transitioned into the field or comes in as a fresh graduate, and there’s instructor B with a decade of uninterrupted teaching experience under his belt. It makes sense to slightly favour B at the beginning.
Another situation in which teaching experience counts concerns group classes. Experienced teachers can feel entitled to taking more group classes rather than one-on-ones because group classes are generally paid more. Those classes can also prove trickier to handle, and that’s when experience comes in.
But more often than not, the importance of teaching experience is overblown, especially among two groups, each having overhyped the concept of tenure for different reasons and ending up doing students a big disservice all the same.
Tuition centre is strong when it boasts competent teachers. I don’t care what services or creeds salespeople peddle. Without competent teachers conducting day-to-day classes, buyers are short-changed.
How do you know if a given teacher assigned to you is competent or not? I suggest running one of two litmus tests. Either you check the test scores of the teacher in question and measure how they compare to your target scores. If the teacher scored lower than your target score, or refused to provide a score, walk away. Or you sit in a trial lesson, listen carefully, fire hard questions, and see how the teacher handles the heat. You can’t go wrong with either test.
But competence is hard to come by, in this industry as in any other. So instead of making sure each teacher is capable, many centres choose to hype up the value of teaching tenure. Rather than post the TOEFL/IELTS scores their teachers managed, which can be too mediocre to sell, these centres argue that years or decades of teaching experience alone make them great teachers.
This is bullshit.
In fact, I’d argue that the more years a teacher spends teaching a subject, the more responsibility they have in achieving a top 1 percentile score in the area they claim to have expertise in. When a seasoned teacher fails to present convincing scores matching their self-professed record of excellence, something fishy is going on.
For example, a teacher happens to teach the very core subjects I now teach: TOEFL Writing, IELTS Writing, SAT Writing & Language, and SAT Essay. But she posts no scores – except that she passed TEM-8. Mind you, though, TEM-8 is a different animal to TOEFL/IELTS/SAT – passing TEM-8 does not in itself make a person qualified to teach TOEFL/IELTS Speaking/Writing, much less any of the SAT subjects. It’s rather like advertising oneself as a greater boxer on the basis of having passed a weightlifting challenge.
As an important aside, 7/7/7s are extremely rare on the SAT Essay, not least because this requires one marker to award 4/3/4 and the other 3/4/3 – a statistically implausible occurrence. And while 7/6/8s and 8/6/7s (less so) can be more common, their numbers are shrinking all the time. It takes a bold liar to advertise having taken “nearly hundreds of students” to triple 7s, not to mention the fact that no evidence elsewhere is mounted to corroborate an extraordinary assertion.
In contrast to another self-crowned “star teacher” who claims little more than a long tenure, I can argue with confidence that I’m the superior teacher because I have scores to show for – either perfect subject scores or best-of-the-rest ones.
Buyers (Mostly parents)
Many parents have this misguided idea where they associate competence with look: the older a teacher looks, the abler he is.
This is false and dangerous nonsense.
The best indicators of competence are a teacher’s own test scores, results of their tutees, and testimony from their ablest tutees.
Disagree all you want but teaching tenure speaks only to one’s having met minimum qualifications.
I don’t see the hype around teaching experience going away overnight – it takes people like me to expose frauds and charlatans. But I’d be on to them for as long as it’s necessary.