Distinctive Qualities of Expert Teachers

From Section:
Trends in Teacher Education
Hong Kong
Aug. 20, 2009

Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 4 August 2009 , pages 421 - 439.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article attempts to identify the distinctive qualities of successful veteran teachers, referred to as “expert teachers”, which separates them not only from novice teachers but more importantly from experienced non-expert teachers.

Based on earlier case studies, this article maintains that the critical differences between expert and non-expert teachers are manifested in three dimensions:

1) their ability to integrate aspects of teacher knowledge in relation to the teaching act;
2) their response to their contexts of work, and their ability to engage in reflection and
3) conscious deliberation.

The article further addresses the question of why some teachers become experts while others remain experienced non-experts by examining the developmental processes of the experienced teachers in the case studies.

The four ESL teachers

The data drawn on in this article consist of case studies, spanning 18 months, of four ESL teachers in Hong Kong. These teachers' personal histories, professional development, classroom practices, and the knowledge embedded in the teaching act were investigated through the analysis of lesson observations, interviews with teachers and students, reflections by teachers, and artifacts such as lesson plans, curriculum materials, and student work.

At the time of the study, all four ESL teachers were teaching in the same school. The school is located in a government subsidized housing estate for people in the lower income bracket. Most of the students are from working class families and their parents do not speak English.

When the study was conducted, Marina was in her eighth year of teaching, Eva and Ching were both in their fifth year of teaching, and Genie in the second year of teaching.
Marina was identified by the school principal and her colleagues as an outstanding teacher.

These four teachers had had different disciplinary training. Marina majored in translation, Ching and Genie in English, and Eva in sociology. All of them entered teaching with no professional training.

Marina enrolled on a professional program in her fourth year of teaching and Ching in her fifth year of teaching. Neither Eva nor Genie had had any professional training when the study was conducted.


The findings suggest that engagement in exploration and experimentation in teaching and learning, in problematizing the unproblematic, and in tasks which challenge teachers to extend their competence are crucial to the development of expertise.

The implications for teacher development are discussed.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2018
Beginning teachers | English (second language) | Experienced teachers | Expertise | Teacher qualifications