Can effective teaching skills be taught? While pedagogical strategies and subject matter knowledge are taught (and presumably, learned) in pre-service teacher education, some researchers have theorised that just as in any domain, or for any skill, teachers improve the quality of their teaching through regular reflection on new and changing experience (Berliner, 2004). Berliner claims that expertise is specific to a domain, to particular contexts within a domain and is developed over hundreds of thousands of hours of practice (2004). In a review of several international studies, Berliner has arrived at the conclusion that it takes five to seven years to acquire proficiency as a teacher “if one works hard at it” (2004, p. 201).

Berliner (1994) has adapted the five-stage heuristic theory for expertise development proposed by Dreyfus & Dreyfus (1986) to the context of teaching. Berliner’s description of the five stages of teacher expertise development presents an opportunity for teachers to reflect on and improve their skills and practices, in general and in particular domains. Berliner’s heuristic theory for teaching expertise development is outlined in Table 1.

Table 1

Stages of teaching expertise (Berliner, 2004)




  • no experience or limited experience
  • context-free application of rules
  • extensive practical knowledge about subject matter and pedagogy
  • limited practical knowledge outside of subject matter and pedagogy
  • rational
  • inflexible
  • conform to rules and procedures they have been taught without question

Advanced beginner

  • some experience
  • episodic knowledge builds practical knowledge outside of subject-matter and pedagogy
  • contextual knowledge developed through reflection on incidents, successes and failures
  • build conditional and strategic knowledge about when to follow or break the rules they have learned

Not all teachers leave the advanced beginner stage; a small but significant number of teachers remain fixed at this stage, a less than competent level of performance (Borko, 1992).


  • approximately 3 to 4 years of experience
  • conscious decision-making processes
  • teacher accepts full, personal responsibility for all classroom instruction
  • make better decisions about instruction
  • set priorities and plan for the achievement of rational goals by sensible means
  • determine what is and what is not important to attend to in the classroom
  • more accurate at determining targets for behaviour and learning
  • not yet fast, fluid or flexible in behaviours

Many third-, fourth- and fifth-year teachers, as well as more experienced teachers, reach a competent level of performance.


Sometime after approximately 5 years of experience, a small number of teachers move into the proficient stage of development.

  • approximately 5 to 7 years of experience
  • intuition is prominent
  • wealth of experience allows teacher to view new and familiar situations holistically
  • better predictors of classroom events
  • respond analytically and deliberately to various situations


  • more than 5 to 7 years of experience
  • instinctively understand situations and implicitly recognise the appropriate response
  • fast, fluid performance
  • no conscious decisions made about attending to students

Because expert teachers instinctively do what works, they are not solving problems or making decisions and rarely seem to be reflective in their practice.

Few teachers reach the expert stage of development.



Berliner, D.C. (1994).  Expertise: The wonders of exemplary performance.  In J.N. Mangieri & C.C. Block (Eds.), Creating powerful thinking in teachers and students (pp. 141-186).  New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Berliner, D. C. (2004).  Describing the behavior and documenting the accomplishments of expert teachers.  Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 24, 200-212.

Dreyfus, H.L., & Dreyfus, S.E. (1986). Mind over machine. New York: Free Press.