Transitioning from practitioner to practitioner-educator

Transitioning from practitioner to practitioner-educator involves the acquisition of a new body of knowledge and an expanded set of skills (Murray & Male, 2005). As you begin to incorporate this new educator dimension into your daily work, it is quite possible that your sense of professionalism as a practitioner will also be impacted in a positive way. If you are like most new clinical instructors, your initial fears will revolve around how you are perceived as a teacher. For instance, you may be concerned whether or not your students like you. Over time you will worry less about your popularity and more about your teaching practices. Your concerns will shift to whether there are sufficient instructional supplies available or whether there is enough time in the rotation to cover all of the learning objectives (see Chapter 3 for more information about learning objectives). As you gain confidence in your teaching skills and become accustomed to your role as a clinical instructor, you will begin to focus on the needs of your students. Questions such as, “Am I helping students apply what they have learned in the classroom to the clinical setting?” or “Am I helping students develop the skills necessary to be competent practitioners?” will become more important to you. Clinical instructors who express these types of student-centered concerns are believed to have established a strong sense of teacher identity (Borich, 1999).

What is teacher identity?

Identity defines how we view ourselves and shapes our values; it also serves as a lens through which others recognize us. Identity is formed through a dynamic process, constantly changing and evolving as we assume new roles. In time we may develop secondary or additional identities, which further guide our acquisition of new knowledge and skills (Deglau & O’Sullivan, 2006).

Teacher identity is influenced by a number of internal and external factors (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009). The internal factors include: previous experiences as a student, perceptions of others’ teaching practices, and beliefs regarding the roles and rituals typically associated with being a teacher. Many teachers refer to some deep yearning or calling that led them to become educators; they believe they were “bom to teach.” External factors that contribute to a sense of teacher identity' include: formal or informal teacher education training and contextual support of colleagues in the academic and clinical settings (Beijaard et al., 2004; Boreen & Niday, 2000).

Teacher identity is also shaped through reflective practice. Reflective practice is the process by which educators take a close look at the beliefs and attitudes that infonn their teaching and work to improve their actions (Atkinson, 2004; Brookfield, 1995; Jay & Johnson, 2002; Merriam et ah, 2007; Moon 1999). Self-awareness is central to reflective practice, as is having the courage to listen to the reflections of others. (Ivason-Jansson & Gu, 2006; Warin et ah, 2006). Engaging in honest dialogue with colleagues who support one another often produces thoughtful solutions to teaching challenges and an improved understanding of one’s own teacher identity (Jay & Johnson, 2002). If you discover through reflection that your teaching practices require some adjustment, do not view this as a weakness. Instead, view this as a step toward becoming a better teacher and a sign that your own sense of teacher identity is growing (Hammerness et ah, 2005).

Typically, clinical instructors fill along a continuum when it comes to teacher identity. At one end are the clinical instructors who see themselves as healthcare practitioners first;

teaching is considered secondary to patient care. When these individuals are asked to describe their positions, they will often respond, “I’m a medical laboratory scientist who produces laboratory results or a radiographer who provides diagnostic images or a physical therapist assistant who promotes rehabilitation,” rather than highlighting their roles as clinical instructors. At the other end of the continuum are the clinical instructors who are very proud to call themselves educators. They do not distinguish between their teaching role and their practitioner role and easily incorporate a sense of teacher identity into their overall professional identity. No matter which end of the clinical instructor spectrum you find yourself on, your job will be to facilitate student learning in the clinical setting. Over time it is quite possible that your level of teacher identity may shift as you become more skilled in your interactions with students and more confident in your teaching practices. Clinical instructors who are committed to mentoring students into healthcare positions often develop a stronger sense of identity as teachers.

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