Professionalism and quality discourses
It is not my intention to be critical of this new approach to teacher education, particularly when it is in development and under construction. The demand for teachers in Arizona presents a very real need, and the Next Education Workforce initiative is a well-thought-out approach to tackle that problem in a genuinely constructive and supportive way. This is not in question. However, it is important to consider how any new initiative, through the way in which it defines practice, changes our understanding of teacher professionalism, teacher development and the role of teacher educators. This question boils down to how teacher education pedagogy is designed for transformation to take place, and the role that teacher educators play to make that happen. Focusing on the development of knowledge and understanding at the expense of skills, or vice versa, is unproductive. It is important to recognise the complementary nature of both specialist knowledge of teacher education and practical experience of teaching. New teachers require both. The challenge is how to balance them in the most effective way.
The Next Education Workforce initiative at MLFTC is a great example of how universities are well placed to innovate and support change when they are given the opportunity to do so, and the capacity to leverage. The MLFTC programme also shows that universities are well placed to innovate as they have wide social reach and influence; in this case, working with a range of school districts in the Phoenix metropolitan region. This is an advantage of scale: universities serve broad communities and are often trusted partners within those communities.
This example of university practice also reveals the stratified way in which changes in teacher education can occur and how the work of teacher educators is changing. At MLFTC, the Next Education Workforce initiative was driven from the college leadership, and change was initially implemented in the partnership arrangements: focusing on the shape and form of the practicum in the final year of study. This has been facilitated by the structure of the programme: had the practicum been spread throughout the four-year degree, it would not have been possible. The implications for the partnership: the work of the school-based support team and the practicum support team (site and regional leads) are being worked through as the programme develops. The curriculum implications, and particularly how amendments will be needed in the taught components of the programme (in the first three years of the undergraduate degree), have yet to be considered. These courses will require adaptation too. Potentially, this initiative could provide a new wave of understanding of clinical practice, or indeed a new form of teacher education, perhaps offering new insights into how teacher education can be effective when divided into “theory now, practice later”. Models that have adopted this approach previously, have experienced significant issues combining theory and practice in teacher education effectively (Menter, 2017). However, as this part of the programme develops, it will need teacher education expertise across the faculty: as teacher educators think through how the contribution of their taught courses will need to change in the light of the teaming initiative.
The challenge of defining the work of teacher educators within changing contracts, accountability frameworks and changing school practices is not to be underestimated. As roles are redefined and shifted, this raises questions about the knowledge that teacher educators need. The quality conundrum here is about the role and expertise of teacher educators and getting the balance right to ensure that new teachers are supported in the development of practical experience alongside their knowledge and understanding of practice. The example in this chapter shows how school-based and supervisory colleagues can work together as their roles shift to ensure that student teachers are well supported. However, the focus thus far has been overtly on practicum. A key element in responding to the quality conundrum has to focus on the entirety of the experience and the role that a strong, theoretically informed and robust content can provide.
The issue of recruiting appropriate teacher educators was common to all the research sites I visited. In each of the locations, there were varying factors as to what universities looked for in a teacher educator: whether there was an emphasis on academic credentials, research experience or practical experience of working in local schools. In some locations, teacher educators were expected to be both academic and close to practice (as echoed by Ellis and McNicholl (2015)). Recruitment of teacher educators, who are not expected to have a research profile (such as the clinical faculty at MLFTC), places a stronger emphasis on their school experience and ability to support student teachers.
However, this quality conundrum is about more than just the provision of support available for new teachers. As outlined at the start of this chapter, there are concerns about the status of teacher educators as members of the university faculty. Where teacher educators are only being offered casualised contracts, particularly if they are temporary renewable or sessional contracts, this can reduce their capacity to contribute to the field. Unless these approaches are supported by tenured, academic faculty, then there is a danger of a reduced presence of teacher education with the academy. On the other hand, by broadening out teacher education to what White (2018) called community-based teacher educators or other members of the community who can contribute to teacher education, the diversification of the teacher education workforce can more widely replicate the expertise in local communities. However, it is important to recognise that these roles have variable status, both within school communities and within the university infrastructure. There is a need to recognise the complementarity of these roles: the distinctive contribution they each bring to the experience of transformation for new teachers.
This notion of relative status also applies to the representational space; how the attributes of different teacher educators are valued will reflect the relative importance afforded to their experience and contribution. When considering how teacher educators contribute to the quality of a programme, it is important to reflect on how the variety of different expertise from the range of teacher educators can work together to support the development of teachers. Where an overemphasis is placed on either the practical or the theoretical aspects of learning to teach, balance needs to be restored through affirming and clarifying the importance of all aspects of the programme.
Does an approach that places teachers as part of a team of educators require fundamentally new ways of learning to teach? To what extent is this programme preparing teachers to be ready on “day one” or to be lifelong practitioners? To what extent will evidence show that the shift will be effective or that it has a chance to succeed? The answers to these questions have yet to be worked through. The anecdotal experience of those on the programme at MLFTC is incredibly positive and honest in terms of what work still needs to be done. The programme has been scaled up quickly and is clearly making an impact in Arizona now. For me, the question is one to do with sustainability and equity, not just in terms of how are the teachers ready and prepared for a career in teaching, but also in how this development changes the nature of teachers work, perhaps making it less (or more) desirable in the long term.