Quality in Teacher Education: Challenging Assumptions, Building Understanding Through Foundation Principles
Quality is a term that has been used in many ways in the educational literature. The notion of quality has been used to support arguments for the implementation of such things as: standards; competencies; and, accreditation and registration requirements. However, when quality is used as a proxy for such things as compliance or accountability, then attempts to measure, rank and standardize tend to confuse the debate about quality, where it resides and how it might genuinely be recognized. Even the most superficial glance of the literature illustrates that teacher education has continually been buffeted by such debate and that progress in better clarifying—and valuing—the work of teacher education has been slow and painful.
Greene (1988) lamented the ‘new wave’ of educational reform supposedly designed to improve the quality of teaching and teacher education which she interpreted as measuring, testing and comparing against predefined properties, thus suggesting that ‘the idea of quality entails doing better at what we thought we were doing all the time’ (p. 237). She was more concerned to conceptualize quality as something that should be linked to thinking, particularly that which catalysed closer examination of the lived experience. Drawing on the work of Dewey she was interested in pursuing how teacher education could help prospective teachers move beyond the everyday, ‘it is essential to move teachers-to-be to risk interruptions of ordinary and habitual behaviour at certain moments, to “think [about] what they are doing” ... at a time so heavy with kitsch and hollow proclamation, so dominated by technical rationality ... [it is important] to keep the questions alive, questions that can “slice” through the taken-for-granted and disclose new possibilities for thought and action. Such an approach to quality may appeal to those who feel themselves submerged in everydayness and banality .’ (p. 240).
J. Loughran (H)
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X. Zhu et al. (eds.), Quality of Teacher Education and Learning,
New Frontiers of Educational Research,
Greene’s response to questioning the nature of quality in teacher education echoes a recurring theme in the literature; one which is remarkably common across nations and time periods. In many ways, understanding issues around ‘the quality debate’ depend on making sense of where the argument is coming from or, put another way, the contextual perspective driving the espoused view.
[In relation to the] issue of quality in teacher education ... there are really two very different contextual arenas—one which is essentially political in nature, and the other which is more academic in nature. The former is important because it reflects external influences—and often limitations and obstacles. It is the real world and we would be naive to ignore it. On the other hand, in an academic context, we can systematically examine what we know about learning and teaching and the practices that follow logically from this knowledge. This is the context that holds the greatest potential for increasing quality in teacher education (Kealy 1995, pp. 47-48).
Understanding the ‘arena’ is important but so too is the very nature of the work itself for, as Gallagher et al. (2011) noted, teacher education is a complex and challenging landscape that involves:
curriculum, pedagogy and research ... [and teacher educators] are expected to attend to, and experiment with, clinical aspects of practice in order to develop into skilled practitioners .
[and] to pursue rigorous programs of research (Gallagher et al. 2011, p. 880)
Within the academy, and sadly even within Faculties/Schools of Education, teacher education tends to suffer from superficial understandings of the nature of its work. Unfortunately, that has led many (from inside and outside the profession) to propose simple solutions to complex problems. For example, the ‘rucksack philosophy’ of teacher education, often espoused by politicians, education bureaucrats and school principals, commonly assumes that:
(1) ITE [Initial Teacher Education] is able to equip (prospective) teachers with most/all competencies that seem to be necessary for them to enable them to fulfil the many tasks of the teaching profession throughout a professional career; (2) that during (a sometimes relatively short period of) ITE (prospective) teachers are able to acquire all the knowledge structures and attitudes that seem to be necessary for permanent professional learning and development; [all within a working environment where] (3) coherent measures for an induction into the professional cultures of school, are not taken; [and in which] (4) INSET, as well as further education, might happen on a voluntary basis (Buchberger and Byrne 1995, p. 14).
Thus, on the one hand, that which happens in school is expected to inform and shape teacher education programs in order to best prepare students of teaching for their first year of fulltime teaching. On the other hand, there is an expectation that teacher education programs should produce beginning teachers prepared and capable of challenging the status-quo of schooling with little ongoing development or support. In short, teacher education is sometimes positioned as the vehicle for ‘curing the ills’ of the schooling system.
One response to such conflicting expectations is to consider the importance of supporting the professionalization, as opposed to accepting the socialisation, of prospective teachers (Zeichner and Gore 1990). However, in and of itself that is no simple task for as is readily apparent across nations, teacher education is often saddled with unreasonable expectations. Managing such conflicting demands inevitably creates challenges that are not so obvious from the outside yet are exceptionally difficult to navigate from the inside.
In an extensive study of curriculum reform and professional development in China, Zhu (2010) aptly captured the dilemma faced by teacher educators in responding to such contradictory expectations. He noted that curriculum reform in the schooling system did not necessarily translate into curriculum development in teacher education programs and that a disjunct between both meant that teacher education could easily appear to be distanced from the demands, expectations and requirements of teachers and their needs in relation to changes in school curricula. As a consequence, the simplistic view that changing the school curriculum would be supported by changes in the teacher education curriculum was clearly found to be erroneous. More so, he concluded that, a market orientation for ‘services’ in teacher education led to a loss of ‘the values cherished by traditionalists, such as teaching and nurturing and modelling the integrity of morality and scholarship [and did not] satisfy the innovative values advocated by futurists, like facilitating holistic development and cultivating lifelong learning competence’ (p. 388).
In many ways, as painful and difficult as the situation might appear, it is not new. Teacher education has long suffered as a consequence of the never-ending quality debate. Long ago Brickman (1956) noted that it is ‘of supreme importance to consider the role played by quality in teacher preparation’ (p. 246). Back then he lamented the ever present debate around what was needed to produce good teachers with a ‘clear understanding of the learner [and] the learning process’ (p. 250).
It is not difficult to see then, that for the quality debate to make a real difference for teacher education, a focus on teaching and learning about teaching must be at the heart of the endeavour. In paying more attention to the learner and the learning process, by making that explicit and clear, the nature of quality in teacher education might finally be conceptualized in ways that are more germane to the work at hand. What teacher educators know and are able to do, the skills, knowledge and abilities that make a difference in supporting student learning, have for too long simply been ignored. Understanding what quality in teaching and learning about teaching looks like, and how it might be captured and portrayed is then important in creating a more informed debate about quality in teacher education.
This chapter explores teaching and learning about teaching through the lens of foundation principles for teacher education; principles that are able to be explicated, enacted and valued in developing teacher education programs of quality. Foundation principles should be such that they are evident first of all in the learning about teaching students of teaching experience in their teacher education program, then ultimately in how those experiences translate into their practice in their classrooms with their students. What follows is an attempt to outline some foundation principles that play a role in shaping quality in teacher education by paying heed to the importance of learning.