Foundation Principles

Teacher Educators Are Learners

It seems self-evident that quality in teacher education must be based on the work of quality teacher educators. However, such a statement is not quite as simple in practice as it is in text because, as has been well documented in the literature (Boyd and Harris 2011; Dinkleman et al. 2006; Guilfoyle et al. 1995), the transition from school teacher to teacher educator is demanding. Furthermore, issues created through the transition from schoolteacher to teacher educator tend to be something for the individual to manage rather than a situation that is formally addressed by, or supported in, the institution per se (Loughran 2014).

In their research into the transition into becoming a teacher educator, Murray and Male (2005) suggested that it can take up to 3 years for beginning teacher educators to establish their sense of identity, not least because of the shift in thinking, skills, knowledge and understanding required to move from ‘first order teaching’ to ‘second order teaching’ (p. 126). When challenged by the shift from first order to second order teaching, Brandenburg (2008) found herself confronted by unanticipated expectations about teaching because she ‘was required to be more than a classroom teacher ... [but] was not quite sure what the more meant’ (p. 5). Martinez (2008) suggested that the shift from teacher to teacher educator involved six specific challenges. Her explication of those challenges helps to illustrate why Brandenburg initially struggled to know what more really meant.

It is not difficult to see why Martinez’s six specific challenges might be confronting when viewed from the perspective of an experienced and successful teacher moving from the top of one profession to the beginning of another. Martinez outlined the challenges as involving:

  • (1) Teaching new students—teaching adults not children. This shift requires new teaching approaches and procedures in concert with changes in approaches to interpersonal communication.
  • (2) Autonomy—the professional freedom and independence associated with teaching in a tertiary setting. However, such autonomy may also be ‘accompanied by anxiety and uncertainty, as along with the independence and freedom from surveillance is a new set of responsibilities for self-management . [creating, for some, a] general lack of confidence on the part of new teacher educators’ (p. 39).
  • (3) Institutional structures and size—the move into a new institution with a different organisational system, structures and processes is demanding and can lead to a sense of isolation.
  • (4) Work environment and technology—work and the nature of changes to approaches to teaching through on-line platforms can be confronting.
  • (5) The modelling imperative—‘Perhaps the most challenging of all the transitional demands on new teacher educators, and the one that most clearly marks them out from other disciplines, is to model and practise the knowledge base they teach.

“Practising what they preach” requires sophisticated levels of meta-cognition, as teacher educators must be able to “do” and to provide the running commentary of justification and explanation for their teaching practices’ (p. 42).

(6) Research and promotion culture—becoming a researcher is a new and often demanding aspect of work that can appear to be in competition with teaching as research is often valorised to the detriment of quality in teaching. Similarly, promotion is dominated by research outputs which challenges further the standing of teaching as a valued high quality outcome.

These challenges, in part, help to explain that which the literature continually illustrates—that the transition from school teacher to teacher educator is enmeshed in an identity shift that is often experienced as stressful because of the ‘need to establish [a] new professional identity as [a] teacher educator and to develop new areas of expertise’ (Swennen and van der Klink 2009, p. 93). Therefore, the notion of becoming—the development of an identity—shapes as a crucial aspect of understanding a personal component of quality in teacher education because:

Becoming a teacher educator thus highlight[s] the complexities of this passage and the often unacknowledged difficulties involved [in the] ... professional ‘transition’ [it is] a transitional shift in role identification, institutional context, frames of understanding and knowledge, support and development . [as well as the] challenges of practice, modelling and advocacy (Davey 2013, pp. 58-59).

If teacher educators are to be the change agents essential to enhancing the enterprise of schooling (Darling-Hammond 2000), then supporting them in the transition to the world of academia is crucial. Clearly, if beginning teacher educators struggle to understand what it means to grow beyond being a good teacher and why that might matter, or where to seek mentoring and support in a system that institutionally tends to lack leadership in so doing, then building a career as a teacher educator will be difficult. Institutionally there needs to be an acknowledgement of, and support in responding to, the implicit and explicit expectations teacher educators face in learning what it means to be a quality teacher educator. Although some beginning teacher educators learn how to respond to these expectations by themselves (Bullock and Ritter 2011), it is not good enough to leave it to individuals to work it out alone. If quality in teacher education counts, then creating conditions that will be conducive to teacher educators’ professional learning is crucial. That means they need to know more than the how of practice, they need to actively develop their knowledge of why.

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