Initial teacher education (ITE) ‘quality’ is often judged via inspection-type exercises designed to identify how ‘ready’ student teachers are to enter the teaching profession. Consequently, ITE programmes are often deemed ‘good’ or otherwise through the curriculum knowledge held by students and the classroom skills they demonstrate. In effect, what students know and can do takes centre stage. Sometimes, those leading ITE will wish to ensure that students also develop a ‘sense of self’. It is not that the aforementioned knowledge and skills (epistemological aspects) are elided; rather, matters to do with self (the ontological) also play a part. This is somewhat problematic for in the most part, ‘official’ ITE policy concentrates on the epistemological more than the ontological.
What this blog post does is highlight a new model (heuristic) for how we might begin to grapple, epistemologically, with the thorny question of ITE ‘quality’ in a way that supports notions of self. It is a shortened version of a paper published in Educational Philosophy and Theory: the link is in the references section.
ITE), certainly when embedded in higher education institutions (HEIs) often speaks to both emancipation (the development of teachers committed to social justice through the development of self); and, the provision of labour and research for economic growth (Bleiklie, 1998). Duly, as Dall’Alba (2009)notes, professional education still tends to focus on knowledge and skills sometimes at the expense of professional transformation. Teaching acts and actions become ends in themselves rather than the means to support growth (c.f. Barnett, 2009; Ennals, Fortune, Williams, & D’Cruz, 2016; Sumsion & Wong, 2011). Some might argue that the separation of what we know and can do and who we are is problematic, but it would seem that for the purposes of signalling ‘quality’ politically, this often happens. Indeed, some politicians and governments explicitly identify teaching as a set of skills to be learned, possibly whilst ‘on the job’ (c.f. Department for Education, 2010). Such beliefs often try to ensure student that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are ‘classroom ready’ so they might ‘hit the ground running’. There are those who challenge this though, and who maintain that the development of teacher ‘self’ is as vital as the development of skills and knowledge (e.g. Andersson, 2010; Ennals et al., 2016; Sumsion & Wong, 2011). There is a tension, though: if we develop the self with little regard to knowledge and skills we run the risk of losing student-focus. Conversely, if we ignore the self then how are we to reflect and learn; how we present ourselves and understand our actions are deeply personal matters.
The fact is, the search for quality often has its base the desire to audit and prove rather than a search for improvement. In some jurisdictions, the judgement of ITE requires providers to ‘prove their worth’. A recognition of areas for improvement might be required or even cited, but mostly, this provides the caveat to the judgement of worth. In Scotland, for example, there exist myriad ways of identifying quality some of which are audit style (QAA reviews and the National Student Survey (NSS) for example). There also exists, however, a Self-Evaluation Framework for ITE (Education Scotland, 2018) which requires reflection and development on the part of providers (all of whom are institutes of higher education working in partnership with local authorities and schools). What Scotland has is an amalgam of features used to determine quality. The full paper goes into this in more detail, but suffice it to say, what ensues is a mixture of the ‘snapshot’ which attempts to impose worth through the imposition of number (for example, a good ‘score on the NSS) alongside mechanisms that ask for reflection and debate.
Returning to the original premise that ITE is, sometimes, overly concerned with knowledge and skills and given that such matters are that which politicians and policy-makers (if we assume they reside ‘on high’) desire, it can be argued that what ensues is a position concerned, mostly, with epistemological matters. It would seem propitious, therefore, to identify how such aspects might be conceptualized, but in ways that explicitly call to ideas of of the developing self. Here the full paper offers three ways that we might position ‘learning teaching’ (Mayer et al., 2017); indeed, they also resonate with those with more experience.
This is as concerned with entry into ITE courses as it is progress through and exit from such programmes. Here, there are pressures to admit the ‘right’ individuals, defined in terms of their ability to gain from ITE based on assumptions and knowledge about how teachers learn and develop. There is, then, an element of identifying in terms of initial entry, progression through and exit from, programmes. As Dall’Alba (2009) notes, such positions carry weight in most professions: some sort of method of acceptance onto professional courses, a period of initial education and a follow-up induction period is often the norm. Seemingly, there are merits in identifying those that will benefit from ITE courses (via, for example, entry criteria) as well as the identification of those who are able to benefit from the course and become ‘good’ teachers; in effect, entrants are judged against measures that define ‘what a teacher looks like’. Following this, ITE students engage in learning teaching via mechanisms that are as much social, cultural and political as they are educational. This does not simply imply the ability to take on board hints and tips, but rather the ability to understand such mechanisms to pass in a system that is replete with particular history. As Dall’Alba (2009)notes, professionals have a history, a culture and learning; to engage with these is pre-requisite to becoming a professional.
It is fair to say that teachers ‘do’ things: they act on and in the world for others in the world. One can teach oneself, but this does not make one a teacher. Teaching is a reciprocal act and it is in this reciprocity that all involved engage in the learning process. By doing, the student teacher engages in the world and on the world in order to gain entry into an aspect of the world (the profession). Subsequently, teachers (and student teachers) engage in acts of categorization: their entry into the profession is governed by rules and expectations that are driven by matters such as pedagogy, subject and age-range. Becoming a teacher of young children is, for example, as much a matter of understanding and working with Early Years pedagogy as it is the identification of not Early Years pedagogy. Teachers commit to a set of principles that are as much about defining their field as they are about defining that which is not their field. In this way, teachers are judged against ‘standards’ (explicit or otherwise) that others might use to attribute value and worth as a teacher. If such standards are codified into a set of professional expectations, then they become that which is ‘correct’: they are the ‘real’. If they are not so codified, then they become custom-and-practice: that which is done due to history and culture. In either case, student teachers (and, indeed, those qualified and with experience) become subject to mechanisms that not only seek ‘objectivity’, but which also ask us to ‘see’ the world in a specific way. It should be clear that judging what teachers do is as much about acknowledging what was done and why, as it is judging what was not done and why. Often, it is in the dark that we can best judge the light.
It is not uncommon to hear teachers state ‘that is all well and good, but it wouldn’t work in my school.’ At heart here are judgments and statements about contextual need and circumstantial provision. Such statements are rarely a dismissal of ideas, practices or theories, but rather a sense of situated understanding that drives professional work. At one level this is unproblematic; meeting student and staff need is crucial. However, at times it can lead to a sense of stagnation; a belief that, either the situation is in hand and intervention is not required, or a sense of resignation about the context and solutions thereto.
For the student teacher, such issues might not be uppermost as they may not possess the experience to be able to judge context or compare one context with another. For them, such questioning often results from experience with theory; indeed, students have often said they find theory to be ‘wanting’ in practice. There are two points to consider here. First, the separation of theory and practice is problematic; it paints a picture of the former devoid of any real world relationship, and the latter as being only that which comes about as a result of trial and error or, perhaps, the gleaning of knowledge from wiser others. Surely, though, it is not the case that theory has no place in beginning (or continuing) teaching? Rather, it is often the case that such statements are political in their intent to define teaching as activity best learnt in the classroom by doing (cf. Department for Education, 2010).
We can consider this another way perhaps. Theory can never provide a solution to every situation. Hence, when a student teacher finds themselves bereft of ideas, it is not that theory has failed, it is that the relationship between student and context is one which does not readily attest to a theoretical positon currently known. What is crucial here is praxis, the generation of localized, personally held theories that resonate in the here-and-now. These provide ways of conceptualising that which is before the student as well as an insight into thinking. It permits the student to later consider their actions against that which has already been cited, and, perhaps, the generation of newly held ideas and formulations ready to be tested. The student teacher, then, theorises about their work; they engage in conceptual thinking that elevates their practice beyond the local and into a professional schema that can be deployed and further developed. Enduring educational theories are not before or after praxis, they are with praxis for they assist in career long professional development and personal growth.
This focus on knowledge and skills, epistemological matters if you will, implies an ontology of becoming a teacher, being a teacher and belonging to teaching. In the classroom hurly-burly, positions are taken up, modified or resisted (cf. Harré, 2004). But this means more than simply being present in the world. It also means knowing and being present on the world; acting in such a way as to effect change that alters the taught, the teacher and that to be considered. Here, then, is the realm of the reflective practitioner reflecting on and in practice, or who uses Spielraum (room for manoeuvre) perhaps (Roth, 2002) to engage in thought cognisant of alterations to oneself and others. Educating for these requires reflection on ‘who am I’, and ‘Who am I in relation to this other I am teaching?’ As Dall’Alba (2009, p. 37) states
[t]his trans-formation of the self can be achieved by interrogating what we take for granted about our world and ourselves; by challenging assumptions we make about them and have historically made. By changing the orientation for knowing, doing and identifying, one appreciates different ways of being. ‘Through interrogating and re-shaping assumptions about what it means to teach …new ways of being are opened to aspiring professionals and can begin to take shape’ (Dall’Alba, 2009, p. 37).
We are entwined in the world. Thus, acceptance into the guild preordains us and locates us as beings with externally given purpose: to identify, know and act, one must belong, be and become but with room to challenge.
The original article
This blog is a shortened version of a paper published in Educational Philosophy and Theory. The reference for the full paper is:
Paul Adams & Carrie McLennan (2020): Towards initial teacher education quality: Epistemological considerations, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI:10.1080/00131857.2020.1807324
To link to this article:https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1807324
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