Institutional Conceptualisations of Teacher Education as Academic Work in England

Jul. 01, 2012

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 5, p. 685-693, (July, 2012).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines how the university-based teacher educator is conceptualised as a category of academic worker at the institutional level in England.
The authors emphasize how ways of thinking about teacher education are actively produced and reproduced in institutional language.
They are interested in how the work of the university-based teacher educator is conceptualised from the perspective of universities themselves.

Data were collected through 111 collecting job advertisements and further particulars texts for all teacher education vacancies at higher education institutions in England during two periods totalling eight months: July to November 2008 and March to May 2009.
Furthermore, the authors also conducted semi-structured interviews with eight academic leaders: six heads of education departments, one associate head of department and one director of teacher education.


The findings reveal that it was common for universities to conceptualise the teacher educator as a ‘super teacher’.
It means that teacher educator is an effective classroom practitioner demonstrating strong personal qualities of enthusiasm and resilience.

Training and delivery described teaching, often relating directly to how teaching and teacher education were described in policy and professional discourse.

No significant differences were observed between new and old university sectors.
However, differences in the way teacher educators and their work were conceptualised were often apparent within the same institution.

Some differences were observed between how teacher educators were being categorised in interviews with the academic leaders in new and old universities.
Furthermore, in interviews with academic leaders in old universities, teacher educators were categorised around a contradiction between research productivity and professional credibility. The teacher educator was produced as a hybrid category of academic worker.

In the interviews with academic leaders in new universities, the teacher educator was produced as an exceptional category, somewhat distinct from the rest of the institution, with different expectations made of them and different institutional goals.
Both sets of academic leaders, in several respects, appeared to be managing a similar range of work under similar resource constraints and experiencing similar kinds of personal pressure.
However, the way in which teacher educators and their work was conceptualised in talk was different and these discursive differences related to questions of research and the capacity of teacher educators to develop a ‘research profile’.

The findings also show that the institutions shared a commitment to teacher educators’ credibility with the profession, usually demonstrated through significant professional experience.
Indeed, this commitment to professional credibility was rather taken-for-granted.
What is not shared, it seems, is an argument for the importance of research as an aspect of teacher educators’ work and for the relationship between research and teaching.
Neither is an awareness of the need to develop research capacity in teacher educators, not only in relation to funding and issues of productivity but in relation to claims for research-informed teaching and student teachers’ learning.

The results reveal that each institution determining their own mission and values, recruiting staff and conceptualising teacher education as they see fit.
It could be argued that there will inevitably be hierarchies of institutions like universities and colleges and hierarchies of departments, and staff within those departments, and perhaps there should be increasing acceptance of diversification according to institution-type.

Another interpretation of these findings might be that the position of teacher educators reflects a wider situation across universities generally in England.
It may well be the case that differences in conceptualisation in professional schools reflect the increasing stratification of universities in England on research lines.


The authors argue that universities in England want an expert ‘practitioner’ who can ‘deliver’ research-informed teaching or possibly develop a research ‘profile’, depending on the institutional context.
This position is coherent insofar as it renders the teacher educator as a difficult or troublesome category, as hybrid or exceptional, and often the subject of some sort of truce with the university as a whole.
The hybrid vigour of the teacher educator therefore arises from their capacity to develop new knowledge across multiple social settings and at different levels of specialisation and abstraction.

The authors argue that expecting university-based teacher educators to act as ‘super teachers’, as external facilitators of reflection, as quality assurance consultants or as ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘resilient’ accreditors of school-based, school-led inquiry is surely an unsustainable model of university’s involvement in teacher education.

The involvement of universities only slows down reform, from a politician’s perspective; professional credibility can only accrue to those who align themselves with the policy.
However, the authors claim that teacher education as an academic field of practice in universities in England needs to build an argument, to make a case.

Updated: Jan. 29, 2015