Exploring Pre-service Secondary Teachers’ Understanding of Care

May 2016

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, VOL. 22, NO. 4, 485–503, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigates how pre-service teachers understand their caring role and their potential responsibility to care for students.

The participants were twelve (2 male and 10 female) pre-service secondary teachers, who learned at an urban Australian campus.

Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with four focus groups.

It was found that the participants perceive their caring teaching role as multifaceted with many interrelated themes. The various themes relate to each other in various ways, in which an acknowledgement of, and sensitivity to, the ‘whole’ student appeared to be central. Participants described care in terms of specific behaviours as well as the way in which they taught and managed students’ behaviour. Notwithstanding the importance of care, many also alluded to the boundaries of caring for students, and concerns regarding becoming too involved.

In addition, the majority of participants indicate that neither pedagogical nor disciplinary strategy would be effective without care. Thus, whilst many barriers to care were identified, and many acknowledged the lack of training in this area, caring for students was a crucial component to being effective teachers.

Furthermore, the secondary pre-service teachers here described the centrality of care in teaching, aligning notions of care with maximising student learning and personal growth.
Moreover, teaching the ‘whole’ student was a prominent theme in this study. According to the pre-service secondary teachers, genuine care is enacted by being ‘sensitive’ to individual needs and by acknowledging students when doing their best. For these pre-service teachers, teaching encompassed more than the subject matter taught in classes. The role of a caring teacher is implicit in helping develop the whole person beyond the classroom .

In addition, care was considered important to successful learning, discipline and behavior management. The notion of ‘students and teachers working together’ promoted and encouraged reciprocal relationships characterised by trust and respectful student–teacher relationships.
The participants also highlighted that, in their experience, caring was not a central component of coursework and a forum for discussion about the complexity of enacting care was notably absent. Overall, participants highlight the important role of practicum supervisors in how notions of care might be discussed and modelled during teacher preparation.

These findings have important implications for teacher education programmes.
Many participants expressed concern about their lack of training in meeting the challenges they are likely to face when they practice ‘care’ in their teaching. The authors suggest that one possible method is to introduce case studies for analysis and reflection based on discussion points that highlight the everyday ethical dilemmas that can be potentially faced by novice teachers into new or existing subjects, a suggestion made by some participants.

Additionally, the role of practicum supervisors is important in facilitating the professional development of pre-service teachers, particularly in addressing caring boundary issues in the immediacy of teaching actions and within the context of the classroom or playground.

Modelling, dialogue, practice and confirmation might be general activities embedded in subjects to consider what a caring stance means and how it might be enacted, for example, through readings, role playing, case studies, observations and discussion groups.

Finally, collaboratively working with others (including parents, other teachers and school staff) is a critical skill that all teachers need to acquire and subsequently needs to be actively taught in teacher training programmes.

The authors conclude that it was shown that within an Australian teaching and learning context ‘care’ was valued among these pre-service secondary teachers. However, the findings identified student tensions around discipline, boundary issues as well as anxiety about decision-making when faced with various caring dilemmas. Furthermore, the results revealed that these anxieties were underpinned by concerns about the limited training in this area. 

Updated: Feb. 13, 2018