(Re)thinking preservice teachers’ field experiences through a spatial lens


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 41:2, 148-161

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors, to illustrate the practice of mapping space, use empirical data that show the spatial experience of Jennifer, a White female preservice teacher in a homeless shelter.
They highlight how mapping space helped Jennifer understand the relationships between herself and the constructions of other people and her interactions with materials.
They then discuss the implications of using a spatial lens to develop pedagogical tools for teacher education programs.
This paper shows that field experiences are crucial pedagogical spaces for preservice teachers, for raising questions and gaining understanding about the relationships between themselves, the discursive constructions of others, and their pedagogical practices.

This paper illustrates how using a spatial lens helps the preservice teachers have this new understanding of themselves as bodies in relationships in space.
Through her critical reflections on spatial experiences obtained through mapping space, Jennifer could rethink the discursive relations that formed her embodied experiences and recognize the complex power dynamics in space.
Paralleling the perspectives of the scholars on space (e.g., Löw, 2016; Soja, 1996, 2010), the authors attempted to provide multiple opportunities for preservice teachers to understand the dynamical flows of who they are, how relationships are discursively constructed in space, and how the relationships influence their teaching and learning.
Having opportunities to rethink space through mapping, Jennifer gained insight about her embodied experiences and the stereotypes/bias in her relationships with the children and materiality in Hope House.
Although she still needed to improve her critical reflections on space, the mapping activity promoted her critical thinking about her actions (e.g., leading the group activity for the mothers and children), social structure (e.g., the invisibility of the shelter), and relationships between self and the discursive constructions of others/otherness in space (e.g., emotions such as fear, her thoughts on the materials that she used in the shelter). Jennifer realized that what she experienced through mapping space opened her eyes to the world in a new way.
Simply making preservice teachers emplaced in (un)familiar contexts in terms of language, race/ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, gender and so on does not help them realize the relations between self and discursive constructions of others.

The various opportunities for the critical awareness in space should be addressed in field experiences, going beyond simply learning what to teach or how to teach content knowledge.
For preservice teachers, it is essential to be aware that there are always potential lessons to learn from familiar contexts as well as unfamiliar ones in their field sites.
As shown in the example of Jennifer, in particular, her underlying assumption on the use of materials for those children challenged the authors as early childhood teacher educators to reexamine their initial expectation that she might better understand the relations between self and discursive constructions of others in space.
From their viewpoint, Jennifer and the children experiencing homelessness were similar in terms of family economic hardship.
Although the field contexts in which preservice teachers are emplaced may reflect characteristics like those of their upbringing such as socioeconomic status, there are still lessons for them to learn through spatial experiences.

The authors note that in addition to considering and defining teacher education within a broad spectrum, this study provided the implications of the spatial lens, which are able to help preservice teachers make enlightened decisions about teaching and learning materials.
Indeed, their decisions about teaching practices are partially associated with their own beliefs (Gorski, 2018).
The analysis of their own perceptions and their emplacement in space is critical to lead preservice teachers to raise questions about why they think certain materials are developmentally and/or culturally (in)appropriate for a certain group of students who occupy a particular space.
They can also (re)examine how they position themselves and others, and are in turn positioned by others in the material world.
By examining their own beliefs and decisions about teaching practices, preservice teachers can recognize how taken-for-granted, mundane learning and teaching practices are actually discursively (re) produced in space. In other words, the spatial lens can help them recognize and investigate the social structure and actions that are ideologically (re)produced in space.
The authors as early childhood teacher educators feel that they still have challenges as they apply the lens of spatial experiences to teacher education programs.
Due to the dominant discourse on accountability in schools and the need to qualify for teacher certificates such as edTPA (Ledwell & Oyler, 2016), it is difficult to intentionally set aside time in our courses to ask the critical questions that lead to provocative thinking about space, especially during field experiences.
The reality is that preservice teachers are too busy to learn how content knowledge can be applied effectively in their field sites.
Zichner and Bier (2018) pointed this out.
Regardless of the unsolved challenges, the authors believe that it is still possible to view the relationships and perspectives of self and the constructions of others/otherness through a spatial lens in early teacher education programs.
To do this, they suggest that early childhood teacher educators provide many opportunities for preservice teachers to be exposed to the spatial lens/perspective through assignments, readings, discussions of coursework, and field experiences.
For example, preservice teachers can begin to see contexts reflected in their daily lives inside and outside of the college through a spatial lens, considering them as “a relational arrangement of bodies” (Löw, 2016, p. 107).
Starting from the space surrounding them, preservice teachers can begin to reflect critically on their future classroom.
Without multiple and holistic perspectives on space, we cannot understand ourselves or children well.

Gorski, P. (2018). Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Ledwell, K., & Oyler, C. (2016). Unstandardized responses to a “standardized” test: The edTPA as gatekeeper and curriculum change agent. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(2), 120–134. 
Löw, M. (2016). The sociology of space: Materiality, social structures, and action. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Soja, E. W. (1996). Third space: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real and imagined space. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice (Vol. 16). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Zichner, K., & Bier, M. (2018). Opportunities and pitfalls in the turn toward clinical experience in US teacher education. In K. Zichner (Ed.), The struggle for the soul of teacher education (pp. 197–223). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020