Beginning student teachers’ educational ideals


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:5, 712-729

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aims to gain insight into the content and nature of the educational ideals held by student teachers and how these ideals arise.
The research questions are as follows:
(1) What educational ideals do beginning student teachers hold?
(2) What meaningful experiences shape beginning student teachers’ educational ideals?

A qualitative approach was considered the most appropriate to answer the research questions (Patton 2002).
The first author conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty-four first-year student teachers from three teacher education institutions within Dutch universities for applied sciences. The average duration of the interviews was eighty minutes.

The students in this study were in the four-year bachelor’s degree teacher education programme to become teachers in lower secondary schools in the subjects of history or the English language.
The students were selected from three teacher education institutions located in different areas of the Netherlands: the west (Amsterdam), the centre (Utrecht) and the northeast (Zwolle).
The authors interviewed twenty-four student teachers in the disciplines of history and the English language from the three teacher education institutes selected.

Interview Guideline
The interview guideline was based on the characteristics of educational ideals as presented in the authors’ theoretical framework in the sense that educational ideals refer to what is educationally desirable and worthwhile in the personal, interpersonal and societal domains.
The guideline was also based on their assumption that educational ideals are rooted in meaningful experiences in particular contexts such as school, family, jobs and societal issues.

Results and discussion
When asked about their motives for entering teacher education, student teachers indicated two main reasons:
(1) the wish to become a teacher and
(2) interest in or talent for the discipline.
All students mentioned at least one of these intrinsic motives as their main motive.
For nine out of the twelve history student teachers, the choice to enter teacher education was mainly fuelled by their interest in history.
This interest was often generated in their childhood by family trips to historical sites and history classes at school.
Most of the English language student teachers – nine out of twelve – mentioned their interest in teaching as their main reason for entering teacher education.
These student teachers chose to become English language teachers because they had a good command of English.
In this research, the authors found a diversity of educational ideals in the domains of personal, interpersonal and societal development.
In the domain of personal development, the educational ideals mentioned were varied and extensive, encompassing subject matter knowledge, critical thinking, autonomy and self-confidence, which are grounded in both a focus on learning the formal curriculum and a broader personal development-oriented perspective on education.
In their interview study, half the student teachers stressed the importance of subject matter knowledge.
The students in this study referred to the character traits of self-confidence and autonomy.
Beginning student teachers in the interview study also mentioned critical thinking.
Most educational ideals within the interpersonal domain referred to a more adaptive interpretation of education: good manners and collaboration were primarily considered valuable since these are necessary social skills for a successful career and becoming a ‘good’ and well-mannered citizen.
Few student teachers referred to social awareness, which they understood as supporting and taking care of others.
The educational ideals regarding societal development that the authors found in the narratives of the student teachers were participation in society, stimulation of respect for differences, equality and social justice.
Almost half the student teachers referred to creating respect for people with another cultural background or sexual orientation, and some of them did elaborate on that issue in more detail.
However, the connection student teachers made between education and equality and social justice was not well developed.
Furthermore, they found that a motivation for entering teacher education that is related to teaching or to the teacher’s discipline may inform student teachers’ educational ideals.
Most of the history student teachers in this study were subject-oriented, and most of the English language student teachers were teaching-oriented.
The data show that subject-oriented history student teachers are inclined to focus on understanding society, critical thinking and using their subject to counter prejudices to stimulate respect for differences.
Teacher-oriented student teachers tend to focus on stimulating the self-confidence of their future students and supporting the learning processes of all students to enhance their chances of completing secondary education.
The authors’ second aim was to gain insight into the meaningful experiences that contributed to the formation of student teachers’ educational ideals.
This study shows that life experiences in various contexts may be meaningful for the formation of the educational ideals held by beginning student teachers.
Their classification of various formative contexts based on the literature – the contexts of
(1) school,
(2) family,
(3) jobs and voluntary activities and
(4) societal issues – was useful to organise the data.
At school, experiences with inspiring teachers, participation in extracurricular activities and a discontinuous school career informed educational ideals related to personal development. Disappointing experiences connected to disrespectful behaviour by teachers and classmates fuelled ideals in the interpersonal domain.
Student teachers referred to their family constellation and emphasised similarities between themselves and their parents regarding their interests, values and ideals.
These experiences informed educational ideals related to all three domains.
Furthermore, in the context of jobs and voluntary activities, student teachers found that teaching can be meaningful and fulfiling, especially when they can contribute to others’ personal development.
In addition, personal interests such as travelling and the arts informed the following ideals: increasing subject matter knowledge, autonomy, self-confidence, social justice and equality.
Finally, in the context of societal issues, half of the student teachers expressed their concerns about the polarisation of different groups in society.
A few student teachers referred to political tensions and acts of violence, a decline of moral standards and environmental issues.
These concerns informed educational ideals in the interpersonal and societal domains.
Interestingly, student teachers did not mention meaningful experiences at school that contributed to the formation of ideals in the societal domain, whereas experiences in the other three contexts did.
These experiences may not have come to the forefront during the interview since the student teachers did not experience school as a place to work on social change when they were students.
This study provides valuable insights for teacher education.
Teacher educators can stimulate beginning student teachers to reflect and relate themselves to various perspectives on the purpose of education, including the broader moral and societal ideals within the personal, interpersonal and societal domains.
Since we discovered a variety in content of educational ideals, there may be teacher students who have a more formal perspective on the curriculum and student teachers with a more critical approach to learning and personal development.
This distinction may be meaningful in addressing educational ideals during teacher education.
Furthermore, this study indicates that meaningful experiences, including social concerns, are connected to the educational ideals of beginning student teachers, and these experiences can be a conducive starting point for teacher educators to explore the connection between education and societal issues with their students in a meaningful way.
Since this study shows that beginning student teachers from different disciplines could have different educational ideals, the exploration of educational ideals in class could be more fruitful if student teachers of various disciplines are mixed when their educational ideals are the subject of dialogue.
The exploration of the moral and social aims of education, which include a broad perspective on personal, interpersonal and societal development during teacher education, is important because in Western societies there is a tendency to prioritise basic knowledge in education (Wubbels and Van Tartwijk 2018).
This tendency may influence teacher educators to put ‘teaching the basics’ first.
In particular, since this study shows that beginning student teachers are more inclined to refer to educational ideals that reflect the formal curriculum, it is of great significance that teacher educators address the broader moral and societal aims of education.
The purpose of education is not only to educate students to be able to find a fulfiling job or become a well-mannered citizen but also to inspire them and develop the qualities necessary to contribute to society.
In particular, since societies encounter various challenges such as migration, globalisation and climate change, it is of great importance that education inspires, prepares and equips the next generation to make a contribution to societal development and issues of social justice.

Patton, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Wubbels, T., and J. Van Tartwijk. 2018. “Dutch Teacher and Teacher Education Policies.” In The Teacher’s Role in the Changing Globalizing World, edited by H. Niemi, A. Toom, A. Kallioniemi, and J. Lavonen, 63–77. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV. 

Updated: May. 13, 2021