Discourses and Discursive Identities of Teachers Working as University-Based Teacher Educators in Singapore

January/February 2021

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume: 72 issue: 1, page(s): 100-112

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study uses a discursive framework to examine the identities of teachers working in a Singaporean university as teacher educators.
The framework is explained and then used to evaluate existing literature.
The methodology includes a description of the Singapore context.
The findings present discourses and discursive identities, with examples of textual analysis.
Finally, the implications of these identities are discussed.

Purpose and Research Questions
This study made explicit the discourses that teachers used when talking about their work as university-based teacher educators.
Specifically, it examined the practitioner identities enacted by 10 teaching fellows (TFs).
(“Teaching Fellow” is the position for teacher educators who are school teachers seconded to a university in Singapore.)
The research questions are as follows:
Research Question 1: What does an analysis of TFs’ talk indicate?
Research Question 2: What educational discourses do they draw on as they talk about work expectations?
Research Question 3: How do they position themselves in relation to these educational discourses?


Ten TFs participated in both individual and focus group interviews.
All had at least 10 years of school teaching experience.
Two had held administrative leadership positions in school.

Research Design
For this qualitative study, the author used two kinds of constructivist interviews (Rapley, 2004; Roulston, 2010):
individual and focus group interviews.
Individual interviews were conducted first.
They were audio-recorded and transcribed.
The analysis from several individual interviews was used in focus group discussions.
This design enabled the participants to respond to perspectives arising in the focus group, as well as to perspectives previously raised by themselves and others.

The author used questions and tools from Fairclough (2003) and Gee (2011) to focus on specific aspects of language.

Findings and discussion
The findings pointed to three discourses that TFs drew on, reifying or resisting them as they enacted their discursive identities.
(a) The value of seconded teachers is located firmly within schools, with practice and practitioner elevated above theory and academics.
(b) Teaching is the core role of seconded teachers, and discourses about learning, development, and research are weak and illegitimate.
(c) An individualistic framing situates the locus of change on teacher-practitioners in the university.
These individuals are the ones to bring about educational change, without other players being part of this focus.
The TFs in this study enacted discursive identities that located their value in school, privileging a practitioner identity above one that aligns more with academia.
Thus, teachers seconded to the university differ from other university-based teacher educators who move away from school, crossing into and becoming increasingly identified with the academic world.
Rather than a hybrid space where practice and theory have similar emphasis, it appears that what has been created is a separate school space, within but disconnected from the university space. In this space, the personal practice of the “practitioner teacher educator” is the focus.
This is a concern since Singapore is trying to strengthen the transformative orientation of teacher education, further developing teacher quality (Goodwin, 2012).
The evidence, that seconded teachers are very much bound to their own past experiences, suggests a weak alignment of Singapore teachers with the transformative vision of teacher education.
Privileging past practice and personal experience can be limiting; it can discourage student teachers from examining their own classes and schools anew.
The solutions that had worked in previous situations might not be appropriate for the diverse situations in which the preservice and in-service teachers find themselves.
This contrasts with the recognition of dual identities of school and university: as a teacher, one may want to take over and show the right way to teach, but as a teacher educator, the need is to understand the choices made and help teachers see other teaching possibilities (Williams, 2014).
Experience could be used not simply to illustrate but also to problematize theory.
The dominant discourse of teaching as the core purpose of seconded teachers undermines discourses around learning, development, and research.
The teacher identity is so overpowering that it constrains the enactment of learner identities.
Learning and research activities cannot be recognized as activities of a “good teacher educator” because the discourse of teaching as core work defines what a “good teacher educator” is.
This is problematic because learning is crucial for integration in academia, not only for skills acquisition but also for the development of new identities as university-based teacher educators (Hökka et al., 2017; Izadinia, 2014; Swennen et al., 2017).
The teaching identity needs to make way for other identities that align with the broader goals of the university.
The individualistic framing of seconded teachers was often reified by the participants.
Only one enacted a discursive identity that resisted this framing.
The individualistic framing is like a plot device (Deus ex Machina in Greek theater), where complicated problems are conveniently resolved by the sudden appearance of a character.
A similar plot device exists in teacher education with the spotlight on teachers; the onus is on these individuals to address the complex, multilayered problems of teacher education.
Teacher education is set within multiple and conflicting agendas (Cochran-Smith, 2005; Goodwin, 2008), so an individualistic framework is woefully inadequate.
Teachers have individual agency and responsibilities, but the fulfillment of those responsibilities is done through negotiation with parents, students, supervisors, and colleagues, as well as by making sense of policies and wider discourses.
Hybrid spaces where practice can be valued alongside theory are increasing in universities, but it is necessary to think of hybrid spaces not simply as programs in a location but also as discursive spaces.
Teachers holding the role of teacher educators may be located in the university or in school.
Wherever they are located, attention to hybrid discursive spaces open up identities where practitioners are legitimately learners, questioners, and co-creators of possibilities for transformative and innovative educational endeavors catalyzed by deepening theoretical understandings.
Hybrid discursive spaces are interactional and relational, with practitioner and academic teacher educators working together and learning from each other.
Within these spaces, new identities are nurtured.
A multifaceted, more complex practitioner identity within an intentional discursive space can encompass other teachers as well, so creating growing pockets of transformation and theoretical engagement in school.

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Updated: Jul. 01, 2021