Examining the Tensions between Rapport with Pre-Service Teachers and Authority in Becoming a Teacher Educator

November, 2020

Source: Studying Teacher Education, 16:3, 265-285

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this self-study is to examine the relationship between rapport and authority, and to determine whether rapport acts as a barrier to maintaining authority in the classroom.
To address this purpose, the following questions evolved as a means of guiding an inquiry into her transition to becoming a teacher educator.
(1) Given the generational connection, how is the rapport Andrea feels she has with her pre-service teachers impacted when she needs to position herself with some sense of authority?
(2) How does this tension between rapport and authority affect her ability to position herself with credibility as a teacher educator?

Contributing to the Literature: the Role of Self-Study
The three constructs of rapport, authority, and power lend themselves well to self-study due to the introspective nature of examining them within our own practice.
Andrea’s transition into teacher education showed these three constructs to be relevant to her own problems of practice.
She thus sought self-study methodology (LaBoskey, 2004) as a means for which to explore this question.
Researchers employing self-study methodology have made substantial contributions to the literature on rapport, power, and authority.
However, one aspect needing further exploration is the interaction between rapport and maintaining authority in the classroom.

As previously noted, this study was carried out using self-study methodology.
Self-study research is a call for teachers to examine their own practice.
It is self-initiated, driven by the desire of the teacher to improve practice when they notice a disconnect between their beliefs and their actual practice (LaBoskey, 2004; Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001).
An effective way to ensure we look past the personal viewpoint of the researcher is through collaboration with critical friends, who offer another lens through which to analyze the experiences of the researcher (Costa & Kallick, 1993).
Examining one’s practice can be an uncomfortable experience, and its personal nature makes the inclusion of critical friends valuable, as they can act as a more objective outside observer to help critique the practice the researcher is studying (Schuck & Russell, 2005).
Additionally, working with critical friends when conducting self-study eliminates the potential bias of a single researcher and broadens the trustworthiness of the conclusions reached (LaBoskey, 2004).
Meredith’s primary contributions to this study came at its outset, helping Andrea in conceptualization and design of the study and, at its conclusion, aiding in the writing and situating of the study. The data and its collection, however, concerned Andrea’s experiences.
For this reason, much of this study is written in a singular voice.

Context and Participants
This self-study took place over the course of Andrea’s first year as a teacher educator, during the second semester of her first year in her doctoral program in science education.
She was assigned to teach a section of an elementary early field experience providing the preservice teachers an opportunity to put into practice the ideas they were learning about in their math and science methods courses.
Her responsibilities in this teacher educator position included facilitating the pre-service teachers’ observations and initial teaching experiences as they taught math and science to children at a local elementary school in the midwestern United States, as well as providing feedback on their lesson plans.
The pre-service teacher class was composed of white female pre-service teachers similar in age to Andrea, with the exception of one Asian male who was older than her and the rest of his classmates.
The pre-service teachers played a vital role in her examination of her practice, as she was concerned with examining the interplay of their rapport and her authority in the classroom. Reflections on her interactions with them provided the key data source for this study.
Additionally, the pre-service teachers provided mid-semester and end-of-term feedback containing their perceptions of Andrea as their instructor, how she fulfilled their needs, and whether she was effective in supporting them throughout their field experience.

Data Sources and Analysis
In line with self-study methodology, Andrea’s study involved gaining an understanding about her development as a teacher educator through multiple data sources, including
a) her personal reflection journal, completed after teaching and after relevant conversations with others,
b) written comments from her pre-service teachers gathered through midsemester and end-of-semester course evaluation forms, and
c) notes and journal entries from conversations with two critical friends.
Mid-semester and end-of-semester questionnaires were gathered as a routine part of the class – Andrea analyzed these comments for student perception of her quality as an instructor, and whether they felt she was meeting their needs as their instructor.
Andrea analyzed these varied data sources using the components of RCT (Booth & Schwartz, 2012) and the deliberate relationship framework (Tom, 1997) as a priori codes.

Findings and discussion
The findings from this study indicate that good relationships with pre-service teachers are a valuable and necessary part of being a successful teacher educator.
However, some of the necessary characteristics of these good relationships were missing due to Andrea’s limited experience as both a teacher and teacher educator.
Her limited experience not only as a teacher educator, but as a classroom teacher, may have constrained her in seeing the positionality of her pre-service teachers at the time they were in her class. Her natural assumption was that they would appreciate someone who they could see as a friend, there to care for them and make them feel comfortable, rather than to provide them feedback that would help them be successful in the classroom.
Rather, they needed an instructor to support them in their learning about science teaching.
Caring was still important, but not the kind of caring you receive from a friend.
The unsuccessful implementation of both caring and transparency of practice appear to contribute to the problem she recognized with rapport and authority early in her experience.
Part of Andrea’s struggle may have resulted from not examining her own tensions as a teacher educator.
Loughran and Berry (2005) discuss the nature of being explicit as a teacher educator, and how it is necessary to address the tension between the beliefs of the teacher educator, and the needs and concerns of the pre-service teachers they are instructing.
In this case, she experienced tensions between her actions and her intentions (Berry, 2007).
Her intention was to have high levels of rapport in her relationships with pre-service teachers, characterized by mutual understanding and positive regard.
She achieved this rapport, but it was not the right kind of rapport due to her actions – she represented more of a friend to them than a teacher educator.
Thus, her intentions to establish rapport through mutually positive relationships with her pre-service teachers resulted in the development of tensions between them when she had to position herself as an authority rather than a friend.
While Andrea enjoyed the friendships that came as a result of being caring and open with her pre-service teachers, becoming emotionally invested in those relationships as friendships rather than teacher-student relationships led to a loss of the respect.
Teaching involves emotional labor (Meyers, 2009; Sumsion, 2000), but not the same kind of emotional labor as maintaining a friendship.
Oftentimes teacher-student ‘friendships’ meet the teacher’s supposed needs at the expense of the needs of the student (Tom, 1997).
Therefore, a teacher educator needs to learn how to be emotionally understanding of a student without becoming emotionally invested – the boundaries can be flexible, but there must be boundaries (Booth & Schwartz, 2012).
Considering this advice, she learned she can care for her pre-service teachers without attempting to cross the emotional boundary into friendship.
She can show concern for them and support them in their learning in a mutually rewarding way, without crossing a boundary.
Successfully doing this has been a matter of a change of mindset.
She has entered her subsequent teaching experiences with a mindset of ‘these are my students, not my friends.’
This change in positioning our relationship has changed the role she plays for her pre-service teachers, but one she feels is still rewarding and meets both of their needs.
Mid-semester and end-of-course feedback from Andrea’s pre-service teachers about her effectiveness as a teacher made it clear that her perception of her practice did not align with what they perceived.
While she felt she was transparent with expectations and reasons for her feedback in the course, they felt the course structure was unclear and her feedback arbitrary.
This experience has informed her about the need to be explicit when communicating her expectations for the courses she teaches, as well as giving reasons for the feedback she gives in every situation.
Being transparent with her own pedagogical reasoning can aid in the negotiating power sometimes required when working with people who are trying to learn how to teach themselves (Loughran & Berry, 2005; Tom, 1997).
When they understand her reasoning, they can communicate theirs as well, giving them a chance to work through questions and disagreements before animosity can develop.

Berry, A. (2007). Reconceptualizing teacher educator knowledge as tensions: Exploring the tension between valuing and reconstructing experience. Studying Teacher Education, 3(2), 117–134. 
Booth, M., & Schwartz, H. L. (2012). We’re all adults here: Clarifying and maintaining boundaries with adult learners. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2012(131), 43–55.
Bullough, R. V., & Pinnegar, S. (2001). Guidelines for quality in autobiographical forms of self-study research. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 13–21.
Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (1993). Through the lens of a critical friend. Educational Leadership, 51(2), 49–51. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ470569
LaBoskey, V. K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), international handbook of selfstudy of teaching and teacher education practices (Vol. 12, pp. 817–869). Springer International Handbooks of Education.
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Schuck, S., & Russell, R. (2005). Self-study, critical friendship, and the complexities of teacher education. Studying Teacher Education, 1(2), 107–121.
Tom, A. (1997). The deliberate relationship: A frame for talking about faculty-student relationships. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 43(1), 3–21.

Updated: Jul. 01, 2021