Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 44:4, 468-485
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The current paper explores teacher educators’ roles and professional development in view of their work contexts through semi-structured interviews with higher education-based teacher educators across four countries: Ireland, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In order to learn about teacher educators’ perceptions of their roles and work contexts, this paper explores teacher educators’ descriptions of their professional trajectories.
The roles they perform are described and contextualised at institute and national levels before discussing alignment to individual pragmatism and social idealism.
The authors conclude with the implications of the findings on teacher educators’ current work and suggestions for future policies.
The context of the study
The study was conducted by members of InFo-TED (International Forum for Teacher Educator Development), a self-initiated group of experienced teacher educators from seven national contexts.
The group was formed to promote international, as well as national, initiatives to support teacher educators’ professional development (Vanassche et al. 2015; Kelchtermans et al. 2018).
Previously, the group has conducted a professional development needs survey (Czerniawski, Guberman, and MacPhail 2017).
The current study is based on semi-structured interviews with teacher educators who completed the survey and expressed their interest in being involved in a follow-up study by supplying contact information for that purpose.
Forty-one higher education-based teacher educators from four countries (10 from Ireland, 10 from Israel, 10 from Norway and 11 from the Netherlands) participated.
While the sample is not representative, it consists of a range of demographics across age, gender, qualifications and years of experience.
Semi-structured interviews were used.
The interview guide followed the sections of the previously completed survey, exploring more deeply:
(i) background and demographics, including recruitment into teacher education,
(ii) professional learning opportunities, activities and needs, and
(iii) teacher educators’ attitudes towards, and experiences with, research.
The interview protocol was first piloted with teacher educators who were not part of the study sample.
The data were analysed thematically and based on a data-driven inductive approach (Braun and Clarke, 2006).
Results and discussion
Looking into teacher educators’ professional trajectories, the study across four countries revealed common themes relating to three main stages: recruiting, induction and further professional development in later career. In the current study, schools and universities were the two main recruitment sources for teacher educators, thus supporting findings from a previous study (Ping, Schellings, and Beijaard 2018).
The current study found that, on being recruited, some support (mainly informal mentoring) was offered in all countries to some of the beginning teacher educators.
However, teacher-educating institutes were not involved in consolidating their staff into support teams.
None of the teacher educators received formal induction, and there was no evidence of institutes’ attempts to adapt the help they provided to beginning teacher educators’ diverse backgrounds and learning needs.
The result in many cases is that teacher-educating programs are fragmented: each teacher educator works in isolation instead of offering a coherent and cohesive educational experience to student teachers (Flores 2016; O’Connell Rust 2019).
Teacher educators’ professional development activities involved two main areas, teaching and research.
Professional development in teaching is described as an individual endeavour by some teacher educators and as a collaborative effort with colleagues by others.
None of the teacher educators noted that professional development in teaching is highly valued by their institute.
As Avidov-Ungar and Forkosh-Baruch (2018) show, institute support is vital for professional development and innovation in teacher education.
The need for active institute support may explain why teacher educators do not take advantage of available learning opportunities that could have helped improve their teaching.
Such opportunities include Velon teacher educators’ registration process in the Netherlands and MOFET’s bi-annual study programme in Israel.
Cochran-Smith et al. (2020) noted that the responsibility for teacher educators’ professional development is divided between higher education institutes that support their academic staff and other stakeholders that provide professional development to school teachers.
This study shows that such a division characterises the professional development of higher education-based teacher educators too.
Some stakeholders, such as MOFET and teacher educators associations, try to support teacher educators’ professional development in teaching, whereas higher education institutes have other priorities.
Collaboration between teacher educators, higher education institutes, schools and other stakeholders is vital for high-quality teacher education (Snoek, Swennen, and van der Klink 2011).
Although this idea is gaining recognition in initial teacher education, this study shows that it is not widely accepted in relation to teacher educators’ professional development.
Teacher educators agree that teaching and research are complementary, and that their teaching is informed by their own, as well as others’ research.
Institutes support research in diverse ways such as learning opportunities, secured time for research, and academic promotion.
In three of the four countries (Ireland, Israel and Norway), teacher educating institutes appear to value research to a larger extent than teaching, whereas a more balanced support is provided in the Netherlands.
Nonetheless, in all four countries, teacher educators’ descriptions imply that they view their institutes’ attitudes towards their research as individualistic and pragmatic.
Teacher educators’ research contributes to their institute’s reputation, and teacher educator researchers are individually rewarded primarily through academic promotion.
Some teacher educators reported that the need to produce research comes at the expense of teaching.
Cochran-Smith et al. (2020) are worried that some teacher educators conduct self-studies and other forms of practitioners’ research for the ‘wrong reasons’.
Institutes’ pressure to publish, combined with lack of funds, time and collaboration among colleagues are the motivating power behind teacher educators conducting small-scale research projects.
Recruiting teacher educators who join teacher education out of pragmatic motivation may exacerbate this phenomenon.
Teacher-educating institutes can bridge the gap between teaching and research by prioritising pedagogy- or didactics-oriented research, forming research teams and implementing research findings.
Such actions would amplify the impact of studies conducted by teacher educators, help improve current practices and expand the knowledge base in teacher education (Guberman and Mcdossi 2019).
However, the authors found no evidence that higher education institutes strive to align their policies concerning teacher education with research findings.
This may suggest that teacher-educating institutes are not fully aware of such findings or supportive of research-informed practice.
The teacher education profession needs to remain cognisant of the possibility that those determining policies may not believe teacher educators’ research to be significantly rigorous and trustworthy to justify introducing substantive changes to practice (Furlong and O’Brien 2019; Murray 2014; White 2019a).
In all four countries, participants’ descriptions imply that they view their institutes’ attitudes towards their research as individualistic and pragmatic.
Teacher educators of the current study are responsive to their institute’s perceived expectations.
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