Who else is teaching the teachers? The subject discipline teacher educator in initial teacher education


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 45:1, 113-126

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, possibly the first investigation of the subject discipline teacher educator (SDTE) working in initial teacher education (ITE) in Ireland, is presented.
A SDTE is a higher education based subject specialist involved, in the delivery of ITE, for example, a physics lecturer teaching on a Science ITE course.
The role of the SDTE, therefore, is to facilitate a student teacher’s learning in their chosen subject discipline(s), as part of a concurrent ITE course.
Concurrent ITE ‘combines the study of education in all its components, with the study of the academic subject specialist area(s)’ (Byrne 2002, 28), and is used in the preparation of both primary and post-primary teachers.
This concurrency means that the SDTE teaches a subject discipline in parallel with education studies, and school placement.
This research answers two research questions, with a view to building a profile of the SDTE, and examining their practice as teacher educators.
(1) who are the subject discipline teacher educators?
(2) what are the practices of subject discipline teacher educators?
The research questions posed in this study are important, considering the significant role of the SDTE in teacher preparation, and the limited research documentation of their work as teacher educators.

A purposeful sampling approach is used in this research (Creswell and Clark 2010; Patton 2002), whereby participants were selected based on their role as SDTEs teaching on concurrent (post-primary) ITE courses in Ireland, in the academic year 2016/17.
Participants were sourced from all 10 institutions offering concurrent (post-primary) ITE.
All SDTEs (N = 180) were viewed as potential participants, and were identified using a combination of institutional website searches, programme documentation analysis, and cold calling course leaders.
All potential participants were contacted via email, and invited to participate in an online survey.
The online survey was reviewed by six experts in the area of teacher education, and piloted with a subset of SDTEs to ensure validity and reliability of the survey questions (Creswell and Clark 2010).
The online survey sought to capture profile data on the SDTE, as well as data on their practice as teacher educators.
It took approximately 15 minutes to complete, and the identity of participants was anonymised through the use of pseudonyms and coded data techniques.
Total respondents to the online survey (N = 70) represent 38.9% of the estimated active population of SDTEs (N = 180) in 2016/17.
In addition, all providers of concurrent (postprimary) ITE in Ireland were represented in the sample, as were all of the subject areas offered on concurrent (post-primary) ITE courses.

Results and discussion

Who are the subject discipline teacher educators?
The results showed that SDTEs were defined as much by their heterogeneity in some areas, as by their commonality in others.
Areas of commonality in the profile of SDTEs related to their experience in ITE, their position in the Institution, and their highest qualification; areas of variation included, gender, teaching qualifications, qualification type and induction on being a teacher educator.
For some of these factors, variations in the profile of the SDTE were also evident across institutional size.
78.9% of the SDTEs in this study have worked in ITE for more than 5 years, indicating that the majority spent their academic career to date in ITE.
Many also demonstrated a strong commitment to ITE, with over half spending all of their professional time working in ITE, this was especially evident in small institutions.
A majority, 72.9%, of SDTEs surveyed were permanent at their institution, while 96.8% were at lecturer level and above, indicating seniority.
A substantial number (83.6%) of the SDTEs hold a PhD or Doctorate, although this was less in small institutions.
In this study, there was no dominant gender, with SDTEs just as likely to be male as female.
This gender balance contradicts findings on the feminisation of higher education-based teacher education (Simmons and Thompson 2007).
Less than 30.0% of the SDTEs hold a recognised post-primary level teaching qualification, those in small institutions were more likely to have such a qualification.
As such, the majority did not fit the dominant definition of the higher education-based teacher educator, as they have not transitioned from teaching in schools, to teaching in higher education (Loughran 2006; Swennen, Jones, and Volman 2010).
There was an almost even split between those with a general teaching and learning qualification, and those without.
Gaining qualifications in teaching and learning, in addition to an existing subject qualification, supported the SDTE in developing knowledge of pedagogy and didactics, as well as reflective capacity, all of which assisted them in the role of teacher educator (Clemans, Berry, and Loughran 2010).
Teacher educators often pursue professional learning in response to a growing awareness of the complexity of teacher education, and their shifting identity towards being a teacher educator (Brody and Hadar 2011).
Less than 30.0% completed formal induction training on being a teacher educator, supporting findings from Europe which pointed to low levels of formal training for teacher educators (Buchberger et al. 2000).

What are the practices of subject discipline teacher educators?
The majority SDTEs in this study adapted both the content, and pedagogical approach, of their lectures to meet the needs of ITE students.
This was supported by a familiarisation with both the teaching and learning philosophy of their institution’s ITE courses, and the role and function of the Teaching Council.
A minority of the SDTEs in large institutions were found to be less likely to adapt their content and pedagogical approaches, due in part to mixed cohorts of ITE and non-ITE students.
An awareness of modelling best practice to prospective teachers, and their role in supporting the development of subject knowledge, was reported by many SDTEs in this study.
An awareness of the importance of modelling pedagogical practice is consistent with findings on teacher educators teaching education studies (Loughran 2006).
Engagement in school placement, and research on teacher education, were shown to significantly influence SDTEs propensity to adapt the content, and pedagogical approach of their lectures.
Over half of the SDTEs in this study were school placement tutors, in small institutions this was over 90.0%.
This demonstrates a broader commitment and engagement with teacher education practice, beyond teaching.
Aligned with this 40.0% of SDTEs were found to engage in research on teacher education.
Loughran (2014) evidenced the links between research, and improvements in the teacher educator’s knowledge about teaching, student learning and teacher education in general.
The ‘researcherly disposition’ exhibited by this cohort of SDTEs pointed to a professional identity closely aligned with being a teacher educator, and a desire to contribute to both local and public knowledge on teacher education (Tack and Vanderlinde 2014).
Practices of the SDTEs in this study, such as, a willingness to adapt the pedagogical approach and content of their lectures, an awareness of modelling practice, an engagement in research on teacher education, and involvement in school placement supervision, reflected many of the professional dimensions of being a teacher educator (Loughran 1997), and teacher education competencies (Lunenberg 2002).
The administrative practice of SDTEs evidenced a lack of involvement in the leadership of ITE, manifested as limited involvement in course coordination, and course review and accreditation processes.
This holds true for both large and small institutions.
SDTEs were more involved in the administration and development of ITE, including; examination boards, course boards, course design, and module design.
Those in smaller institutions tended to be more involved in course and examination boards, due in part no doubt to division of labour issues in small institutions.
Findings of the involvement of SDTEs in the course and module design, correlate with Meeus, Cools, and Placklé (2018) who cite curriculum development as one of the six professional roles of the teacher educator.
An outcome of this research is to offer an evidence-based definition of the SDTE.
In line with the findings of this study a practice-based definition is viewed as most appropriate (Kelchtermans, Smith, and Vanderlinde 2018).
The SDTE is defined as a higher education-based subject discipline educator who is committed to, and engaged in the practice of teacher education, through their involvement in ITE.
In future research on the teacher educator the authors call for broader interpretations of the teacher educator to include all those involved in ITE, echoing earlier calls by Buchberger et al. (2000) and Livingston (2013).
To achieve this, a move away from criteria-based definitions that assume teacher educators were once teachers in school and a move towards a recognition of teacher education practice is proposed.

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Updated: Jul. 11, 2022