Displaced academics: intended and unintended consequences of the changing landscape of teacher education


Source: EuropeanJournal of Teacher Education, 45:1, 127-149,

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The large-scale research study reported here investigates 28 literacy teacher educators (LTEs) in four countries: Canada, the US, England and Australia.
LTEs are those who teach in teacher credential/certification programmes.
The term teacher educator is contested because it can be used to include anyone involved in teacher education; however, in this paper, the focus will be on faculty in higher education.
All participants teach literacy/English method courses for either elementary/primary or secondary student teachers.
The overall goal of the research is:
● to study in depth a group of literacy/English teacher educators, with attention to their backgrounds, knowledge, research activities, identity, view of current government initiatives, pedagogy and course goals.
This article focuses on a specific question:
● How have the current political initiatives affected the pedagogy, identity and wellbeing of LTEs?

Initially, invitations to participate in this study were sent to 15 LTEs.
This led to ‘snowball sampling’ whereby some LTEs who had accepted the invitation then suggested a colleague who might be relevant for the study.
Punch (2014) describes ‘snowball sampling as identifying cases of interest from people who know people who know what cases are information rich’ (163).
To make the sample consistent only those who had a doctorate were invited.
Efforts were made to ensure a range of experience (e.g. elementary/primary and secondary teaching), and a gender representation comparable to that in the profession as a whole.
All 28 participants were interviewed three times over the period from April 2012 to August 2013.
Each semi-structured interview took approximately 60–90 minutes.
The same questions were asked of all participants, but probe questions were posed, and additional comments were welcomed.
Most of the questions were open-ended in that they sought more than yes/no responses or simple factual answers.
The first interview had five parts:
background experiences;
qualities (in their view) of an effective literacy educator;
identity (e.g. their academic community);
turning points in their career (personal and professional);
and research activities.
The second interview had four parts: framework and goals for their literacy course(s);
pedagogies used and reasons for using them;
assignments and readings; and how and
why their views and practices have changed over the years.
The third interview focused on the use of digital technology and future plans.
The data from the first two interviews were the main source of data for this paper; however, any relevant comments or insights from the third interview were included.
Although the study generated some quantitative data, the methodology is primarily qualitative as defined by Merriam (2009) and Punch (2014).
A modified grounded theory approach was used, not beginning with a fixed theory but generating theory inductively from the data using a set of techniques and procedures for collection and analysis (Punch 2014).
Given the 28 participants were interviewed three times and the data were painstakingly analysed, line by line, the salient themes and findings emerged from the data..
For this paper and analysis, the broad questions were about the political impact which had emerged in earlier readings of the transcripts.

Findings and discussion
Literacy teacher educators is a group that has been rarely studied.
The theory this paper proposes is that teacher educators in the current political climate in the four countries studied have been displaced.
The theory shows their pedagogy, identity and well-being are being impacted.
These three areas – pedagogy, identity and well-being – are aspects of a robust theory of education.
The theory as shown in the findings reveals that LTEs have lost some academic freedom and in turn, their work and identity are facing increased scrutiny and some diminishment in status.
Further, their goals for their courses and teaching style are changing.
The proposed theory is very consistent with the theory of a pedagogy of teacher education which Loughran (2006) presented.
Loughran includes elements such as pedagogy, identity and well-being.
Future researchers can build on the proposed theory to deepen understanding of literacy teacher educators as an occupational group who are working in a politicised context.
As the findings indicate the intended consequences by governments to control LTEs have been accomplished to a degree.
The managerial and ideological reforms have impacted LTEs’ pedagogy, identity and well-being

It is ironic that as the research on teacher education and teacher educators has grown to reveal the complexity of the enterprise, many of the reforms have disregarded it and often proposed opposing recommendations (Gilroy 2014; Louden 2008; Williamson 2013).
The research on LTEs presented in this paper shows the flaws of a managerial and entrepreneurial reform where highly qualified teacher educators have limited input into policy and do not have time for their research. Reforms have affected both the content of their literacy courses and their pedagogical practices.
If one of the aims is to improve teacher education there needs to be more consistency in teacher education courses (Kosnik, Beck, and Goodwin 2016).
Further, when teacher educators are under such scrutiny, willingness to develop one’s pedagogy and examine one’s own practice with the overall goal of improving teacher preparation is risky (Williamson 2013).
Studying one’s own practice requires confidence and collaboration.
In the current climate, both are in short supply.
When teacher educators are fearful they may lose their jobs it is doubtful they will be bold innovators to resolve the long-simmering problems in teacher education.
Teacher educators need to approach their work as a team within their university and as members of an international network of professionals.
Individual teacher educators cannot know: the intricacies of all aspects of teacher education; the nuances of many school districts; how to access public attention; and the necessary advanced research skills.
By collectively putting together their knowledge and skills teacher educators will learn with, among, and from their colleagues and in turn improve teacher education and deepen their own sense of self-efficacy.

An unintended consequence of the politics of education is that teacher educators are wondering about their role – are they academics or trainers (Dover et al. 2015; Zeichner and Conklin 2016)? As they try to navigate the political landscape they need to figure out their roles, reconfigure their work and reorganise how they spend their time.
It is exceedingly difficult for an individual teacher educator to reconceptualise his/her role especially when he/she is one of the few tenure-line faculty in the department.
The way forward is littered with obstacles: well-financed eduprenurials; ill-informed governments; systemic bias against schools of education; lack of funding; excessive accountability measures; and a beleaguered teaching force (teacher educators and teachers) (Cochran-Smith, Keefe, and Carneya 2018a; Cochran-Smith et al. 2018b).
However, there are few options but to pull together to reclaim teacher education.
Working collectively is imperative; teacher educators must be working with others often beyond their institution.
Teacher educators need to approach their work as a team within their university and as members of an international network of professionals.
They cannot know the intricacies of all aspects of teacher education; the nuances of many school districts; how to access public attention; and the necessary advanced research skills.
For example, International Development for Teacher Educator Forum (InfoTED) is a partnership among nine universities in six countries with three associated universities in an additional three countries.
By collectively putting together their knowledge and skills teacher educators will learn with, among, and from their colleagues and in turn advance teacher education.

As previously reported, when LTEs were asked about their reasons for committing long hours to teacher education many emphatically stated they were working so hard for the ‘good of the cause’ (Kosnik et al. 2015).
But the ‘cause’ is no longer clear.
The larger question – What is the public purpose of education? (Dewey 1916, 1938) is even less clear than it was decades ago.
The LTEs in this study could not see the point of these reforms.
The LTEs had to comply with external assessments which required them to spend many hours preparing reports.
This consumed so much time they did not have time for their research which is part of their identity as an academic and is professionally rewarding.
Hailey in the US who has been in teacher education for over two decades and an active researcher felt the work that was important to her was suffering because of ‘the hours and hours and hours spent on doing things like filling out forms, re-filling out forms, using the proper terminology, it was like a power play, it was ridiculous.
And it took away from [other work] important to me.
It created a negative culture, it was expensive, and it took both money and manpower’.
Navigating external inspections and teaching to an exit exam are not reasonable goals for teacher educators many who have close to 20 years of experience in education, have obtained a doctorate, and are active researchers.
In so many ways these artificial exercises undermine their well-being and identity as full-fledged academics.

Well-being is not a ‘soft’ quality; since it influences teaching and research it should not be overlooked or dismissed.
Deans of Education/ Heads of Schools must work to create space and time for both tenured and sessional instructors to both work and socialise together which will provide a sense of belonging, a place to discuss the constantly evolving educational landscape, an opportunity to share strategies, and to discuss the validity of self-care.
The leadership within universities must make it a priority to support all teacher educators while advocating for them.

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Updated: Jul. 11, 2022