Contradictions and Tensions in the Place of Teachers in Educational Reform: Reflections on Teacher Preparation in the USA and Namibia

From Section:
Programs & Practicum
Namibia,, USA
Aug. 26, 2008

Source: Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Volume 14, Issue 4, August 2008, p. 331 - 343
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines recent education and teacher education reforms in the USA and Namibia. It analyzes two tensions that have been a central part of debates about teacher quality and teacher education in many parts of the world: whether we should prepare teachers as technicians or as reflective practitioners.

Teachers as technicians vs. teachers as reflective professionals

At one extreme, there has been a focus by many on preparing teachers at low cost as low-level technicians and civil servants who can obediently follow a scripted curriculum and prescribed teaching methods. At the other extreme from preparing teachers to do but not to think and exercise judgment, there has been an effort by some to prepare teachers as 'reflective professionals' who are given some discretion to exercise judgment at the classroom level about how to adapt the curriculum and instructional methods to best teach their students or (Swarts, 2001), as Samuel (2005) has described, to make situated and interactive judgments appropriate to contexts.
According to this approach, there is a commitment to actively involving teachers in interpreting the reforms and adapting them to meet the diverse needs of their learners and to gaining teachers' commitment to both the underlying ideas behind the reforms and the practices associated with them. There is also a commitment to providing teachers with professional development opportunities that support their implementation of the reforms and their adaptation to varied circumstances.

Furthermore, the article examines whether we should prepare teachers for teacher-centered or learner-centered instruction. Although the USA and Namibia are very different countries in size, economic development, and in numerous other ways, the authors claim that their national governments, like many others, have chosen to follow similar paths in reforming their K-12 and teacher education systems. Both countries demonstrate an emphasis on the investment of scarce resources in constructing and maintaining elaborate accountability systems by preparing teachers to meet externally prescribed standards to produce good standardized test scores. The article claims that this approach, tied to a technicist view of teaching and teacher education, is misguided. The researchers concluded that when teachers are actively involved and empowered in the reform of their own schools, curriculum, pedagogy, and classrooms, even those with minimal levels of education and training are capable of dramatically changing their teaching behavior, the classroom environment, and improving the achievement of their students. Conversely, when teachers are ignored or when reforms come from above or are not connected to the daily realities of the classroom, and local environment, even the most expensive and well-designed interventions are almost sure to fail.

Samuel, M. (2005) Accountability to whom? Or what? Teacher identity and the force field model of teacher development. Paper presented at the 50th World Assembly of the International Council on Education for Teaching Pretoria, South Africa.

Swarts, P. Zeichner, K. and Dahlstrom, L. (eds) (2001) Teacher education reform: Toward reflective practice. Democratic teacher education reform in Africa: The case of Namibia, p. 29-46. Westview , Boulder, CO.

Updated: Dec. 15, 2019
Education reform | Professional Autonomy | Reflective practices | Teacher education | Teacher effectiveness