Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 40, No. 2, 114-127,2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The article explores the question of placing student teachers for their field experience in schools for a diversity of social and educational conditions in South Africa.
It outlines the criteria that a sample of teacher educators uses for placing student teachers in ‘suitable’ schools, and relates these criteria to placements in challenging social and educational contexts.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight teacher educators.
This study was motivated by the interest in developing a conceptual framework for teacher education in South Africa that would include the following elements: organising systematic learning, remaining committed to the task of teaching, and being able and willing to teach in a variety of social contexts.
Different conceptual models for understanding the link between Teaching Practice placements and a social justice approach to teacher education have been outlined, and a position advanced for understanding and developing the elements of the different models within their particular historical context.
These conceptual models are helpful but not sufficient to capture the aspirations, pressures and dilemmas involved in preparing teachers for a range of schooling contexts.
The challenge is thus to identify further analytic categories that might usefully add to a conceptual model of teacher education, within an overall vision of social transformation and pedagogical excellence.
The findings reveal that all the teacher educators interviewed in this study were committed to the goal of providing teachers for schools across different social contexts, with this goal being contained within their formal and declared curriculum.
However, the article argues that criteria for identifying suitable schools for Teaching Practice do not easily support placements in schools in difficult conditions.
The primary criteria for Teaching Practice placements indicated severe constraints on placing student teachers in difficult circumstances, in that such criteria would be more difficult to meet in poorer schools.
Institutionally, schools in disadvantaged areas are less likely to offer the range of subjects that student teachers need exposure to, have the necessary laboratory facilities, have well-trained teachers, have a good reputation, be known for good academic results, and have internal organisational systems that can provide systematic mentoring.
These schools are also more likely to have big classes, be located in areas of poverty and social fragmentation and have disciplinary problems.
Placement of student teachers in less supportive settings with less guarantee of site-based mentoring would therefore place additional demands on university lecturers to visit schools and supervise student teachers.
Policy constraints included insufficient or no dedicated funding to support the high costs of travel for students and supervisors, as well as the absence of policies supporting school-based mentoring.
It has been argued that teacher education programmes with a social justice agenda should be underpinned by two imperatives: consciously to disrupt student teachers’ comfort zones and simultaneously to provide supportive mechanisms to deal with this disruption. Conceptualisations of curricula, however, require implementable structures, policies and resources, and this study has explored what some of these might be if one is to include the often ‘forgotten schools’ of teacher preparation.
The challenge for teacher education in all countries is to learn for practice, in practice and of practice.
This study has suggested ways of working productively when schooling contexts might require of a prospective teacher to learn in spite of practice, so that Teaching Practice placements can promote the twin goals of individual professional growth as well as the public good of enhancing learning opportunities for all.