Tensions and Caring in Teacher Education: A Self-Study on Teaching in Difficult Moments

November, 2020

Source: Studying Teacher Education, 16:3, 306-323

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this inquiry was to gain insight from a critical incident about a class discussion on an issue (i.e., gender normativity in curriculum and classrooms) that occurred in a graduate course for in-service teachers.
The aim of this self-study was to improve the author’s own pedagogical practice (Loughran & Russell, 2002).
Furthermore, it seeks to contribute to the professional knowledge base of teacher education (Lassonde et al., 2009) through reflection and provide an ‘enhanced understanding of teacher education in general and the immediate improvement of our practices’ through ‘the construction, testing, [and] sharing’ [emphasis original] (LaBoskey, 2004, pp. 820–821) of his own pedagogical experience.
In this paper, the author critically unpacks a class session with analysis of his teaching practice and engagement with students.
The work contributes to the self-study of teacher education practices (S-STEP) literature and addresses the void of inquiries on navigating challenging pedagogical instances and caring as an integral element to do so productively.

This self-study was guided by the questions:
1) in what ways does the critical incident shed light on navigating tensions when engaged with controversial or divisive issues; and
2) how did engagement between and among the author and his students foster an ethic of care?
The methodology was anchored in LaBoskey’s (2004) framing elements for self-study.
Thus, the work was:
(a) self-initiated and focused;
(b) improvement aimed;
(c) interactive;
(d) drawn from multiple qualitative methods; and
(d) demonstrated trustworthiness.
He also turned to S-STEP literature dealing with issues of caring, tensions in teaching, and urban schooling to gain insight on how other teacher educators have investigated these areas (e.g., Berry, 2007, 2008; Trout, 2010, 2018).

Context and Participants
This study was conducted at a university in an urban, metropolitan locality in the Northeastern United States.
The class session was from a summer graduate course in urban education that was part of a master’s program for in-service teachers.
This was the author’s first time teaching the course.
Students’ professional settings reflected multiple grade levels and subject areas.
After course completion, students were invited to be part of this inquiry.
Ten students were enrolled in the class, and of those five agreed to participate.
The critical incident attends to a discussion on gender normativity in curriculum and classrooms and, more specifically, in relation to perspectives shared by Nialah, a veteran secondary language arts teacher from Africa who possessed international teaching experience.
As a teacher educator, the author acknowledges that his prior professional practice and personal history deeply influences the work he does.
Previously, he taught early childhood and elementary school in an urban community.
He shares a personal background similar to many of his students; he is a first-generation American, the son of immigrants, a member of the LGBTQ community, and someone who grew up in a working-class household and attended urban schools.
Although he is a novice teacher educator (less than five years), he is personally familiar with the work of today’s educators and the experiences of students in diverse, urban contexts.

Data Collection
The primary data sources were a researcher journal that documented the course along with analytic reflections on the author’s teaching experiences and interactions with students.
Other data sources were anonymous exit slips from all students for each class session, anonymous beginning, middle, and end of the course surveys, the course syllabus, and class notes/memos for each class session.
All participants completed an audio-recorded and transcribed interview after the course concluded.
These interviews focused on participants’ perspectives of what they believed was most salient in the course, how course engagement caused them to think about their professional work, and any outstanding questions or issues they had.
Participants were provided an opportunity to review their transcripts and provide any clarification they deemed relevant.

Data Analysis
The author commenced analysis with a review of the data sources and engaged in multiple rounds of reading these texts.
Given that he was focusing on one particular class session, he narrowed the data to those that bore relevance to the critical incident.
These were fore fronted, while the other data sources contextualized the critical incident.

Findings and discussion
The incident was a unique occurrence in this course as it reflected an instance when the author was confronted by a perspective that ran counter to his own values and beliefs about teaching, schooling, and inclusion.
It was his hope that this session on gender issues in curriculum and schooling would be generative.
Pedagogically, engaging with the substance of the discussion was new for him, as he had not previously devoted a class session to this issue.
Thus, a tension he experienced was between confidence in himself as a teacher educator (as well as maintaining his students’ confidence) and my uncertainty as to how the session would unfold or how productive it would be.
Conducting this self-study was a means to investigate tensions in the experience, and led him to identify three elements that enabled the class to engage in a pedagogically challenging session.
First, acknowledging that the content under discussion is both political and personal.
Second, disclosing that the intent of discussions on controversial issues is to share and learn, not indoctrinate.
And third, recognizing when continuing a discussion on a controversial issue is pedagogically unproductive.
This self-study highlights how engagement with his students and the collective activity during the session contributed to dealing with a topic for which there was disagreement.
Reframing this pedagogical experience via self-study has contributed to the author’s own awareness of the relational dimensions of classroom activity and its centrality in his work.
He learned that, in his future practice, he must proactively consider and plan not only for the academic and professional learning of his students, but also for the socio-emotional aspects of his classroom, especially when dealing with contested issues.
Caring for students is more than supporting their academic and intellectual growth; caring for students necessitates that he attend to the development of a teacher-student relationship characterized by a value for nurturing the socioemotional and relational aspects of instruction.
Yet, caring in education (and in teacher education, as discussed in this article), must also necessitate a caring for the self.
The author learned that navigating tense or challenging pedagogical scenarios is as much about exhibiting an ethic of care for himself as it is in exhibiting it towards his students.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, gender issues and topics that attend to the diversity of human expression and relationships is deeply personal (Martin & Kitchen, 2020).
Conducting this inquiry has reinforced that self-care is vital when engaging with such issues.
Not all students will approach these topics as the author does.
Being honest and transparent about who he is and the values he brings to the classroom (e.g., Martin, 2014b, 2014a) not only contributes to a caring relationship with his students, but is also a form of caring for himself.
Dialogue across differences is important, yet fidelity to his authenticity is as important.
Thus, this self-study extends prior inquiries in that we, as teacher educators, must not only consider how we enact care towards our students, but also the ways that we engage in processes of care for ourselves, particularly during difficult pedagogical moments.
Furthermore, it considers how the ethic of care can inform navigating such instances as opportunities to not only promote student learning, but also as opportunities to affirm the values that inform our pedagogy.

Berry, A. (2007). Reconceptualizing teacher educator knowledge as tensions: Exploring the tension between valuing and reconstructing experience. Studying Teacher Education, 3(2), 117–134.
Berry, A. (2008). Tensions in teaching about teaching: Understanding practice as a teacher educator. Springer Publishing.
LaBoskey, V. K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V.
LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of selfstudy of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 817–869). Springer. Lassonde, C. A., Galman, S., & Kosnik, C. M. (Eds.). (2009). Self-study research methodologies for teacher educators. Sense.
Loughran, J., & Russell, T. (Eds.). (2002). Improving teacher education practice through self- study. Routledge.
Martin, A. D., & Kitchen, J. (2020). LGBTQ themes in the self-study of teacher educator practices: A queer review of the literature. In J. Kitchen, M. Berry, H. Guojonsdottir, S. M. Bullock, M. Taylor, & A. R. Crowe (Eds.), Second international handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher educator practices (2nd ed.), (pp. 589–610). Springer.
Trout, M. (2010). Social skills in Action: An ethic of care in social studies student teaching supervision. In A. R. Crowe (Ed.), Advancing social studies education through self-study methodology: The power, promise, and use of self-study in social studies education (Vol. 10, Self-study of teaching and teacher education practices, pp. 119–137). Springer.
Trout, M. (2018). Embodying care: Igniting a critical turn in a teacher educator’s relational practice. Studying Teacher Education, 14(1), 39–55. 

Updated: Jul. 14, 2021