Source: Action in Teacher Education, 43:4, 447-463
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The authors of this paper implemented an instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) that investigated the following research question (Brown et al., 2020): how did a sample of pre service teachers (PSTs) in a professional training program (PTP), which included coursework and field-based experiences in urban, high-stakes teaching contexts, author themselves as teachers who spoke with and against policy makers’ neoliberal reforms as they progressed through their program?
Through analyzing the findings to this question, they seek to inform teacher educators about how to support PSTs as they author (Bakhtin, 1984) themselves as teachers so that they may feel empowered rather than threatened when creating democratic learning experiences for their future students (Bartell et al., 2019).
Case studies “start and end with issues” (Stake, 2005, p. 16), and the issue the authors examine in this article is: How did a sample of PSTs author themselves as teachers who spoke with and against policy makers’ neoliberal education reforms as they progressed through their PTP?
Participants for this case study were recruited in their first semester of the PTP by the third author who had no relationship with or authority over them.
PSTs were asked to participate in the study at the end of their first semester of their PTP after their professors submitted their final grades to the Office of the Registrar.
The participants (Amita, Pierce, Ruby, Shelby, and Tina; all names pseudonyms) selected for current study represented the range of students who typically participate in the PTP; the majority of PSTs being female and about half being White with a growing number of students representing diverse sociocultural backgrounds.
The Teacher Education Program
The participants in current study attended a large urban teacher education program at a state university in the Midwestern US.
This university offers a cohort-based three-semester PTP, which includes coursework and field placements in public elementary schools, leading to an early childhood through sixth-grade teacher certification (EC-6) with an English as a Second Language endorsement.
The PSTs in current study were followed through their entire program.
Public School Teaching Context
This teacher education program is located in a Midwestern state where policy makers implemented a series of neoliberal education reforms that hold students enrolled in publicly funded Pre-K through grade 12 (Pre-K-12) classrooms, teachers, and school personnel accountable for improving students’ academic achievement.
Policy makers require the measurement of students’ acquisition of the state-mandated Pre-K-12 content standards in grades 3 through 11 on a series of high-stakes exams. Beginning in grade five, students’ achievement scores are used to determine grade promotion and high school completion.
Moreover, a statewide ranking system determines whether or not students in these schools and districts attained an acceptable level of progress.
If not, a series of mandated interventions and sanctions are triggered, which can lead to schools being closed or reconstituted and the replacement of district administrators.
The mentor teachers (MTs) who supported the PSTs in current study worked across two school districts surrounding the PTP.
As Pre-K-6 teachers in these districts, the PSTs’ MTs were expected to follow their district’s learning progression documents and pacing guides which organize their district’s curricula into a yearly sequence so that students are taught the necessary content for district and state accountability measures that begin in Pre-K.
Teachers are required to assess their Pre-K through Grade 1 students’ emergent literacy skills using a state-approved standardized assessment measure.
District personnel use these scores and scores on a series of district-developed benchmark exams that begin in second grade to evaluate teacher and school administrator effectiveness.
Furthermore, students’ who perform poorly across the school year are typically provided with a range of literacy and mathematics interventions to support their growth and development.
Data Sources & Analysis
The first and third author collected data for current study from the Spring 2018 until June 2019, and once the PSTs graduated, the second and fourth authors were brought onto the project.
None of the authors had any authority over these PSTs as they participated in this project.
The primary source of data for current study were four semi-structured interviews conducted at the end of their first semester in the PTP, mid-second semester, mid-third semester, and after completing the program (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).
The PSTs were asked questions that covered such topics as: their conceptions of teaching children, their experiences in their PTP classes, their experiences in their field placements with their MTs, the role of the student, teacher, and family in the education process, how students learn best, their evaluation of their preparation for entering the classroom, examples of positive and negative experiences in the PTP, and their hopes for the future (Brown et al., 2020).
Additionally, the first and third author collected syllabi from each of the PSTs’ classes to confirm assignments and reading materials they referred to in their interviews.
The first and third author also generated memos after interviews to record their initial thoughts, hunches, and insights after each interview (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).
All data were analyzed using traditional qualitative analytic methods (Graue & Walsh, 1998; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).
Findings and Discussion
The findings reveal how policy makers’ neoliberal reforms can “hyper-regulate” the process by which PSTs author themselves as educators (Au, 2017, p. 283).
For the PSTs in this article, they engaged in the act of double-voicing their roles in the classroom to seek alternative forms of teaching to what they were witnessing their mentor teachers (MTs) doing in public school classrooms (Baxter, 2014).
As revealed in the first theme, “how” they double-voiced themselves as teachers addressed both policy makers’ neoliberal framing of schooling and their own goals as educators.
De Lissovoy (2016) noted that, “resistance” to such a framing of schooling “means a belief in the possibility that the space of teaching might be governed by different meanings and purposes” (p. 359).
For these PSTs, they seemed to possess pedagogical strategies (e.g., project work) and a personal desire (e.g., Shelby’s statement about building students’ self-confidence) to create new possibilities in their future classrooms.
Furthermore, as the second theme revealed, these PSTs appeared very troubled by the way the “data-driven practices and logics” they witnessed in their field placements have “reshape[d] the possibilities by which the teaching profession, and teaching professionals, can be known and valued, and the ways that teachers can ultimately be and associate themselves in relation to their work” (Lewis & Holloway, 2019, p. 48).
Yet, they did not know how to counter policy makers’ demands being placed on them and their MTs to teach to the test.
Thus, as the third theme revealed, these PSTs appeared to address their struggles in authoring who they want to be as teachers in relation to policy makers’ neoliberal policies by seeking out school contexts that shielded them from the impact of such reforms (Brown et al., 2020)—be it in a non-testing grade, a high-performing school, or a charter school – and felt this might allow them to employ their internally persuasive discourses about teaching in their own classroom.
Unfortunately, such choices not only reinforced the dominant framing of schooling, but by Pierce and Tina working in charter schools, they may even accelerate the fracturing of public education into the private enterprise neoliberals want it to be (Hursh, 2007).
In all, these themes that emerged in the data illuminate at least two opportunities for TEs to rethink the teacher education process so they prepare PSTs to enter their profession in a manner that allows them to feel empowered when creating learning experiences for their future students that speak against policy makers’ reforms (Bartell et al., 2019).
In all, the findings of current study demonstrate how PSTs vacillate between speaking with and against policy makers’ neoliberal reforms as they progress through their PTP.
Although they appear to have an interest in pursuing alternative visions of schooling, for now, they seem to focus in on the individualized choice of where to teach as the primary means of avoiding the ventriloqification of the authoritarian discourse of teaching to the test.
Thus, TEs and their PTPs should evaluate how and where there are opportunities to engage in more democratic teaching practices in and across their PTPs.
Moreover, TEs ought to assist PSTs in developing the skills to work with stakeholders in and beyond the classroom so that they speak back to policy makers neoliberal reforms and become the teachers they want to be.
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Bartell, T., Cho, C., Drake, C., Petchauer, E., & Richmond, G. (2019). Teacher agency and resilience in the age of neoliberalism. Journal of Teacher Education, 70(4), 302–305
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