Learning Teaching in, from, and for Practice: What Do We Mean?

From Section:
Trends in Teacher Education
Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 61, No. 1-2, p. 21-34. (January/February 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In talk about teacher preparation and professional development, we often hear the word practice associated with what, how, or when the learning of teaching is supposed to happen. In this article, the author analyzes the various interpretations that could underlie the link between practice and learning teaching.

The author’s question is what practice can mean in relation to learning the work of teaching.

Conceptions of Practice

The author explores four different conceptions of practice and their implications for how learning teaching might be organized.

Practice as That Which Contrasts With Theory
Probably the most common way in which the word practice is used in relation to the learning of teaching is to contrast it with theory or research. In this usage, it means what people do rather than what they think or know. It usually refers to anything that is not theory or research.

Often the argument is made that the theory–practice divide exists because the situations in which use and application are supposed to occur are particular and different from one another. Thus practice becomes linked with the concept of the teacher as an independent artisan who must create his or her own techniques (Huberman, 1993).
In this view of practice, the learning of teaching practice is something one does by oneself while doing the work.

Teaching as a Collection of Practices
In this usage, the dictionary defines a practice as “(…) a habit, custom; something done constantly or usually (…)”. This use of the word practice implies things that people do, constantly and habitually. Considering the nature of teaching as relational work in which the teacher establishes and maintains connections of various sorts with students and subject matters during a 9-month school year (Lampert, 2001), it makes sense to see what he or she is doing in terms of the development of habits and customs.

Practice for Future Performance
A synonym for the verb form of practice is rehearse. Rehearsal is something that occurs in preparation for performance. Both practicing and rehearsing are often done in the context of getting feedback. In studies of professional learning among practicing teachers, groups of teachers seeking to improve are found telling one another about classroom incidents, giving one another feedback, and using those incidents as a basis to prepare for future teaching by repeating what they have learned from the particular in more general terms (Horn, 2005).

The Practice of Teaching
Learning the practice of teaching in this sense is learning “what teachers do” in common rather than learning what a particular teacher does by apprenticing with a more proficient individual.
It involves adopting the identity of a teacher, being accepted as a teacher, and taking on the common values, language, and tools of teaching.

Learning the practice of teaching is not only about learning to do what teachers do but learning to call oneself a teacher and to believe in what teachers believe in.


Perhaps the most important questions raised by different uses of the word practice in relation to learning teaching is whether practice is meant to be something that an individual does and learns from other individuals or something created and maintained by a collective and learned by participation in that collective.

Horn, I. S. (2005). Learning on the job: A situated account of teacher learning in high school mathematics departments. Cognition and Instruction, 23(5), 165-205.

Huberman, M. (1993). The model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations. In J. W. Little & M. W. McLaughlin (Eds.), Teachers work: Individuals, colleagues, and contexts (pp. 11-50). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lampert, M. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2019
Teacher education | Teaching | Teaching practices | Theory practice relationship