01 SES 14 B, Developing trainee teachers
It has been argued that Ireland’s educational system has long suffered from a ‘secret garden culture’ (OECD, 2006), reflected in a “prevalence of professional insulation and isolation” (Teaching Council, 2010: 26). This has lead to a “fear of evaluation” and teachers are reluctant to share innovations for fear of being deemed arrogant (Hogan et al., 2007). It has further been argued that a culture of ‘competitive individualism’ prevails amongst teachers in Irish schools (Coolahan, 2003) and “knowledge hoarding” dominates (Cross, 1996: 230). With the global economic crisis came the “Croke Park” and “Haddington Road” agreements on teachers’ working conditions which, it is argued, eroded working conditions, resulting in a further loss of good will and volunteerism (ASTIR, 2014).
Over this same period, the Irish Teaching Council has published policies and guidelines, all of which promote the “three I’s” (“innovation, integration and improvement”) as core to all stages of the teacher education continuum (Teaching Council, 2013: 11). These guidelines are demanding more of teachers and schools than in the past, and are requiring them to work in new and unfamiliar ways. As part of this, it has been agreed internationally that mentoring and being mentored can play an important role in the transition to more of a “knowledge sharing” culture in teaching (Cross, 1996: 230). Moreover, the Teaching Council (2010) recognised ‘communities of practice’ (CoP) as a site for challenging the dominant approach to professional development and supporting teachers to take responsibility for their own learning. Clearly there is something of a disconnect between the prevailing teacher culture in Ireland and the new government ambitions, and it is in this context that the study reported in this paper was undertaken.
The aim of this study was to find out whether, in the prevailing teacher education system, the new School Placement Guidelines (placing students in schools for school placement for longer) could be implemented, by creating a mentoring CoP with the support of a university academic. A key activity for the CoP was for teacher members to identify what historical, economic, social, political and cultural barriers were faced in their attempt to implement the new Teaching Council Guidelines on School Placements.
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