10 SES 07 C, Research on Professional Knowledge & Identity in Teacher Education
The theme of education in an era at risk attends to the particularities of the current era with an eye to the future era. Yet these periods of time can only be fully understood through an understanding of past educational eras. Teachers entering into the profession, as a new generation of teachers, do not break from the past but are connected to past generations of teachers and teaching whilst at the same time possessing an orientation to the future. Teachers who have since retired from the profession are a relatively untapped and underutilised resource for preparing future teachers. Retired teachers do not ‘just shuffle off and disappear’ (p. 149), in the words of Boyer, Maney, Kamler and Comber (2004) but can contribute to an understanding of the profession that shaped their work lives.
Generations of learning was conceptualised as a 2017 project to complement the traditional practicum that takes place in schools. The project paired seven final year pre-service teachers in Monash University’s (Australia) Faculty of Education with eight retired schoolteachers. The project was a voluntary undertaking, presented to pre-service teachers as an opportunity to deepen their understandings of the teaching profession. For the retirees, it was a way to share their stories and wisdom. The project took place before and during the pre-service teachers’ final professional experience placement of their teacher education degree. Research into participants’ experience of the project centred on the question: How do intergenerational relationships shape the way in which pre-service teachers make sense of the profession they are entering?
Generations of learning involved a re-imagining of professional experience where the profession was explored and encountered through intergenerational relationships. Biesta, Priestley and Robinson (2015) identify that teacher education programs should create spaces for “robust professional discourse about teaching and the wider purposes of education” (p. 638). Generations of learning provided an exploratory space connecting pre-service teachers with retired teachers to engage in a series of interactions around what it means to be and to become a teaching professional.
The generations of learning project was conceptualised through frames of generativity (Erikson, 1950; McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992; de St. Aubin, McAdams, & Kim, 2004). Erikson (1950), in writing about stages of human development, suggested that midlife and beyond was a stage of generativity—creating and caring for the next generation so as to ensure a positive future for the world. Generations of learning was conceptualised as a generative project in that one generation of teachers expressed commitment to the next generation of teachers, as well as to the next generation of students and the profession of teaching.
Teaching work is by its nature intergenerational, where one generation teaches another, so this project built upon well-established cultural patterns in education where the transfer of knowledge and wisdom occurs from one generation to the next. In meeting one another, the narratives of those who have spent their professional lives as teachers and the narratives of those anticipating a work life in teaching highlighted the continuities, changes and meaning of being a teacher. The sense that a new generation of teachers are entering an era of risk was put into context by a focus on both the continuity and change inherent in education.
All 15 participants were initially interviewed individually. The interviews with the retired teachers focused on narratives of their teaching careers and their reflections upon the profession. The interviews with the pre-service teachers focused on their professional aspirations. The pairing of the student with the retiree was based on shared occupation areas of the teaching profession. The initial meeting of all the participants in their pairs involved an hour of conversation about the retired teacher’s work life and reflections on the profession. Directly following these conversations, a focus group of all the pre-service teachers was carried out to collect data about the insights they developed into the changes within the teaching profession. A second meeting two weeks later involved all pairs in conversation. This time the beginning teachers spoke about their aspirations and initial experiences of the teaching profession. Directly afterwards, a focus group was conducted with the retired teachers about how schools and teacher work has changed based on conversations with their pre-service teacher. Other stages in the project involved the retired teachers attending their partner’s placement school to observe the pre-service teacher teaching, as well as non-facilitated conversations held between the partners in their own time. Data was collected from the first three interviews and from a final phase in the research, which involved interviewing the pairs together about what they learned from participating in the project. This final interview highlighted the shared experiences and mutual understandings the participants generated about the past, present and future of the teaching profession.
Generations of learning, as a project, provided an intergenerational space in which to engage in another sort of learning, one free from assessments and measurements. The relationships formed in this space were more concerned with Erikson’s ideas of generativity, establishing and guiding the next generation (de St. Aubin et al., 2004). Hence, the learning was reciprocal in its historically conscious explorations of what it means to be a teaching professional yesterday, today and tomorrow. In the intergenerational space of generations of learning, conversations were generative of professional identity, both explicitly and tacitly. Explicitly, the pairs engaged in conversations about what it means to be a teacher. The sense that the pre-service teachers were embarking on a life-long journey as part of a community of professional teachers, was made explicit to the pre-service teachers through stories shared and words expressed by the retired teachers. Professional identity was also generated through tacit means. The relationships formed in the generations of learning project, between retirees and pre-service teachers, were relationships of generativity, of one generation helping to form the next generation of teachers. For many, it was the first time in their pre-service education in which they were not considered a student. It was simply about two teachers meeting – from opposite ends of the professional experience continuum – to discuss shared passions. The generative nature of the exchanges that occurred between the retired and pre-service teachers centred on a shared respect for and responsibility toward the teaching profession. The intergenerational learning was a reciprocally felt responsibility to further the teaching profession – particularly in this era of risk and uncertainty. They engaged in what Biesta et al. (2015) name robust professional discourse about teaching and education. As teacher education becomes more measured, it is crucial we find generative spaces for such discourse.
Biesta, G., Priestley, M., & Robinson, S. (2015). The role of beliefs in teacher agency. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 624-640. Boyer, I, Maney, Bev, Kamler, B, & Comber, B. (2004). Reciprocal mentoring across generations: Sustaining professional development for English teachers. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 3(2), 139-150. de St. Aubin, E., McAdams, D.P. & Kim, T. (2004). The generative society: An introduction. In D.P. McAdams, T. Kim & E. de St. Aubin (Eds.), The generative society: Caring for future generations (pp. 3-13). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton. McAdams, D. P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003–1015.
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