10 SES 16 C, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
The quality of teachers has been shown as the most pivotal factor in student success and educational change within the school system (Musset, 2010; OECD, 2005). As a result, attention has naturally been directed towards how teachers develop and their initial teacher education (ITE). Amidst growing social and political pressures of performance cultures and increased accountability ‘teacher professionalism’ is now a focus of concern within many jurisdictions (Sachs, 2015). Policy reforms, in regards to teacher professionalism, appear to create a ‘framework of accountability’ through socially accepted standards which unsurprisingly impacts on ITE (Furlong et al., 2000, p. 15). Mirroring, international policy developments (Training and Development Agency, 2007; Department for Education, 2011), the Republic of Ireland’s teacher accreditation body published its own Code of Professional Conduct for Teachers (2012, updated in 2016) aiming to assist teachers to ‘steer an ethical and respectful course through their career’ (Teaching Council, 2016, p. 4). Though, what ‘professionalism’ is and what it encompasses is a matter of debate. There is a significant body of work, which has attempted to unpack the term/concept. In addition numerous models and definitions exist (Goodson and Hargreaves, 1996). However, many share the sentiment that professionalism is a dynamic, socially constructed concept that is in a constant state of (re)shaping through interactions between the macro level of the field, institutions, practice and biographical experiences of the individual (Evans, 2008; Evetts, 2006; 2009; Hargreaves, 2000; Sachs, 2015).
Notwithstanding these more dynamic and broader conceptualisations of professionalism, what teacher educators understand by professionalism is often more influential for pre-service teachers’ development. As Furlong (2000, p. 36) highlights, ‘what pre-service teachers learn during their initial teacher training is as much influenced by who is responsible for teaching them as it is by the content of the curriculum.’ As a result, a greater focus has shifted towards the role of the teacher educator and their beliefs in relation to teacher development and professionalism in particular.
The assessment of School Placement is a particularly interesting arena in which teacher educators’ beliefs of what constitutes professionalism in teaching comes to the fore. As there are no formal school-based assessment procedures in place in Ireland, School Placement is dependent on observation-based assessments by TEs (School Placement tutors) who formally represent the ITE provider in a hybrid and contradictory role of both mentor and assessor who ultimately make a determination on competence to teach. As part of this role, and guided by an assessment rubric, they are required to comment on the pre-service teachers’ professionalism.
Therefore, set against this context, this study aimed to explore how ‘professionalism’ was assessed during School Placement on an ITE programme in Ireland by teacher educators and to determine what messages regarding professionalism were communicated through this process of examination.
This study consisted of two pahses of data collection. The first phase analysed a random sample of completed School Placement assessment rubrics (known as Lesson Appraisal Guides (LAGs)) by the teacher educators. Following this analysis, the second phase involved an interview with a sample of Teacher Educators exploring their understanding of teacher professionalism and how they assess it on School Placement. The study was undertaken in an ITE programme within a university setting in Ireland with pre-service teachers that were enrolled on a 4-Year, concurrent, undergraduate programme. Students complete an eight-week School Placement in their second year and a ten-week placement in their fourth year. Students are assigned two TEs (School Placement tutors) for each placement experience. Each tutor visits the host school on two occasions observing the pre-service teachers and, guided by specific language, grades the students in relation to a number of criteria including planning, reflective practice, assessment strategies, amongst others. As part of this they also comment on the students’ level of professionalism as it is also a criterion within the assessment rubric. Within Ireland, cooperating teachers do not partake in the assessment of the student teacher. 429 written lesson reports (LAGs) completed by tutors were analysed drawn from the 2011 and 2017 cohorts representing a random sample of approximately a 30% of all reports in the respective years. 96 School Placement tutors were represented in the random sample. The tutors, were a mixture of both internal members of faculty and external part-time casual staff (predominantly experienced retired teachers). The sections dealing with professionalism from each of the 429 reports were transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed. 12 of the 96 School Placement tutors consented to an interview post-School Placement. The inclusion of the interviews was a means of complimenting the insights gained from the written reports with the lived experiences of the tutors. Both methods were analysed using thematic analysis guided by Braun and Clarke’s (2006) approach. Codes were generated by means of bottom-up coding (Lewins 2008). Relationships between codes were identified and clustered into themes based on the researchers’ consensus. Emerging themes were then reviewed and refined, to ensure that the themes reflected an accurate representation of the tutors’ comments. Four themes were identified from the written reports; evaluative comments on performance, characteristics of a teacher, and conforming to local practices. At the time of writing this abstract, the interviews have not yet been fully analysed.
A number of conclusions appear to be emerging. Pre-service teachers are naturally shaped and influenced by the messages they receive from TEs and the experiences in their ITE programme (Furlong, 2000). However, this study proposes that the concept of ‘teacher professionalism’ may still be a mystery for these pre-service teachers as the TEs comments were largely vague, but yet evaluative. When evaluating ‘professionalism’, the TEs comments focused on dress and overall appearance, fitting smoothly into the school environment and being a prepared teacher. This idea of a professional would align with Goodson and Hargreaves’s (1996) interpretation of the classical professional. While ‘professionalism’ itself is a socially constructed concept, perhaps, this is what a growingly concerned society (Sachs, 2015) is relieved to see: the classical teacher. Such assessments of professionalism not only reveal the school Placement tutors’ beliefs in relation to teacher professionalism, one which focuses on appearance and conforming to local practices, but these assessments also influence students’ understanding of what professionalism entails. Thus these written statements of professionalism not only capture how professionalism is currently conceptualised, they also reify a particular understanding of professionalism that ultimately undermines the professionalism of teaching and straight-jackets pre-service teachers into a practice of social conformity as opposed to critically questioning assumptions about teaching practices and professional standards. The paper aims to discuss the implications of such findings and how a broader more critical understanding of professionalism can be supported and developed among teacher educators ultimately empowering a more critical conceptualisation of professionalism amongst pre-service teachers.
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