10 SES 08 E, Special Call: Mapping Teacher Education across Europe and Beyond
This paper reports results of a research project funded by the Elise Richter Excellence Program (project No. V-606) of the FWF Austrian Science Fund, on “Learning to Teach in Uncertainty: A Phenomenological Study of Teachers’ Being, Doing and Becoming on the Rough Ground of Social Change“. The research project is primarily concerned about the ways in which “these shifting plotlines shaped in the larger society ripple both into schools and universities, influencing the contexts, teachers, children and youth experience in schools, and our research and teacher education contexts” (Clandinin, Downey & Huber, 2009, p. 142). Changing landscapes has a lot to do with flows; the increasing flows of people, commodities, cultures and economic and political interests across borders, and the social processes that correspond to these developments. In schools we catch sight of these flows, perhaps most visibly in transnational flows of people, in children and youth ‘in-between’, and the diverse networks of relevance they introduce into everyday school life.
Barnett (2012) suggests a ”pedagogy for uncertainty” in the face of at least two forms of uncertainties; first, an uncertainty that arises from the complexity of the world, second, the uncertainty that arises out of “supercomplexity” (p. 68). Complexity describes a system in which the interactions between their elements are unclear, uncertain and unpredictable. This is a world that is “radically unknowable” (p. 68). Alongside arises the second uncertainty „out of a personal sense that we never could hope satisfactorily even to describe the world, let alone act with assuredness in it. The descriptions of the world that are available to us – especially in a global and multicultural world – multiply and conflict with each other” (p. 68). This is “the paradoxical condition in which our descriptions of the world are always contestable and in which we know that to be the case. Our hold on the world is now always fragile” (p. 68). Barnett (2012) asks “What is it to learn for an unknown future?“ (p. 65) As a teacher educator I would spell out and ask ‘What is it to learn to teach for an unknown future?’ How do we think of, articulate, and enact pedagogies for uncertainty?
With reference to the theme of ECER 2019 Education in an Era of Risk, and the special call of network 10, the paper responds primarily to the question of building a distinctive profile for teacher education research in Europe and beyond. This paper is interested in approaches and vocabularies that serve to render teachers’ lifeworlds on shifting landscapes visible, articulable, thinkable, and understandable. In the aftermath of the teacher effectiveness movement it has become quite evident that proposing and enforcing lists of what teachers ought to do fall too short of tackling the task of teaching on the rough grounds of social change at its roots. Building a distinctive profile for teacher education research in Europe and beyond requires that we first set out to understand what teachers ‘live’ and experience, what is involved and what is at stake in teaching in uncertainty before we start to explore answers on how to rise to the challenge. Perhaps at this stage we need to be far more concerned with ontological questions of what it means to be a teacher in an era of risk rather than with propositional or instrumental knowledge on what teacher need to do. As such we need to address the question of curriculum approaches in teacher education corresponding to the much-needed “ontological turn” (Barnett, 2012, p. 68) in learning to teach under conditions of radical uncertainty of our pluralistic societies and diverse classrooms.
The methodological framework for the study is Phenomenology of Practice (van Manen, 1990, 2014) which refers to the “practice of phenomenological research and writing that reflects on and in practice, ad prepares for practice” (van Manen, 2014, p. 15). As a “meaning-giving method” it refers to “inquiries that address and serve the practice of professional practitioners” (van Manen, 2014, p. 15). The rationale for the choice of method lies in the nature of the aim and purpose of the study, which is to gain access to teachers’ practice as lived and experienced on a day-to-day basis, and to seek a language to render the lived experience visible and articulable. The empirical data of the study was collected through conversational interviews with teachers in the form of anecdotal narratives of lived experience. Descriptions of lived experience in the form of anecdotal narratives or stories of episodes were chosen as the major source of data, because in the pedagogical context they function as experiential case material on which pedagogic reflection is possible. Anecdotes are understood here as narrative accounts of incidents, situations, occurrences and episodes experienced by the interviewed teachers as they relate to the guiding question of the research (van Manen, 1990, 2014). The researcher conducted a participant observation of the classroom for one or two hours prior to each interview, which served to gain complementary access to the specific context (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994). Particular incidents observed during the pre-interview observation were used to prompt the teacher participant to remain focused on actual episodes from daily situations. The interpretation of data entails an in-depth thematic analysis through uncovering and isolating thematic aspects of the phenomenon, creating thematic categories, and identifying recurring essential themes, according to the methodical procedures of Phenomenology of Practice (van Manen 1990, 2014).
Currently the major discourses on teacher education coming either from educational policy or from educational research focus on the need for teachers’ practice to become evidence-based and competence based. While both discourses are important, there is a tendency to steer the development towards a culture of educational positivism, with a strong instrumentality and functionality focus. Corresponding to the research question „Which approaches and vocabularies lend themselves to speak about teachers lifeworlds on shifting landscapes?“ current discourses on, and proposals for, alternative and pioneering languages and metaphors for education, pedagogy and teaching inform the inquiry. A few examples include the language of “virtuosity”, the “gift of teaching”, “risk” and “weakness of education” in Biesta’s (2013, 2014, 2015) work, the concept of restrained teaching proposed by Hopmann (2007), and the language of “the offering of teaching” in Rocha’s (2016) Folk phenomenology, and the recent revival of pedagogical tact (Müller, 2015; van Manen, 1991, 2015, Forghani-Arani 2012, 2016). The paper aims to propose the primacy of an ontological orientation over a propositional and instrumental approach in building a distinctive profile for teacher education research in Europe and beyond.
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