10 SES 01 C, Special Call: Mapping Teacher Education across Europe and Beyond
This paper responds to a recent discussion on research-engaged teacher education (e.g. Afdal 2017) as well as a call to cultivate and examine student teachers’ agency (e.g. Edwards 2017). The aim of the study presented here is to explore what kind of standards the student teachers set for the teacher profession in research-engaged teacher education, and, thereby, how they position themselves. The research questions are as follows: 1. What kind of teacher profession do the student teachers describe? 2. What is the role of research skills in these descriptions? 3. What kind of agency do these descriptions imply?
Today, in the leading systems in the field of education, teaching is seen as a research-engaged profession, requiring high-level skills and knowledge (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). Teacher education in these societies is typically based on research about student and teacher learning (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Korthagen, 2017). By research skills we mean skills needed in understanding, transforming and producing information, leading to critical and creative thinking (Murtonen, Rautopuro, & Väisänen, 2007). In policy level, an urgent European-wide challenge is set for the teacher education to develop professionals who base their educational decisions in teacher’s work on rational arguments in addition to experiential ones (European Commission, 2014).
In line with the endeavors to enhance the quality of teaching worldwide, the teachers need to have a sense of being empowered (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). Thus, fostering and examining student teachers’ agency is vital in teacher education. By agency, we mean ownership and authority over one’s action that is needed in teacher’s work since teachers must influence their work instead of experiencing things as just happening (e.g. Juutilainen, Metsäpelto, & Poikkeus, 2018).
Focusing on narrative practices, this study reveals how the students in the flow of discourse are imposing order of their experiences and are making sense of events and actions in teacher education (cf. Riessman, 2001). Narrative aspects of professional agency in teacher education have been scarce (cf. Hilppö, Lipponen, Kumpulainen, & Virlander, 2016). However, their benefit is crucial since they help notice features that otherwise remain hidden. Concentrating on narrative practice exposes ways in which the students understand and create the teacher profession as well as construct and negotiate their agency.
In Finland, which is the context of this study, research skills play a strong role, as the primary school teachers study a Master’s degree. By the degree, the students will have a qualification to work as a teacher in grades 1.–6. in primary school (age group 7–13 years). The students start their first teaching practice in the first term and it takes place in a university training school. In their teaching practice, the students are assumed to show emerging agency and rehearse research skills in action. Nevertheless, the research skills studies and the teaching practice and have claimed to be separate from each other. Thus, it is important to understand what kind of narrative practice of teacher profession a research-engaged program design produces, and what kind of agency is thereby manifested.
Methods The context of this paper is primary school teacher education in one Finnish university. Written texts (N=74) were retrieved from the first-year students’ reflexive teaching practice reports in autumn 2018. The texts dealt with the significance of the research skills for the students as well as insights they had made on teacher’s work in the teaching practice. In order to understand how the student teachers construct the teacher profession and their agency, the approach of narrative practice was used both in the overall theoretical background as well as an analytic tool. The view of narrative practice emphasizes the role of language as multiple and fragmented, and texts are seen revealing narrative as practice within social interaction in teacher education (cf. de Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2008). Narratives deploy arguments that sustain practices. Attention to narratives addresses questions of how professionals, in this case, student teachers, conduct themselves to establish the legitimacy of their activities, and, thereby, the narratives shape the individual’s sense of self (Ackroyd, 2016). Therefore, student teachers can position themselves as agentic beings that assume control over events and actions or as victims of circumstances. In addition, they can shift among positions, giving themselves agentic roles in certain scenes, and passive roles in others (Riessman, 2001). Firstly, the content of the texts was analyzed by concentrating on how the teacher profession was described in the data. Secondly, a closer look at the student teachers’ narration was taken to explore how the students constructed their agency in relation to these descriptions. Especially, the focus was on evaluative verbs and evaluative language in general, negatives as well as contrastives (Tannen, 1993). Emphasis was not put on traditional storylines but rather on atypical, small stories with a functional perspective on narrative and language use in general, in line with the theoretical body of narrative practice (de Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2008; Riessman, 2001).
Expected outcomes Teaching was described as a demanding profession, including a variety of responsibilities and requiring high-standard skills and knowledge. Many expressions were written in a binding way, as a must, implying restricted agency (cf. also Hilppö et al. 2016). However, opportunities and possibilities to act and influence were also described, implying enacted agency. The research skills’ role in the teacher profession was depicted as essential. Research skills were seen important in perceiving, decision-making and interpreting (cf. the model by Blömeke, Gustafsson, & Shavelson, 2015), in evaluation, in co-operating consistently with parents, and developing the teaching and the school as well as in teacher learning (cf. Korthagen, 2017). Research skills were described as useful but, however, not inevitable. On the other hand, also problems in integrating research skills into the teacher profession were presented. In many expressions the teacher profession was depicted as separate, as a stable object having no link to the self. On the other hand, there were expressions implying collective professional agency, when the students described duties that concerned them as a collective. However, the texts were polyphonic. One student used different kinds of expressions, some of the expressions being separate from the self, some including. To conclude, cultivating student teachers’ agency requires more attention. This paper contributes to program design and development in European teacher education by underlining how the standards for the teacher profession and, respectively, agency, are shaped not only by teachers at work but also by student teachers in teacher education.
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