Work of Teacher Education insights

June 2016


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DR ALEXANDRA GUNN discusses her recent TLRI study that scrutinises how initial teacher education is produced, maintained and practised in New Zealand and compares it with similar research carried out overseas. 

A recent study funded by the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative has been examining teacher education work within New Zealand universities now that most initial teacher education (ITE), since the final mergers of former colleges of education with universities, has become university based.

The Work of Teacher Education-NZ (WoTE-NZ) project has been interested in understanding how teacher education, as a part of the academe, is produced, maintained and practised; we believe that the institution of the university provides much scope for building a robust evidence base for teaching, teacher education, and future system-wide development.

This is particularly so when considering the current partnership models of teacher education that are under development and which encourage strong reciprocity between school and early childhood teachers, student teachers and teacher educators within ITE.

However, parallel Work of Teacher Education (WoTE) projects in England, Scotland, and Australia have raised questions over how ITE has shaped up within universities after similar shifts of ITE to such institutions occurred in those jurisdictions.

In England and Scotland, a sense of teacher education as a lesser but more troubling academic discipline is evident in the research. The sense is attributed to the close professional ties teacher education maintains with schooling and a labour force of academic workers who may not be being supported to accumulate the types of academic capital valued by the university, principally research outputs which bring with them, for universities, funding benefits and reputational status.

In the Australian WoTE project, teacher education was almost rendered invisible by universities when, in recruitment materials for academic positions within teacher education, human resource type language and generic academic skills and qualities featured strongly. This was interpreted in the research as a reflection of Australian universities’ anxiety over their government’s research assessment and funding exercise, Education in Research for Australia, kin to New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF).

The New Zealand study has found similar issues to England and Scotland with respect to the place of research in teacher education work within universities here. Support for teacher educators’ research had waned in some instances. Some teacher education academics’ work designations had been changed to omit research as an element of their expected work.

Despite this, all teacher educators in the New Zealand study were actually engaging in research. We interpreted this finding as a collective recognition by teacher educators of the imperative within New Zealand universities for academics to base their teaching on research and to take seriously their role as critic and conscience, in this case the profession of teaching.

Having teacher educators engage in research is precisely the kind of work that would ultimately allow university-based teacher education to contribute to robust, evidence-based, systems change. Ironically what we think universities too would want, but that seems to be undermined by the kinds of practices within universities that have been observed in the research.

The New Zealand WoTE study noted a bifurcation of the category of work involved in teacher education occurring when universities appointed people to either research inclusive or teaching dominant tracks.

During the six months where we gathered data on recruitment to positions within teacher education, we observed two types of position being advertised: those who sought experienced researchers who may not have any teaching-specific background or qualification required of them in order to apply, and those who sought experienced, qualified and registered teachers, who would not be required to research as part of their role.

Thus the institutions were creating and maintaining a research/practice dualism within teacher education and preventing teacher educators from addressing the full scope of university-based teacher education work, which by definition involves research, teaching (including teaching student teachers who will be in practicum settings), and service (to the university and beyond).

A major implication of this finding is that universities may in fact be impeding the development of teacher education as an emerging discipline within the academe. Furthermore, they may be maintaining a general sense of the university as distanced from the profession therefore insufficient an institution to be a quality provider of initial teacher education.

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