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Disturbing Practice: Reading Teacher Education as Text

reviewed by Heather M. Pleasants - 2003

coverTitle: Disturbing Practice: Reading Teacher Education as Text
Author(s): Avner Segall
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 0820451029, Pages: 203, Year: 2002
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Avner Segall’s Disturbing Practice is a compelling account of the journey through a preservice teacher education program that six students make and the ways in which this journey addresses the continuing divide between theory and practice in teacher education. Given the small amount of research that uses critical theory to explore the education these programs provide, Disturbing Practice is long overdue. Based on interviews and observations conducted over the span of a year, Segall’s ethnography encourages all of those involved in teacher education to ask difficult questions about what preservice educators are being taught and prepared to do as professionals.


Though creating multivocal, reflexive written texts is not a simple task, Segall successfully accomplishes it by making use of a methodological strategy called the “Second Text.” In response to the primary or “First Text” of the book, the Second Text is comprised of written comments made by the student participants in the research, the teacher of a social studies methods class that was a focal context in the study, and Segall himself. By incorporating the voices of others (who often disagree with Segall’s characterizations), the Second Text blurs the distinction between researcher and researched, subject and object. Further, because the connections and disconnections between theory and practice in teacher education are often best revealed when people occupying different roles contribute to the dialogue, the Second Text also assists the reader in exploring the real-world issues involved in addressing the theory/practice dichotomy. 


The first site for this exploration lies within the discourse of planning and organization, a central facet of the University of Western Canada’s (a pseudonym) teacher education program, and the subject of Chapter Four. Segall provides overwhelming evidence that both because of and despite course content, the six preservice educators leave their program emphasizing organization and planning as the most critical component of success as a teacher. Although the students did value other teacher qualities, such as “being prepared, motivated, interested…” (p. 72) and did consider “big” ideas like “ethics, social justice, equal opportunity,” to be important, the reader is left with the stark image of preservice educators being obsessed with organization. The implications of this obsession are that these teachers may risk being less able to reflect on complexities inherent in teaching their subject areas, and less able to assist students in learning that may not conform to the linearity built into a well-organized and planned lesson.  A naturally emerging question is whether the discourse of planning and organization should be the primary discourse within a teacher education program, particularly if the discourse inhibits the ability of teachers to imagine new possibilities for instruction. A complementary question is whether a primary discourse of planning and organization is unavoidable, given (as the concluding statement from the chapter admits) the bureaucratic realities experienced by most teachers.


While Segall’s discussion of planning and organization explores an overarching issue in the education of teachers, his discussion of critical thinking in Chapter Five provides a perspective focused specifically on the ways that a teacher education program promotes and inhibits ways of thinking about the teaching and learning process. The center point of the chapter is the fact that ironically, in a course where the professor aims to help preservice educators produce questioning students, the preservice educators themselves do not adopt a critical, questioning stance within the course. The possible reasons for this behavior are understandable; for example, when a professor does a wonderful job of conveying a message, to ask “why are we doing this?” may seem inappropriate. Additionally, ignoring the politics of power—which often dictate that students give the teacher/professor what they want in order to become successful—has no perceived benefit, and many disadvantages to future teachers. Again, this chapter effectively raises hard questions for the reader to consider, especially given the current discourse in teacher education concerning the importance of teaching preservice educators to be critical thinkers. As a teacher educator, a question foremost in my mind was when, and under what circumstances the “why are we doing this?” question becomes appropriate, and secondly, if students can be taught to ask why they are doing something even when it seems improper.


In exploring the discourse of gender and multiculturalism in Chapter Six, Segall rounds out a thesis begun in his discussion of critical thinking. Although all of the preservice educators discuss how important it is to include issues involving gender and multiculturalism in their teaching, there is a seemingly insurmountable disconnection between what they say will be important in their teaching and what they do not recognize within their own coursework. The fact that they do not recognize a lack of gender and multicultural content and pedagogy in their own classes is both a further indication of how difficult it is to teach critical thinking, and a confirmation that gender and multiculturalism are, in actuality, considered to be peripheral to what should be taught in schools, whether these schools are primary, secondary or postsecondary.


The preservice educators in this study absolutely reflect the students that they will be teaching; they are good students who do as they are expected to do, including participate in research projects without question. Further, they are much like their own future students in that they maintain a separation between what they are taught in their classes and what they actually do and think about the “real world.” In response to this reality, Segall proposes that teacher education should encourage meta-thinking about practice as one constructs practice.  However, the reader is left to wonder whether or not it is possible for true critique and reflection to take place concurrently with learning within this teacher education program—and other programs—as they are currently structured. Through Disturbing Practice Segall has successfully unearthed the ways in which one teacher education program that attempts to promote questioning instead implicitly and explicitly positions its graduates to be teachers who maintain the status quo. In so doing, Segall also succeeds in leaving the readers of his book with many questions of their own. This, in itself, makes the book worth reading.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 4, 2003, p. 681-683
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11003, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:39:33 AM

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About the Author
  • Heather Pleasants
    University of Delaware
    E-mail Author
    HEATHER M. PLEASANTS is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education, University of Deleware. Her recent research focuses on the experiences of students of color within predominantly white multicultural teacher education courses and on creating multicultural education courses that are based in urban communities. Within her research, consistent themes have been the use of qualitative methods, and the investigation of educational issues involving students of color, their families, their teachers, and their learning contexts.
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