Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring Academic Work
reviewed by Marie C. White - October 21, 2015
Title: Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring Academic Work
Author(s): Viv Ellis, Jane McNicholl
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 1472507207, Pages: 192, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com
For those of us in teacher education who have been part of the fluid nature of our profession, Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring Academic Work by Ellis and McNicholl provides a well-documented assessment of the policy changes that have caused turmoil in the higher education sector. The authors take issue with policies in England and elsewhere that have placed teacher educators and the universities that house their programs in direct response to policy. The book provides a framework for those looking for a comprehensive examination of how universities can work within the confines of changing policies and yet remain independent administrators of an academically sound professional program. The authors call for universities to become proactive and reclaim the shaping of teacher education programs is both refreshing and inspiring to those who have become accustomed to reacting and adjusting to the steady stream of political reforms.
The authors do not refrain from a telling it like it is tone regarding the policies and reforms that have shaped teacher education in England. Their timeline of historical events describes actions that have led to the changing landscape of professional teaching programs within university settings. This chronological depiction of specific policy changes provides the reader with determinants of how the requirement of real engagement in the profession has limited those who educate future teachers from conducting the research necessary to retain academic proficiency. The authors remind the reader that there was a time when teacher education programs within university settings were safeguarded against policy changes. However, currently, university-based teacher education programs are compliant to policy changes, and as a result, their status in higher education as academic work is diminishing. The authors contend universities are equipped to transform the present status of teacher education programs to produce new social arrangements that are simultaneously practical and intellectual (p. 12).
The authors acknowledge an increasingly tenuous position held by teacher education programs within higher education. They cite research that supports their contention that within and beyond Englandincluding the USA and Finlandthe actual academic work for teacher educators is largely unknown. They attribute, at least in part, the precarious state of teacher education within the university setting to the way the profession is conceptualized, as well as to minimal research regarding what teacher educators actually do in the context of higher education institutions. In order to examine how teacher education is produced as a particular category of academic work, the authors set out to analyze how institutions describe the specific category, or how the ways of thinking about teacher education are actively expressed and reiterated in the language of the institution. Their findings indicate that teacher educators represent an exceptional category of academic workers. In addition, the teacher educator is identified with different priorities than other faculty in the same institution. Their roles as professional role models and exemplary practitioners are accomplished within a culture of contradictory expectations between policy changes and institutional requirements.
An additional study by the authors is an investigation of the teacher educators work (p. 71), leading to a categorization of ten job dimensions. When calculated and compared with other dimensions, the greatest number of hours was expended in relationship maintenance, leaving very limited time to the responsibilities that require course management, professional development, and research. Acknowledging the stress-related factors that fall under the keeping and maintaining of partnerships, each participant reported spending a significant amount of time on the phone, responding to emails, and making site visits in order to ensure communication between the partnership schools and the teacher educators remain collaborative. When teacher educators in the study talk about their work, they attribute their greatest satisfaction to the personal and socially transforming nature of their teaching. Although they found their work changed over time, the participants reported strong motivation to adapt and remain focused on maintaining consistent and meaningful relationships with students and colleagues in schools and at the university.
The authors propose an expansive understanding of the transformation of teacher education as a collaborative activity. They also suggest that this transformation should come from within the university and extend out to the partnering schools and networks engaged by teacher educators to provide future teachers with authentic and researched-based training. They cite studies that support a misalignment between the realities of the profession and teacher preparation. Placing student teachers in venues where real engagement in professional responsibilities has revealed gaps in their training and as a result has led to short retention in the teaching field. The authors acknowledge the benefits of relationship maintenance; yet, they call attention to the problematic division of labor between academic workers (i.e., teacher educators based in the university setting) and the school-based workers. Although their study findings are derived from research with teachers in England, the authors alert international readerssuch as those in the U.S.that the day in the life of a teacher educator in England could become the international practice of teacher educators within higher education if transformation is not initiated. From a cultural-historical perspective, the authors focus our attention on issues facing the international growth and development of teacher education in the context of higher education. However, they do not leave the reader to figure out how to accomplish a transformation; the final chapter discusses principles for public universities and the teaching profession to collaborate on transforming teacher education.
Although the authors emphasis on politics provides the reader with a significant amount of information regarding the connections among teacher education, economics, neoliberalism, Marxism, and other determinants of a labor force, perhaps it is that emphasis that could distract the reader from assimilating the essential premises of the book. At times, the connection between academic work and transforming teacher education is not as readily perceived when embedded within a heavy context of political language. In spite of it, the groundwork is laid well to help readers comprehend the necessity of collaborative work to bring about the transformation broached by the authors. The authors bring to the forefront a discussion that requires international attention, and teacher educators can benefit from the recommendations made regarding the strengthening of teacher education programs within institutions of higher education.