James Calderhead on learning to teach in schools
TEACHER TRAINING IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS, By Rowie Shaw, Kogan Page pound;14.95. 0 THE MANAGEMENT OF MENTORING Edited by Derek Glover and George Mardle Kogan Page pound;18.95. 0 7494 1598 3
PARTNERSHIP IN SECONDARY INITIAL TEACHER EDUCATION Edited by Anne Williams David Fulton pound;12.99. 1 85246 361 2
TEACHERS WHO TEACH TEACHERS Edited by Tom Russell and Fred Korthagen Falmer Press pound;13.95 - 0 7507 0466 7
The move towards school-based teacher education and the development of training partnerships between schools and higher education institutions has led to a flurry of recent publications.
Many of these are practical manuals written by teachers or university tutors on the organisation of school-based training or on the preparation of teachers as mentors. Others are evaluations of alternative models of training, accounts of particular institutions' experiences, or more philosophical views of the scene, in which the authors attempt to stand back from the frantic developments that have occurred in schools and universities in recent years, posing questions about where teacher education might be heading, whether this is for the benefit of teachers and children and what the alternatives might be.
Well-known in the category of practical manual is Rowie Shaw's Teacher Training in Secondary Schools, which has now been published in a second edition. Shaw, a former secondary headteacher, provides a clear account of where school-based teacher training has come from, overviewing government policy and explaining developments in the field, such as licensed teachers and the Open University teacher training scheme. Shaw identifies the kinds of difficulties schools encounter in Initial Teacher Training and has many practical suggestions to offer. The book is well illustrated with examples and useful checklists. For example, it provides a means for schools to examine the current state of their readiness to engage in ITT by conducting an audit of relevant expertise.
The book is written from the school perspective and many teachers, headteachers and governors wishing to take a systematic and well-integrated approach to staff development will find it useful. The manual is well-informed and written in a clear and authoritative style. One of Shaw's main, and most interesting, arguments is that ITT is only part of a school's efforts in the whole area of staff development. The effectiveness of a school lies in the quality of its teachers, and schools, if they are to meet the demands currently placed upon them, need to take staff development seriously.
Shaw holds forth a vision - not new in itself but nevertheless well thought through and articulated - of schools with a career-long staff development policy which identifies the role of the school and designated staff not only in the initial training of teachers but in their induction and continuing professional development as well.
Key to all school-based teacher training is, of course, the role of the mentor - the teacher who takes day-to-day responsibility for developing the professional knowledge, practice and attitudes of the novice. Glover and Mardle comment on the controversy surrounding how mentors might be most appropriately prepared for their work and the difficulties of developing constructive and effective training programmes. However, the focus of the book is more on policy than on practice. The first chapter provides an overview of educational policy (more specifically, right wing policy) over the past two decades and outlines how public perceptions of teaching and teacher education appear to have changed.
The book then goes on to report the findings of research carried out with their own partner schools, and with those of another two higher education institutions, concerning their adaptation to school-based training and particularly the role and development of the mentor. Not surprisingly, they find mentors and students to be more confident in their work in schools where the whole school agreed to become involved in initial training and where the management of ITT is seen as integral to the management of the school.
School-based training, they argue, requires a whole-school commitment and cannot operate successfully as a bolt-on activity, reliant on the efforts of a few concerned individuals. The book does not paint an optimistic picture of mentoring, however. A high proportion of mentors complain of being unable to carry out their roles because of insufficient time. Mentor development appears to be a haphazard process in which some have the time, opportunity and support to develop their mentoring expertise and others do not. Mentors commonly do not feel confident in many of the tasks they are asked to perform, particularly those involving helping students to understand the theoretical basis of classroom teaching and learning. Schools are pressed for time and resources and a picture is painted of well-meaning teachers battling against the impossible.
Partnership in Secondary Initial Teacher Education is a collection of papers written by tutors on the PGCE course at the University of Birmingham. Written as a series of action research reports on tutors' work with students in schools, it suggests ways in which students have learned about teaching from being involved in group activities working alongside a university tutor and staff in schools. It also describes some of the difficulties that have been encountered in these activities and how they have been resolved, and some of the benefits that have been gained by schools. But the book offers only the university tutors' perspective, and the activities themselves are not especially innovative - using students to help in fieldwork in geography, site visits in history, organising IT activities in science, intensive modern languages sessions.
The book would also have benefited from an overview of what the PGCE course is aiming to do, the philosophy of the course and how "partnership" is understood by the different parties involved. Too often the school seems to be viewed simply as a site for practice or a source of problems for students to tackle, rather than as a source of expertise or as a working world to be explored, understood, and influenced, and in which students need to negotiate and come to terms with their own role.
Russell and Korthagen's book is also a series of chapters written by teacher educators about their own experience, though it offers quite a different perspective, and is not specifically related to school-based training. In each chapter, the authors, from the US, Canada, UK and Israel, explore their own beliefs and practices as teacher educators.
In reading the specific details of the authors' lives and personal values and the events that they believe have influenced their work as teacher educators, it is tempting to dismiss the book as self-indulgent navel-gazing. But the book does have two interesting merits. First of all, as Russell points out, there is no widely accepted training programme for teacher educators themselves. Like the apprenticeship models of teaching that teacher educators have been so hostile towards, they typically learn their own trade by watching others and by trial and error. To have honest and critical accounts of teacher educators' own difficulties with the tasks that face them, particularly from those early in their career, is a useful starting point for looking at the training needs of staff in teacher education.
Second, for the past two decades, teacher educators have constantly extolled the value of reflective practice. Greatly influenced by the writings of Donald Schon, teacher education has become obsessed with the notion of reflection even if the actual nature and content of that reflection remains fairly vague. Some of the accounts in Russell and Korthagen's book, however, may be regarded as exemplars of reflection in as far as they present highly analytical and self- critical accounts of practical experience. Such accounts might serve as models for student teachers, as well as for teacher educators themselves.
Collectively, these volumes, along with many other recent books, create some visions of good school-based teacher education and how it might satisfy the professional development needs of student teachers. Those in training need a gradual induction into the life of the school, they need good working relationships with a mentor who can help them understand the basis of their own and others' practice, they need to be exposed to a wide variety of experience, they need a safe unthreatening environment in which they can be encouraged to experiment, they need detailed but sympathetic feedback on their practice, and they need to be encouraged to analyse their own experience and learn from it.
The schools in which this is most likely to occur provide a supportive, collegial, team-working environment in which importance is attached to high quality teaching and the staff development implications that this necessitates. The vision of what quality school-based teacher education might look like is steadily but clearly formulating. What appears to be lacking is the time, energy and resourcing to bring it about.
James Calderhead is professor of education at the University of Bath.