Who are teacher educators? What are their professional and academic backgrounds? What kinds of work do they do in departments of education within universities? What kind of induction do they have into academia? And how can this occupational group best develop their skills and understanding as both university academics and practitioners?
These, and many other questions, are discussed in the 3rd edition of Becoming a Teacher Educator: Guidelines for academic induction, an open access resource published today, 25 March 2021. The resource provides guidance to support university-based teacher educators in the early years of appointment to their new roles. It is designed to help academics ‘self-manage’ all aspects of induction and the start of their career-long professional learning.
The occupational group of teacher educators is often defined as all who contribute formally to the learning and development of teachers, whether through initial or continuing teacher education programmes. This work is crucial for maintaining – and improving – the high quality of the teaching workforce; in turn, that has a significant impact upon the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Good quality academic induction and high-quality professional learning are therefore vital for teacher educators. The guidelines directly address the learning and development of university-based teacher educators, although they also have relevance for other teacher educators working in schools or colleges and for those senior staff creating and implementing professional learning programmes.
Teacher educators usually come into academia after sustained careers as teachers in schools. This practical experience of teaching is often highly valued in university-based teacher education, as are the experiences of educational consultancy or school leadership which these ‘first’ careers may have provided. It is, however, rare for teacher educators to enter the university with completed doctorates or sustained experience of research.
Teacher educators are employed by universities on different types of contracts, sometimes including short-term, casual or teaching-only roles. This alone means that there are diverse roles, work patterns and expectations for teacher educators, often within the same teacher education department in any given university. Roles may include some combination of the following: teaching and student support (e.g., mentoring or coaching work); assessing student teachers’ ‘fitness to teach’; advanced scholarship and research activity; academic administration (e.g., contributing to module or programme leadership); and liaison with schools, including brokering partnerships or education consultancies.
Research shows that newly appointed teacher educators bring valuable expertise from their ‘first’ careers in schools to their ‘second’ in higher education, but they can also face considerable challenges in terms of accessing effective professional learning in universities. To outsiders, the move from school teacher to university-based teacher educator may look like a simple transition from one work location to another and from teaching children to teaching adults, but research clearly indicates that the change is significant and, if unsupported by effective induction provision, may result in professional stress and anxiety. The old induction approach of ‘throwing in at the deep end’ and expecting the novice to thrive is clearly misguided. And admittedly, many universities are now improving the way that they support the induction of all newly appointed academics, often requiring, for example, completion of a postgraduate qualification for teaching in higher education. For teacher educators, however, there is still considerable space for improvement.
The areas of challenge for new teacher educators during their early professional learning can be summarised as follows:
- Developing a pedagogy for teacher education, particularly learning how to teach adults who are intending or serving school teachers;
- Becoming aware of student teachers’ learning and progression patterns;
- Building knowledge of the curricula for pre- and in-service teacher education programmes, and moving into active curriculum developer roles;
- Understanding the ‘gate keeper’ roles which teacher educators have as ‘guardians’ of the teaching profession and the assessment procedures within these roles;
- Developing the advanced scholarship which necessarily informs and underpins all aspects of teacher education programmes;
- Increasing knowledge and understanding of the cultural and professional norms and expectations of the higher education contexts in which they now work;
- Moving, over time, as required, to becoming active producers of research, through doctoral study or team work with more experienced colleagues.
- If required, generating income and research impact through consultancy work with schools.
The ‘Becoming a Teacher Educator’ guidelines are designed to help new teacher educators to address all these challenges by first determining and then self-managing their learning needs. The guidelines include discussions on co-ordinating a variety of types of learning including formal induction provision from the central university, departmental courses, available support structures such as mentoring, and the many rich opportunities available through well managed, informal workplace learning alongside more experienced colleagues. Throughout, the guidelines stress the individual’s agency in developing a personalised learning programme for more effective learning.
Professor Pete Boyd
Institute of Education
Learning, Education & Development Research Centre
Professor Jean Murray
Professor of education emeritus at the School of Education and Communities, University of East London
Dr Liz White
School of Education