Challenges Enacting Caring Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Caring is widely believed to be a central facet of teaching. Kohl (1984), for example, asserted that "a teacher has an obligation to care about every student" (p. 66). Rogers & Webb (1991) insisted that "good teachers care, and good teaching is inextricably linked to specific acts of caring" (p. 174). This holds true regardless of the age of the learners: Scholars have argued for the importance of caring teaching in work with students in early childhood educational settings (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), elementary schools (Charney, 1991), secondary schools (Noddings, 1992), and higher education (Thayer-Bacon & Bacon, 1996). Caring's power has been documented across all subject areas. In the past decade, journal articles have described the importance of caring in the teaching of mathematics (Robicheaux, 1996), science (Sickle & Spector, 1996), social studies (Alter, 1995), language arts (Lamme & McKinley, 1992), and educational technology (Damarin, 1994).

Preservice teachers generally enter their professional preparation experiences confident about their ability to care for their students (Weinstein, 1998). However, like all of the skills, attitudes, and dispositions required to teach well, caring is not always as easy as it may look to novices. Researchers have found preservice teachers struggling with issues related to caring teaching during their field experiences. For example, both Weinstein (1998) and McLaughlin (1991) documented preservice teachers wrestling with the tension between caring and control. Bullough and Knowles (1991) and Burgess and Carter (1992) discussed the challenges faced as preservice teachers con front the mismatch between their view of teaching as similar to motherly nurturing and the realities of teaching in their field-placement classrooms.

To prepare teachers who will be able to draw on caring to build a strong foundation for their professional practices, we must create teacher education programs specifically focused toward this goal (Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990). As Arnstine (1990) said, "If teacher educators want to further the aims of caring ... in schooling, then the means must be the cultivation of appropriate activities in the teacher education program" (p. 244). Teacher educators do not need to teach preservice teachers how to care; however, we do need to help them understand the role of caring in teaching and prepare them to teach in ways that draw on the power of caring relationships in teaching and learning.

Arnstine (1990) suggested two educational experiences that could be incorporated into a teacher education program designed to prepare caring teachers: participation in collaborative learning communities and activities that link theory to practice. Service learning (Swick, 1999) and narrative case studies (Rosiek, 1994) have also been put forth as activities appropriate for care-centered teacher education. In this article, we examine in close detail the use of another potentially appropriate activity, dialogue journals, in a teacher education course taught by the first author of this article, henceforth referred to as Lisa.

The dialogue journal activity that is the focus of this article was selected as a central feature of Lisa's course because it responds to Nel Noddings's (1986) call for dialogue and confirmation as key features of caring teacher education. Because of this apparent alignment, we were surprised to find the intended outcomes of the activity--preservice teachers developing richer understandings of the relationship of caring and teaching and growing in professional capability and confidence--were not broadly achieved. Quite unexpectedly, the dialogue journals revealed some preservice teachers developing negative, judgmental, and adversarial attitudes toward the parents of the children in their placement classrooms.

In this article, we offer a close examination of the dialogue journal activity, which reveals that the weak link was not the activity itself but the specific details of the teaching-learning interactions occurring within the activity. …