Quality Teaching and Teacher Education: A Kaleidoscope of Notions

Article excerpt

For generations, the kaleidoscope has captivated children and adults alike. The kaleidoscope viewer puts one end of the tube to her eye, points the other toward a light source, then rotates the tube, producing colorful symmetrical patterns formed by the tiny, tumbling objects inside. Beautiful though they are, these patterns are evanescent, disappearing with the twist of the wrist. The kaleidoscope maker cannot predict what patterns might emerge from the individual bits of colored glass, beads, or stones placed inside the tube. We believe that it is not too great a stretch to suggest that teacher educators are similar to kaleidoscope makers. Teacher educators put together programs of course work and experiences with the goal of educating teachers whose knowledge, skills, and habits of mind will intermingle to create pleasing patterns of practice called quality teaching. Unfortunately, neither decades of research nor volumes of policy documents on quality teaching and teacher education have yielded a definitive way to make those patterns consistent across contexts with different students, teachers, subject matter, and curricula, among other characteristics.

It is generally assumed that quality teaching plays a major, if not the most important, role in shaping students' academic performances (Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002). It is further assumed that quality teaching is sorely needed, but lacking especially in urban school contexts, in order to help close achievement gaps and level the educational playing field for marginalized groups (Banks et al., 2005; Hollins & Guzman, 2005). These assumptions about quality teaching form a significant part of the conceptual base that has been driving the reform of teaching over the past 20 years and are evident in influential teaching reform and policy documents, legislation, and curriculum and teaching standards.

These teaching reforms, in turn, are shaped by and shape the direction of teacher education and professional development through policy making and the development of standards for program accreditation, coalition and alignment of state-level teacher education policies, interstate policy and assessment consortia, and the certification of effective teachers. Teaching reforms are also influenced by and influence teacher education practice at the classroom level through images of teaching projected by various professional organizations in specific subject content areas, such as mathematics and literacy.

Such reform policy and initiatives in teaching and teacher education may lead people to think that there is a unified image of quality teaching and a particular reform target. However, upon closer examination, there appears to be an uneven understanding of, and an assortment of notions related to, quality teaching and teacher education. It is not always clear what quality teaching means nor how it works--a problem that deserves further conceptual and empirical exploration.

Three Perspectives on Quality Teaching

In the existing literature, teaching quality is neither a widely agreed upon nor uniformly accepted concept. Instead, it is defined very differently or is grounded in different assumptions. These differences can be seen in at least three perspectives associated with teachers' cognitive resources, their performance, and their effect (Kennedy, 2008). Empirical support for the conception of quality teaching for each of these is often weak, inconsistent, or even contradictory.

Quality teaching from a cognitive resource perspective is related to the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions teachers bring into the profession. From this perspective, we can trace several notions that appear central to policy debates related to teaching.

First, quality teaching is linked to one's competence as demonstrated on academic and professional tests, and such competence is presumably one of the central predictors for how effective a teacher becomes. …