Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Against Boldness

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Against Boldness

Article excerpt

This special issue, "Bold Ideas for a New Era in Teacher Education, Teacher Preparation, and Teacher Practice," seeks to examine the impact of bold ideas on our field. Authors were asked to propose particular bold ideas that they wanted to examine. I proposed to examine the concept of bold ideas itself. In this article, I challenge the notion that boldness is an inherently good thing. I am not arguing against any of the particular examples of bold ideas offered in this special issue, rather I argue against the pursuit of boldness per se.

We live in a complex interconnected world where actors and institutions can have numerous intentional or unintentional influences on one another. The practices we devise as teachers, teacher educators, or researchers reflect our responses to a wide range of considerations as we try to accommodate a variety of interests, rules, and circumstances. Teachers must accommodate their colleagues and principals, as well as a variety of rules promulgated by their school and their district and rules imposed by multiple state and federal institutions. They must accommodate the varied and idiosyncratic needs of their students and their students' parents. They accommodate the space they are given, the materials they are given, and the scheduling constraints they are given. They may also accommodate, or at least tolerate, helpful interventions by well-meaning businesses or other community groups, all trying to help schools but at the same time imposing new constraints on them.

Managing this complex web of interests, rules, constraints, and expectations is no simple feat. But that is not all that teachers must contend with. Even in their moment-to-moment activity they are cognizant of multiple and often conflicting goals: They want to foster learning, of course, but they also want to maintain harmonious relations within the classroom, encourage their more shy students and discourage their more boisterous ones, finish class on time, get through some set of pages in their textbook, and make the whole thing interesting for students (Kennedy, 2004). Adding to this difficulty is the fact that the many goals we hold for teaching are contradictory. They cannot all be met; for often the solution to one problem is the cause of another. Teachers balance the needs of individuals against the needs of the group, the need for thought with the need for activity, the need for review with the need to add new material.

Teacher education programs are similarly compromised, for they must accommodate the rules and customs of their academic institutions and of the content area programs on their campuses (for a history of this tension, see Labaree, 2008), not to mention their state education agencies, their accreditation agencies, their alumni, and their students. Like teachers, their practices reflect negotiated compromises among varying interests, constraints, and regulations. And, like teachers, they hold numerous and conflicting ideals. They balance the need to give teachers tools for immediate survival with the need to give them the analytic skills needed to continue to grow and develop over time. They balance the need to provide knowledge of student learning with the need to provide knowledge of content. They balance the need to instill professional knowledge and skill with the need to instill a sense of social responsibility. They want their future teachers to understand their own students as well as the subjects they teach, to have strong enough personalities to organize and manage classroom life, but also to have a view about the role of schools in society and about their own potential to contribute to a better society. We have so many persistent and intractable dilemmas in teacher education that the most recent handbook on teacher education was organized around enduring questions rather than around the latest answers (Cochran-Smith, Feiman-Nemser, & McIntyre, 2008).

These complex and multifaceted circumstances are burdensome for both teachers and teacher educators, not only because the circumstances themselves are difficult to navigate but also because people who choose to go into teaching or teacher education tend to be, by nature, idealistic people. …

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