Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Revisiting and Revising the Apprenticeship of Observation

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Revisiting and Revising the Apprenticeship of Observation

Article excerpt

Schempp (1989), like many researchers of teacher education, characterized Lortie's (1975) construct of the apprenticeship of observation--what people learn about teaching from having been students in school--as fundamentally conservative. In this conception students are exposed largely to teacher-and-text-centered pedagogies, a cycle that repeats itself across generations of teachers. Sitting in classrooms provides socialization into established traditions that in turn frame teachers' beliefs about what schooling should be like. To Schempp and many other educational researchers, by being acculturated into orthodox schooling, prospective teachers have a difficult time imagining alternatives to what they experienced as students: teachers taking a frontal position (Goodlad, 1984) and authoritative role in transmitting to students a cultural heritage curriculum, and assessing students on their ability to recall it for tests.

Lortie (1975) invited such interpretation through his own characterization of the phenomenon. Students, he said, see teachers "front stage and center like an audience viewing a play," thus learning about teaching in a manner that is "intuitive and imitative"--learned implicitly through osmosis--rather than through "explicit and analytical" instruction in teaching methods that are presumably different from those learned through uncritical observation (p. 62). Buchman (1987) describes these conventional "folkways of teaching" as "ready-made recipes for action and interpretation that do not require testing or analysis while promising familiar, safe results" (p. 161). These "default options" from one's apprenticeship of observation provide a set of reliable strategies that teachers can fall back on when they are uncertain about how to proceed pedagogically.

This predominant conception of the apprenticeship of observation views one's socialization to teaching through conservative schooling as fixed and impenetrable, impervious to change. In this study of preservice teacher candidates (TCs) prior to student teaching, we find that these assumptions are problematic. In contrast to describing their teachers as exclusively authoritarian, the teachers in our study named a variety of teaching models from both the conservative and progressive pedagogical traditions, reflecting on and critiquing teachers from their past and projecting visions of their own teaching according to largely constructivist principles.

To investigate the construct of the apprenticeship of observation in the experiences of students from three programs housed in two research universities, we inquired with the following questions:

1. Separated by program attended, to what areas of schooling (Pre-K/elementary, secondary, college) did the participants in the three programs studied (Southwestern Elementary Education, Southwestern Secondary English Education, Southeastern Secondary English Education) attribute their positive and negative experiences with teachers; what balance did their characterizations indicate about the relative influence of positive vs. negative examples; and what trends were evident in the levels of schooling most frequently invoked to characterize their positive and negative experiences with teachers?

2. In interviews prompting participants to describe their apprenticeships of observation in their K-16 education, how did the preservice teachers characterize good and bad teachers from their past?

3. What conceptions of teaching did the preservice teachers claim to aspire toward based on their apprenticeships of observation?

Theoretical Framework

Lortie (1975) used the term apprenticeship of observation to describe the thousands of hours that people spend in classrooms as students before entering teacher education programs. These experiences suggest to prospective teachers what schooling should properly look like. With this pervasive acculturation to education, people enter teaching with deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions about the conduct of school that are difficult to replace during the year or so that they spend exposed to progressive pedagogies in their teacher education courses. …

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