Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Beyond Our Differences: A Reassembling of What Matters in Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Beyond Our Differences: A Reassembling of What Matters in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

What is teacher education really about? On the surface, it would appear that teacher educators and reformers of teacher education agree on what it means to prepare teachers (Valli & Rennert-Ariev, 2000). However, when it comes to the structure and substance of programs, affiliations with different traditions in teacher education clearly cause tension among us. Moreover, we sometimes seem to lose sight of what I argue is our primary role: ensuring that our students are able to produce high-quality learning outcomes for all of their students. In this article, I present a framework for unifying teacher educators that is based on what happens in classrooms. This framework places pedagogy (used broadly here to refer to what takes place in classrooms and other teaching sites) at the core of the teacher education enterprise and has implications for both what we emphasize to students in teacher education programs (our curricula) and how we go about our own teaching (our pedagogy). I argue that without such a framework, existing differences among teacher educators will continue to seriously compromise not only efforts at reform but also the very quality and coherence of our programs.

A decade ago, Liston and Zeichner (1991) deplored the marginality of social reconstructionist approaches to teacher education. They suggested that conceptual proposals for social reconstructionist teacher education were rarely translated into practice and described the marginal status of such approaches as "one of the most critical issues that needs to be addressed by ... reform-minded teacher educators" (p. 34). Today, critical perspectives on education and teacher education hold a stronger place alongside other perspectives as recognized and legitimate ways to think about research, practice, and policy in education. For instance, they appear to be more visible and prevalent in a wide range of education journals and seem to take up more space at academic conferences. Although still marginal in terms of broad impact on programs or practice, perspectives such as those derived from critical theory, critical pedagogy, feminist theory, and race theory have certainly had an impact on educational discourse. Discourses of empowerment, diversity, and equity are now widespread. Indeed, critical concerns have been embraced or at least appropriated to the extent that it is now rare to find educational policies or programs that do not make reference to attending to diversity, teaching for equality, and so on.

This commonality at the level of discourse is, however, deceptive in at least two ways. First, as critical concerns have been normalized within educational discourse, they have also been modified and in many cases watered down. For example, diversity has come to mean giving special attention to groups characterized as everything from low socioeconomic status groups to gifted and talented groups. Recent statements of teacher standards or requirements tend to avoid any hierarchy of differences, instead treating them within the one broad slogan of diversity. Consider the following statement from a recent Australian document on standards for graduates of teacher education programs:

   Diversity includes cultural and linguistic diversity of learners and their
   communities, learners who have learning difficulties or impairments, who
   are identified as gifted and talented, differences between the sexes, and
   the range of settings including different school and sector types, and
   schools in rural and isolated areas. (Australian Council of Deans of
   Education [ACDE], 1998, p. 11)

Critical educational theory's concerns with equity, originally limited to class, gender, and race and later extended to other disadvantaged or nondominant social groups, are diminished in this broadening. That is, broad-based notions of equity do not meet the structural concerns for equity that are characteristic of critical theory, instead relying on individualistic notions of maximizing potential. …

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