Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Examining the Mismatch between Learner-Centered Teaching and Teacher-Centered Supervision

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Examining the Mismatch between Learner-Centered Teaching and Teacher-Centered Supervision

Article excerpt

Another meeting about supervision of student teachers. Another round of wrestling with the contradictions between the ways we teach our curriculum and foundations courses and the ways we supervise our student teachers. Our program focuses on preparing students to develop learner-centered classrooms and to internalize a reflective, inquiring stance toward teaching and learning. This focus on developing a learner-centered critical rationality stands in sharp contrast to a technical rationality that emphasizes the uncritical performance of generalizable teaching strategies and that pervades most professional education (Schon, 1987). The critical rationality (Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1987; Zeichner, 1996) we seek assumes a constructivist view that professional knowledge, of necessity, is constructed and reconstructed by observant, reflective, decision-making teachers in response to their messy, unpredictable, and unique contexts (Connelly & Clandinin, 1985; Cornbleth, 1989; Dudley-Marling, 1997; McDonald, 1992). It is a view that focuses squarely on the perceptions, thinking, and actions of the learner--whether the student as learner or the teacher as learner. We strive to model this stance in our own teaching.

Yet, when it comes to student teaching supervision, we have been bound by practices that assume teacher-centered instruction, focus on the evaluation of teachers' observable behaviors (Nolan & Francis, 1992), and grant authority to the perceptions of the supervisor/teacher over the experiences of the student teacher/learner. These inconsistencies serve only to confuse our student teachers and validate rather than challenge the teacher-centered assumptions most bring with them to the program. "Don't come to observe me today," they say when they are planning individual writing conferences with children or organizing and supervising small group investigations. "I won't be teaching today."

As we faced these contradictions in our work with our students, we recognized that we, too, were observed and evaluated in a similarly teacher-centered fashion for reappointment and promotion. Our teaching performances are typically observed for one class period, then described against a fairly standard set of expectations that assume a teacher-centered philosophy and classroom structure. Organization and clarity of presentations are noted, and the communication of and adherence to schedules and predetermined assignments are considered. The observer produces a written report that provides his or her description and assessment of what transpired. The process is not sensitive to the learner-centered goals, activities, and structures that are central to our teaching. It does not recognize our efforts to encourage learners to take initiative and responsibility for their learning. It does not account for the fact that we coconstruct much of what transpires in our classes with our students. Nor does it help us advance our own thinking about our teaching. In a twist on the student teacher's plea above, one of us found a former colleague reluctant to observe our decidedly student-centered class. "I came to your door several times," he explained, "but left when I saw that you weren't teaching."

Clearly, neither our need to maintain continuity between our courses and our student teaching supervision nor our needs as developing professionals were being met. We both entered this particular meeting with these frustrations weighing heavily. We met to discuss an article by Sui-Runyon (1995) that described an approach to supervision that attends to learners' behaviors and perceptions as well as the teacher's and gives equal attention to the physical context and culture of the classroom. It provided the catalyst we needed to stretch our thinking beyond the lesson as the unit of analysis and observation as the primary source of data and to expand our conception of the roles and relationships of the participants. In the spirit of critical inquiry, we set out to address the contradictions between what we profess and what we do. …

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