In defence of holistic initial teacher education in English.

NATE ITE Statement:

 

Initial Teacher Education for Secondary English

 

The most fitting preparation for English teaching in our schools, combining broad educational and teacher-training elements, is one based on partnership between higher education and school-based English departments. There is scope here for genuine cross-fertilization and collaborative activity, beneficial to both parties and, especially, to beginning teachers themselves.

 

 

This declaration of values comes at a time when there are immense pressures to divorce preparation for teaching from its philosophical and intellectual context in favour of a purely school-centred training model. It raises several key questions:

 

  • What is the role of teacher educators in higher education and in schools?
  • What sort of contribution is made by higher education to partnerships?
  • How do student teachers benefit from the partnership model?
  • How is intellectual learning enhanced throughout the partnerships and beyond?

 

Central here is the sense that the development of effective and imaginative teaching is not merely a series of skills acquired solely in the context of the school classroom, however well supported or frequently observed by other teachers. In effect this would amount to a training model, whereas we are arguing for a fully educative process – not in opposition to the necessary training, but as complementary to it. As for all forms of education, preparation for teaching – and, for that matter, subsequent continuing professional development – depends significantly on being a part of a wider community of teachers and learners. It is, or should be, a fully social process, and the fuller the better. Whereas the community of the school itself is crucial here, giving access to the professional skills and the immediate social contexts of effective teaching, there are also other vitally important communities to which beginning teachers need access:

 

·         a variety of schools, including some from different phases;

·         the community of the student-teacher subject-based group, often close-knit;

·         the community of student-teacher interdisciplinary groupings;

·         the academic and research community of higher education;

·         the network of subject-based associations.

 

In the fostering of these supportive yet challenging communities, and in the twin projects of making intelligent connections between them and of providing an appropriately questioning context out of which to make sense of them, there is, it seems to us, a crucial role for higher education.

 

 

We maintain that such a position, based on schools-HEI partnerships, ensures an enhanced sense of continuity and personal / professional development over time, through immersion and active involvement in the communities outlined. At the same time, there is the potential for the cultivation of a professionally reflective (and potentially illuminating) perspective provided by the higher education context. The implications are many and varied:

 

  • the development of an ever fuller community of teachers and learners with professional and personal links to the HEI, as student teachers become teachers and, frequently, mentors themselves;
  • the opportunity to assess quality of student teachers’ development across a broad range of criteria and through a variety of approaches, including observation of teaching, written assignments, seminars, workshops and presentations;
  • the space to develop and use positively beginning teachers’ previous experiences and subject-knowledge bases - both increasingly wide-ranging;
  • the diagnostic opportunity to observe, analyse and practise a wide range of teaching methods, learning resources and schemes of work and the scope for appraisal of such ideas and methods by self, peers and tutors;
  • the increasingly important possibility of continued, accredited, professional development at higher-degree level;
  • the scope and confidence to instigate and cultivate multi-layered approaches to teaching and learning in providing the security to question educational orthodoxies;
  • a mediating and interpreting role regarding the activities, pronouncements and recommendations from official and unofficial educational bodies.

Effectively, then, we argue here for a triangular partnership involving schools, HEIs, and beginning teachers; each plays a vital part, and each is essential if we are to safeguard and develop good practice in English, and indeed all, teaching and learning.


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