Filling gaps and expanding spaces – voices of student teachers on their developing teacher identity
It has often been said that any student engagement that is poorly monitored during teaching practice (TP) will not necessarily contribute much to their professional development and teacher identity. This applies specifically to initial undergraduate teacher training. This concern became the main focus of the study on which this article is reporting, as part of a broader project – FIRE (Fourth-year Initiative for Research in Education), which commenced in 2015. We wanted to determine how we could complement a community of practice engagement by using Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) as intervention that could eventually contribute to the development of student teachers’ teacher identity during teaching practice. This article reports on the outcomes of a study conducted on a sample of 2,309 final-year student teachers between 2015 and 2017 at a tertiary institution in Pretoria. Data were generated by participating student teachers during three-hour, on-campus workshops approximately a quarter of the way into their teaching practice. They were required to respond to a single question by addressing how student teachers perceive the roles of expert teachers in terms of their curriculum and subject knowledge, their expertise in teaching and learning, caring and providing learner support, and the managerial and professional skills of teachers. The results confirmed that PRA is a dynamic research and data collection strategy to create networks through which participants can benchmark their experiences against peers and other stakeholders. Furthermore, it is again confirmed that traditional TP experiences often fail to expose student teachers adequately to the full dynamics of the educational landscape, as certain interactions and activities are conflict-dependent, and only emerge when opposing and conflicting forces create imbalances and inequity. PRA drew our attention to serious flaws in our teacher training programmes, urging a reassessment of the objectives and actions of TP.
Keywords: community of practice; participatory reflection and action; subject methodology; teacher identity; teaching practice