What messages about teacher professionalism are transmitted through South African pre-service teacher education programmes?
Promoting teacher professionalism is regarded as a strategy to address the disparate quality of learning in South African classrooms. Through a qualitative analysis of initial teacher education (ITE) programmes offered by five universities, this paper analyses the messages of teacher professionalism transmitted to pre-service teachers. Findings show that professionalism in teaching is variously conveyed to pre-service teachers as being located in their personal appearance and attributes; within their personal morals and shared ethical imperatives; in the kinds of workplace relationships they build, and in their use of formal knowledge for reasoned judgment in practice. The Specialisation Dimension of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) (Maton, 2014) is used to show that when teacher professionalism is presented as highly individualised traits, the possibilities of developing shared knowledge-based teaching practices is reduced, and the importance of conceptually-informed judgments is obscured. This shuts down possibilities for systemic improvement. Conversely, if teacher professionalism is primarily located in what teachers know and can do with that knowledge, the social, moral and affective dimensions of teaching are underemphasised. Ideally, approaches to teacher professionalism ought to introduce students to teaching as a communally-owned practice, based on shared knowledge that enables reasoned judgment. The paper draws on the conceptual tools offered by LCT to suggest how social and epistemic relations can be weakened and strengthened to enhance the construct of teacher professionalism offered to prospective teachers through their ITE programmes.
Keywords: learning to teach; Legitimation Code Theory; professional; professionalisation; teacher education; teacher knowledge; teacher professionalism