Learning the Teacher Educator Profession
The pivotal role of teacher educators in preparing teachers is increasingly acknowledged by the educational field. The underlying reason is rather obvious: the preparation of qualified and competent teachers is the responsibility of teacher education institutes where teacher educators are the key players. Against this background it is surprising, from both a policy and research perspective, that the role of teacher educators has been neglected for a long time. As a response to this situation, teacher educators and their work have become an increasing field of research interest. One aspect of this research interest pertains to teacher educators’ professional learning during their work. The opportunities for them to learn their work while working as teacher educators are very important, because there is hardly any initial preparation program and only limited support for growing into the profession, for example, through an induction program (European Commission 2013). The increased awareness of the centrality of teacher educators in the whole education system has underlined their need to be engaged in professional learning.
Before being able to promote teacher educator professional learning, it is first necessary to understand their learning at the workplace. This entry therefore gives an overview of what is known about what and how teacher educators learn about their profession while working. The entry concludes with some implications for their professional learning as well as some suggestions for research on this topic. Before delving into the overview, a brief description of who teacher educators are and how they enter the profession is given first.
Recognizing the Profession of Teacher Educator
Nowadays the work of teacher educators is increasingly seen as a profession for which specific knowledge and skills are needed. Teacher educators are broadly defined as those who are responsible for the education of preservice teachers and the continuing professional development of in-service teachers. Based on a review of the literature, Lunenberg et al. (2014) distinguished six professional roles of teacher educators: teacher of teachers, researcher, coach, gatekeeper, broker, and curriculum developer. These professional roles include both teacher educators in higher education institutes and school-based teacher educators. However, these two groups of teacher educators differ considerably from each other, particularly regarding their qualifications and work expectations from their institutes and schools. In this entry, the focus is on learning by teacher educators who work in higher education institutes (i.e., colleges and universities).
There is no agreement about qualification requirements for becoming a teacher educator. In general there are two routes of entering the teacher educator profession worldwide. The first route is often called a practitioner path, a traditional way to becoming a teacher educator: experienced school teachers who leave their schools and become a teacher educator in higher education (HE), a setting that differs considerably from the schools where they used to work and developed their expertise. Such a transition is often very demanding: they often feel uncertain in their new professional role, they have to negotiate with their new institutional and cultural context, and they feel the urgent need of learning a new pedagogy of teaching adult learners. The second route is a more academic path. Currently the number of teacher educators who follow this path is increasing. They often have a Ph.D. degree in their subject, and they enter the profession in HE just like other academics do. Many of them do not have any experiences as a school teacher. They have expertise in their subject area and are familiar with the academic institutional and cultural context, but becoming a teacher educator is also challenging for them. Although they may have some experience in working with adult learners, for example, as a teaching assistant during their Ph.D. program, it is definitely not sufficient to address the double layers in teacher educators’ teaching: teaching the subject knowledge while modelling teaching behavior for student teachers. This requires them to learn the pedagogy of teacher education in a context where research, in general, is more valued than teaching. They need to develop a new professional identity of a teacher of teachers which seems to be harder for them than for teacher educators with a teaching background in schools.
Both routes described above do not adequately prepare teacher educators for the many challenges they face when starting their work as a teacher educator. Consequently, most teacher educators’ learning about their profession is strongly embedded in their everyday work and largely depends on their personal endeavors. However, they are not completely left on their own. In some countries, for example, the importance of their work is increasingly acknowledged. The associations for teacher educators in the USA and the Netherlands are examples of national attempts having initiated professional standards for teacher educators and organizing yearly professional meetings for them. The international forum for teacher educator development (InFo-TED) is an example of an attempt to provide a European network for teacher educators to learn from each other via a virtual learning platform and by face-to-face meetings. Nevertheless, most teacher educators particularly learn about their profession in their own way while working. In this context, it is relevant to know what and how teacher educators learn about their profession.
What Teacher Educators Learn About Their Profession
Three main themes can be distinguished when looking at the literature about what teacher educators learn. A first and very common theme with regard to what teacher educators learn pertains to the knowledge about the pedagogy of teacher education. This professional knowledge shapes their expertise which makes them different from teachers at school or teachers of other higher education institutes. It mainly includes the knowledge of learning about teaching and knowledge of teaching about teaching. Learning about teaching refers to the knowledge of how student teachers learn to teach, which is often defined as second-order teaching competency (e.g., Murray and Male 2005). More specifically, it includes knowledge about student teachers’ learning needs, their concerns, and their levels or stages of professional development. Teaching about teaching pertains to teacher educators’ own pedagogy: their teaching didactics and, following from that, being a role model of desired teaching behavior for student teachers. Role modelling capacities need professional knowledge and skills which teacher educators can learn to use in a systematic and effective way. There are different types of role modelling teaching behavior. One of the important role modelling capacities for teacher educators to learn is connecting exemplary teaching behavior with theory. It requires teacher educators to teach in a way that they expect their student teachers to learn and teach in their teaching; most important is to make the theoretical foundations and pedagogical reasoning behind that exemplary behavior explicit to the student teachers.
A second theme about what teacher educators learn pertains to research which is increasingly seen as an important part of their profession. For example, Loughran (2014) stated that conducting research by teacher educators could help them critically analyze their practices and understand the complexity of teaching and help them go beyond passing on the accumulated tips and tricks of classroom teaching only based on one’s own experience. By doing so, teacher educators are also modelling to student teachers that research can be very useful for developing or improving one’s teaching practice. Teacher educators’ learning or development of research expertise differs for their working contexts and are influenced by their previous backgrounds and expectations or requirements from their institutes. For instance, teacher educators with previous research experience or during their work may differ in their perceptions of the role of research in and for their work than those who hardly had any such an experience. Teacher educators without such research experience particularly learn about research methodology. Very closely related to research is that many teacher educators also learn to supervise student teachers doing practitioner research during or based on their internship.
A third theme regarding what teacher educators learn pertains to supervising or coaching student teachers. Supervisors in higher education differ in their role and work with mentors or cooperative teachers in schools. Supervision work usually includes school visits and lesson observations of student teachers and the organization of supervision meetings with them in order to monitor their progress. It may also include the assessment of student teachers’ performance throughout their internship, depending on the student teacher’s education program. Teacher educators need specific approaches and skills to engage student teachers in reflection on their own teaching and their development of a teacher identity in supervision meetings. For example, they need to learn to be patient and a good listener, how to motivate student teachers and to provide constructive directions when student teachers meet tensions or difficulties in their learning to become a teacher, and to help student teachers to make connections between their practical experiences and relevant theory. This latter is important for giving meaning to their experiences and to formulate new learning goals.
The three themes described above may not represent the whole knowledge base for teacher educators’ profession, but they are distinguished in the research literature as the ones relevant for their work and highly recognized by teacher educators themselves (Ping et al. 2018). In terms of learning and developing expertise on these themes, teacher educators engage in different ways of learning while working.
How Teacher Educators Learn About Their Profession
Most teacher educators learn and develop their expertise in a self-directed way during their work. One of their learning approaches is through studying their own practice, which is called self-study of teacher education practices (S-STEP). Self-study is a form of practitioner research, and its nature lies in collaboration. Teacher educators may work together with colleagues by focusing on one pedagogical issue they share in their practices and designing and implementing a study to understand and eventually solve that issue. Teacher educators may also invite their colleagues as critical friends to help them with examining the data and interpreting the results. Next to its collaborative nature, self-study has some fundamental characteristics; it focuses on (one’s) own practice, aims at improving practice, is small-scale and mainly qualitative in nature, and makes use of multiple methods of data collection and analysis. Doing self-study research is very attractive for teacher educators, because it puts their everyday teaching practice at the heart of their research endeavor.
Teacher educators furthermore often engage in self-initiated learning activities. A first very common activity is learning through experimenting. They purposefully try a new educational idea or a new didactic method in their teaching either based on what they have read from articles or heard from or observed with colleagues. A second activity is learning through getting input from others. They actively engage in conversations with colleagues, for example, about a difficulty a teacher educator has met in his/her teaching practice or about a new idea in the field of teacher education. Sometimes teacher educators keep contact with their previous colleagues in schools to become or remain familiar with new developments or changes taking place in schools. Teacher educators also learn from their student teachers’ ideas or feedback on their teaching. A third activity is learning through reflection. Reflective activity is accompanying teacher educators’ work, usually after each course by considering what they are (not) satisfied with. Some teacher educators also share their own reflection about a course with student teachers in order to model the importance of doing so for getting feedback from them. Reflective activities also occur in collaboration, for example, when a team of teacher educators organizes a meeting to reflect on an aspect of their work together. They also learn from working together, for example, when co-preparing and co-teaching a lesson.
The abovementioned self-directed learning activities are rooted in and stem from teacher educators’ everyday teaching practices. Next to that, there is an increasing trend in providing more formal support of teacher educator learning in several countries. In Israel, for example, the MOFET Institute is a national inter-collegial center for supporting teacher educators with their professional development. It provides different communal learning opportunities for teacher educators to come and learn together about one specific topic with the support of a facilitator; the writing community is an example of this aiming at providing support to those who want to write and publish books and academic papers. In Belgium, for example, teacher educators from different institutes are encouraged to join a professional network at a regional level and learn and work together on curriculum development and innovation in teacher education. The Association of Teacher Educators in the Netherlands (VELON) has a registration procedure for teacher educators. To become registered, teacher educators have to meet professional standards based on self-reflection from their own teaching practice and demonstrating that in a portfolio. In Norway, the Ministry of Education and Research has started a program for providing extra research support and supervision to teacher educators who have been accepted into a doctoral program at a university. In Finland, teacher educators develop knowledge and competency through engagement in research projects. All these examples from different countries illustrate some initiatives for providing formal opportunities for supporting teacher educator professional learning. Teacher education institutes themselves also organize workshops or seminars for supporting their teacher educators’ professionalization.
What teacher educators learn during and for their profession covers diverse themes and depends on the professional roles and tasks they are responsible for. What seems to be shared by teacher educators is their need for a knowledge base regarding the pedagogy of teacher education. This knowledge needs to be flexible in nature in order to respond to teacher educators’ different contexts and tasks. How teacher educators learn their profession is mainly self-directed and largely depends on their personal initiatives. Some countries have already taken initial steps toward providing formal opportunities for supporting teacher educators’ professional learning. This support differs and makes clear that a traditional “one-size-fits-all” support across countries is not desirable. However, there are some essential aspects that countries share in teacher educators’ need for support, such as support with a close focus on teacher educators’ teaching practice, support by learning in a community, and having a mentor for providing support in the beginning of their work as teacher educator. Providing formal opportunities for teacher educators to learn their profession seems to be necessary given their responsibility for educating teachers in an area that demands much from teachers.
Based on what is known about what and how teacher educators learn about their profession, some suggestions for future research on the topic of teacher educator professional learning might be the following. Teacher educators have diverse professional roles and, consequently, diverse learning needs as well. More and deeper insight into each of these professional roles as well as how these roles are associated with professional learning themes such as those described above may help to formulate a more explicit and widely acknowledged knowledge base for the profession of teacher educator based on research. Though the significance of professional learning by teacher educators is clear, the effectiveness of their learning on student teachers’ learning about teaching and learning to become a teacher lacks research evidence. Insights into such an effect might also help to better support teacher educators in learning and doing their work. Given that research largely centers on the learning of teacher educators in higher education institutes, more research attention needs to be paid to school-based teacher educators as well; though they are doing important work as teacher educators in schools, not much is known yet about what and how they learn this work.
- European Commission. (2013). Supporting teacher educators for better learning outcomes. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar