In-Service Teacher Education
In-service teacher education fits broadly under the category of teacher professional development. Teacher professional development can be divided into two branches – (1) in-service teacher education and (2) professional learning communities. In-service teacher education is usually formal in nature with courses or programs offered and accredited by universities or other institutes of learning. Unlike preservice teacher education that aims to prepare inexperienced individuals to teach in classrooms, in-service teacher education is specifically catered to practicing teachers with practical experiences in the classrooms. One of the objectives for in-service teacher education is to ensure currency of knowledge that teachers have in their field of practice. These knowledges can include subject matter knowledge, knowledge of and about latest pedagogical methods, and knowledge about policies and reforms.
Teaching is a complex activity that changes with the demands of the society and the world at large. These changes in societal needs and education reforms suggest that teachers’ knowledge needs to be constantly updated and innovations in teachers’ practices need to keep pace with changes. Further, the rapid rate of change in scientific and technological advancement suggests that the shelf-life of knowledge that an individual possesses is shortened. Hence, constant updating and upgrading is a necessity. As such, in some countries, there is legislation on the renewal of teaching certificates/accreditation. The legislation requires in-service teachers to be involved in some form of formal professional development so that they are kept abreast of changes in the educational landscape. Even in the absence of formal legislation of teaching certification, in-service teachers are also encouraged to attend some form of professional development courses. For example, in Singapore, in-service teachers have an entitlement to 100 h of professional development to enable the in-service teachers to stay relevant and current in their practice.
Forms of In-Service Teacher Education
Short-term in-service courses offered by universities or colleges of education. The function of these courses is to introduce and revise with in-service teachers concepts and practices that have changed. For instance, in the last 10 years, knowledge in the area of techniques for isolation of molecules have increased exponentially and hence, in-service teachers need to be updated about these latest techniques and how to use them. Further, with the growth of information technology, in-service teachers also need to be informed how they can potentially exploit the affordances of technology to enhance their classroom practices. These short-term courses are usually conducted with specific domain learning outcomes and take the form of a single workshop that can last between 12 and 36 h. In-service teachers are usually awarded certificates of participation or proficiency when they attend these courses.
Mid-length in-service courses are those courses which last 2–4 weeks. Not unlike the short-term courses described above, these mid-length courses are also aimed at informing teachers of the latest development and changes in educational policies or domain knowledge. Unlike the short-term courses, these mid-length courses are usually structured in such a way that will allow the participating in-service teachers to trial some of the ideas from the courses in their classrooms and to be able to share the outcomes of their enactment. These courses are usually conducted concurrently with the school academic term so that trial implementation is made possible. These mid-length in-service courses are more agentic for in-service teachers as there are opportunities for them to contribute to the knowledge pool of the course. As such, there are also opportunities for in-service teachers to form themselves into professional communities of practice (see Lave and Wenger 1998) through these courses.
On the other end of the spectrum are longer-term in-service courses leading to formal accreditation such as a master’s or doctor of philosophy graduate degree. These long-term in-service teacher education courses are usually offered by colleges of education or tertiary education institutions with graduate schools. This form of in-service education functions to fulfil the needs of in-service teachers who like to specialize in a particular area of their practices. For instance, an in-service teacher working with children requiring special needs may find it meaningful to pursue a master’s degree program specializing in understanding and helping students with special needs. This form of in-depth study will likely increase the knowledge, practice, and professionalism of the teacher. These forms of in-service teacher education will usually require the in-service teachers to go back to school formally, and learning usually takes the form of lectures, laboratory exercises, group discussions, and readings. In many graduate programs, the in-service teacher participants are usually also required to be involved in some form of critical inquiry of their practices. Depending on the demands of legislation, societal needs, and changes in domain knowledge, the frequency and forms of in-service teacher education will vary from country to country and even within the same country.
Issues with In-Service Teacher Education
There are many issues which in-service teacher education researchers and policy makers are faced. Firstly, it is often difficult to track and measure the impact of various forms of in-service teacher education (Day 1997) and how they contribute to changing/improving the practices of teachers. The causal relationship between in-service teacher education and teacher change is difficult to establish, and hence, in-service teacher education providers find it difficult to evaluate the impact of the courses. Secondly, while in-service teacher education is important and is encouraged, taking teachers out of the classrooms results in the loss of curriculum contact time with students. This disrupts the routine and the learning of the students. As such, schools and the education system as a whole need to think of ways to provide in-service teachers with learning opportunities that result in minimum disruption to school life. In general, the in-service teacher education community needs to develop more robust means to evaluate and assess impact of in-service teacher education on both short-term as well as long-term programs and relate these to the improvements in teachers’ practices and their contributions to improving educational outcomes. Systematic tracking of in-service teacher education (e.g., in the form of a personal portfolio) either for personal development or for career advancement will help.