|The MUSTER Synthesis Report - Researching Teacher Education: New Perspectives on Practice, Performance and Policy (CIE, 2003, 237 p.)|
|CHAPTER 10: INSIGHTS FROM MUSTER AND WAYS FORWARD|
The first set of questions, which are addressed in Chapter 4, concern the characteristics of those becoming teachers. We have tried to capture both biographical data on new entrants to training and insights into the images they have of teaching and being a teacher. The backgrounds and dispositions of trainees have implications for selection, the design and realisation of teacher education curricula, and for the induction of NQTs into the teaching profession. In summary some general themes that emerge from the data are outlined below.
First, in two of the countries the median age of entrants to teacher education is relatively high, as a result of recruitment practices that enrol untrained teachers. These adult learners have had a gap since leaving school, often have family experience and responsibilities, and have experience of teaching in more or less professionally supportive environments. The training needs of those with this kind of experience are likely to be different to those entering straight from school. MUSTER data suggests that prior experience is rarely recognised explicitly in training curricula or in College transactions.
Second, the majority of entrants in all the countries come from family backgrounds where the cultural and academic capital they bring with them to the training experience is constrained. Many are from households with low levels of parental education and non-professional livelihoods. Perhaps predictably disproportionate numbers do have relatives who are teachers. This may be an advantage - some of the realities and possibilities of teaching should be known to such students; it might also be a disadvantage - the demonstration effects provided by family members who are teachers may present the most compelling role models whatever the college curriculum tries to promote and these may or may not be consistent with new pedagogic aspirations. Trainees who are themselves from impoverished backgrounds may be closer to the children they teach culturally and linguistically, than those from professional backgrounds. Methods of training must recognise the range of trainees' backgrounds and develop curricula which recognise the mix of good and poor quality schooling trainees themselves have experienced, the extent to which trainees have developed effective study skills, and the variety of personal and practical competencies that they bring to training.
Third, the academic level of many entrants is weak. Many have the minimal qualifications necessary for entrance and are unlikely to have secure grounding in core subjects. Low academic achievement in the medium of instruction (in all cases English) is very worrying. None of the teacher education curricula in the countries makes special provision for upgrading language fluency, or for that matter working with pupils in a multi-lingual environment where linguistic code-switching is likely to be common. In most cases simply raising minimum entry qualifications for language or other core subjects would reduce the numbers of qualified entrants and exacerbate supply problems. This suggests that more appropriate strategies may include bridging programmes (to raise the academic achievement prior to entry), and/or enrichment of college curricula to recognise needs for language and subject upgrading from low levels.
Fourth, trainees often do have well-developed images of good primary teachers which focus typically on the personal and affective aspects of the role, rather than methods of effective teaching and learning of content. Many refer to role models exemplified by successful teachers they experienced as pupils. These provide powerful images to aspire towards. Often these models resonate with modes of teaching which are essentially transmission-based, and which stress ordered learning of knowledge and conventional teacher-centred classroom organisation. These images can be contrasted with those found in some teacher education curricula we have analysed which promote more reflective and child-centred (rather than knowledge-centred) methods of teaching, often in response to the aspirations of reformed primary curricula. The images and beliefs of trainees about teaching and teachers constitute a starting point for training. Their qualities and diversity need to be appreciated and incorporated into the curriculum development process.
The final point is to note that the data produces profiles of some of the actual characteristics of trainees, not those idealised or assumed in curriculum and selection documentation. Our qualitative data suggests that often tutors have surprisingly little detailed knowledge of the characteristics of the cohorts of students they train, and also of the school environments that newly trained teachers enter. Sometimes the colleges appear to be training students for schools as tutors think they ought to be, rather than for schools as they are. This cannot be an asset in tailoring curricular experience to a realistic appraisal of antecedent conditions and learning needs. Nor can it be a basis for more responsive and reflective modes of training that recognise differences, address questions of motivation and commitment, and prepare trainees purposefully for their first appointment.