Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
close this folderDossier
View the documentEducation
View the documentEducation, the key to change?
View the documentIncreasing school enrolment rates
View the documentSchool textbooks, investment... or waste
View the documentDevelopment indicators and education
View the documentStructural adjustment and education support programmes
View the documentCan we swap debt for education?
View the documentBecoming a teacher: an ambiguous ventre
View the documentAssessing whether an educational system is effective
View the documentLiteracy: three stories
View the documentTuvalu - Education for life
View the documentEducation as an investment for the future

Becoming a teacher: an ambiguous ventre

by Anne Cambier

Anyone who has been to school is likely to recall the experience with some emotion: the encounters with a new world; the moments when, keen for knowledge, one was captivated by the words of the 'master'; the times when suffering and incomprehension would quell one's desire to go back into the classroom. And reminiscing about one's schooldays can prompt powerful images. These may be of the school itself but it just as likely to be of the 'personalities' who ran it - one's first class teacher at primary school perhaps, or the headmaster or headmistress, the head of geography, the music teacher, the language assistant or the school inspector. All of these people had their own distinct role but they also had something in common, namely their professional mer which centred on developing the individual.

Transmitting knowledge or educating children?

This is a commonplace observation which must make us stop and think about the ambiguity of the terms and the complexity of the educational function. Is it possible to define the basic characteristics of the teaching profession? What skills are needed by those who, through the educational institution, enable some of us to learn or not? These are two basic questions that arise prior to any training project. Such projects, incidentally, lie at the crossroads of political choice, constantly interact with the entire educational process, and deal with a reality experienced every day by children, parents and anyone interested in the development of human resources.

Let us therefore spend a few moments examining this problem and observing a teacher in a classroom. Wherever it is and whatever the level, we are struck by the variety of the teacher's activities and the versatility of his role: to transmit knowledge, a technique or know-how, to prohibit or promote certain relational behaviour by pupils, to teach children to behave in a group, to perform daily management tasks, to assess the skills of pupils, to select the best, and so on.

Researchers have shown that a teacher, during each lesson, has to carry out an enormous number of exchanges (the number is often in excess of a hundred) and to take dozens of micro-decisions. He must gain the attention of the pupils, eliminate the causes of distraction and remain calm and serene. He must act rapidly and effectively and may not stop to reflect, on pain of seeing a breakdown in the atmosphere of security of the class. The custodian of a large number of powers, such as those linked to his knowledge, or those linked to his assessment function, he forms a central, unifying and specific component of the group, frequently seen as one of the people primarily responsible for the progress of each child.

This finding, which must be adjusted to the context, highlights the many facets of the profession and the range of skills necessary. In particular, it shows the disadvantages of training focused primarily on mastering specialised subjects and reveals the significance of the science of education. It also focuses on the daily reality of practising the profession and the importance of the relational, and even emotional, context which is the principal factor in the education of the child. Indeed, in many cases, professional success will be dependent upon behavioural characteristics associated with the personality of the teacher and, in particular, his capacity to analyse his activities objectively and to redirect them as obstacles or problems are encountered (for example, problems of discipline in the class group or poor results). This ambiguity relating to the components of the profession necessarily has negative social consequences for both the teacher himself (stress, discouragement, disinterest, feeling discredited) and the education process (failures, reduction in efficiency and yield). To this should be added the fact that the teacher encounters few opportunities for promotion during his career and that his financial situation is often mediocre. This is not only the case in the developed countries, but also, and above all in the developing countries, where usually the problems of survival are such that the teacher finds himself forced to engage in other earning activities in parallel. Such situations can only be detrimental to the image of the school in society, to the motivation of teaching staff and to the quality of recruitment. They inevitably have a negative impact on the efficiency of education and repercussions which it is hard to assess on the costs of the education and development process.

At present, it seems obvious that socio-economic development at the end of this century calls for reflection on the forgotten dimensions of a profession whose traditional image is fundamentally oriented towards the transmission of knowledge and towards the democratic distribution of reaming. Analysis of the situations and the difficulties encountered encourage us to consider the profession in an evolutive perspective. Indeed, until a little while ago, learning was the prerogative of a minority and this minority included the teachers. However, with learning to read and write becoming more general practice and, more recently, the expansion of the audiovisual markets, access by all to knowledge has changed, thereby limiting the privileged nature of the teaching function and the prestige of the 'master'. To this factor of sharing learning and its methods of transmission should be added the fact that modem man is literally bombarded with stimuli of various kinds. This makes it appropriate to introduce procedural thought and specific skills such as processing and classifying information, from childhood. For the teacher of today, it is no longer a matter solely of transmitting knowledge, but also of teaching the pupil to process information in an unstable socio-cultural context. This is a new function of crucial importance. The teacher of tomorrow will find it hard to define himself as a specialist competent in a subject. He must become a specialist who follows the development of the pupil. Herein lies the entire difference and the abyss between the usual dictionary definition of 'a person who teaches' and the definition used by UNESCO of 'a person responsible for the education of children'.

To sum up, at this point in our reflections, the fact that most academic publications on the school fail to consider the professional development of the teacher should be stressed. They give an incomplete, inappropriate image of the profession. Although a large number of teachers are well prepared intellectually, few on the other hand have learnt how to manage the dynamics of human relations, which they therefore do not know how to analyse or organise. In terms of training, it is generally forgotten that the profession of teacher is one of relationships with others, very largely dependent upon the socio-cultural aspirations of the group and the way in which this same group sees and defines its incorporation into the system of production. In other words, the vocational training of teachers is very closely linked to the political tendencies of a nation and the preoccupations with development of its population.

Teaching as a 'profession'

The professionalisation of the function, a recent concept frequently brought out in a number of scientific publications, may seem commonplace in itself, but it is a relatively new way of considering the problem of training. It is defined as the capacity to think and act in an autonomous, effective manner on the basis of ethical principles specific to the local culture, in accordance with the objectives of education defined by the national authorities. It refers the practitioner to the definition of his identity. It calls into question the legitimacy of the function and the appropriateness of the training to cope with the difficulties of the profession. It calls for skills other than knowledge of specialised subjects.

In practice, two training models stand out: the so-called simultaneous or concomitant model and the consecutive model. The former generally concerns primary schoolteachers and is used in teacher training colleges or in vocational training institutions. This model often promotes the versatility of the teacher and practical use of skills acquired through periods of teaching practice. The latter model places vocational training at the end of training in a specialised subject, with instruction in educational science and human relations only taking place at the end of the course. In our view, each of the models seems incomplete, although complementary. In the former, the criticisms are mainly directed at inadequacies in terms of general knowledge and specialised subjects while in the latter, the gaps often manifest themselves in educational psychology and practical competence, which are little developed.

In practical terms, when teacher training is provided by the universities, it generally comprises two facets: one devoted to training in a specialised subject, the other to training in educational science, with the integration of these two facets into professional practice often remaining problematic. This method presents various hazards deriving principally from our systems of values and attitudes linked to the primacy of scientific knowledge and the academic orientation of our universities. In many cases, educational know-how seems to be grafted on in a secondary capacity, ill adapted to the professionalisation of the trade. It should be stressed in passing that these findings have a not inconsiderable impact on upgrading the career and the formation of the professional identity of the teacher, who usually defines himself in terms of an academic discipline. It should, however, be noted that this criticism refers more specifically to secondary education and that many more pragmatic universities successfully provide training for primary school teachers. Alongside these disadvantages, mention must be made of one major advantage, namely that the development of the function of the teacher presupposes qualities of adaptation and professional flexibility. These correspond very precisely with the objectives of university training, especially as regards independent learning, the capacity to develop critical thought and the ability to perfect one's own knowledge.

In this context, it is worth referring to the new status of the Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maes (IUFM) (University institutions for the training of schoolteachers) in France which provide training in educational science and psychology for two years beyond the three years of general university studies. Whatever the controversies and political standpoints which bring advocates of vocational training and defenders of specialised knowledge into conflict, the IUFMs represent a serious attempt to bring the two approaches together. Despite teething troubles, the principles underlying the establishment of these new, university level institutions, are designed to reconcile the requirements of scientific training and professional qualifications. We would pinpoint, in particular, the principle of course units and that of periods of teaching practice from the first year of training. It is true that, in the field, integration of the various approaches requires many adjustments and calls for accompanying measures to be put into place. For many, the experiment proves hard, with the former instructors in teacher training colleges having the feeling of losing a monopoly while the universities fear a decline in academic training and the 'prioritisation' of the training of secondary school teachers.

This university concept of training and development of human resources seems to us to be directly linked to the characteristics of adolescents and young adults who, in our technological societies, emerge as a generation in waiting. In this respect, we recall the idea advanced by E. Erikson that when, for various reasons, the young person is 'deprived' of this waiting period and directed prematurely to a socio-professional commitment, a personality usually results which is less flexible, less exuberant and in a way not completely developed. Whatever the point of view, the requirement of academic training or the role of the personality, it therefore seems extremely wise to delay the final moment of choice until after secondary studies have been completed, in accordance with paragraph 14 of the text published by UNESCO and the ILO (1984) relating to the conditions of teaching staff.

In terms of content, training should combine four main components: extensive general culture, training in a specialised subject, technical training and practical training. Our objective here is not to provide a list of subjects and courses which should be included in a training programme, but to draw the attention of the competent authorities to the presence or absence of these components and their interaction in existing projects. Firstly, there needs to be an extensive general culture, centred on information and critical reflection concerning the entire cultural environment (sciences, technology, literature, arts), in order to broaden the mind beyond strictly vocational training. Secondly, there should be training in a specialised subject corresponding to the subjects taught; the nature and length of this may vary considerably depending on the subject (mathematics, languages, sciences, etc.) and depending on the level of teaching. In certain cases, it may be devised in terms of a main subject (dominant or major) and subsidiary subjects (minors). This practice has the advantage of greater professional flexibility in relation to the employment market and the constraints of changes in school organisation. The fact should nevertheless be stressed that this training in a specialised subject calls for epistemological reflection on the content of the curricula imposed for the various levels of education (primary and secondary), which must allow the teacher to convey the content of the subjects according to the level of the pupils, their interests and their cultural environment. Thirdly, there is technical training, in which training in the application of experimental psychology to education covering the basic humanities (biology, psychology, sociology, science of education, methodology, teaching methods, school administration), on the one hand, and initiation into social psychology, on the other, must reinforce one another, leading directly to the practice of human relations. Self-analysis is inevitably part of the training process of the teacher. Fourthly, there needs to be practical training, at the workplace, bringing together the theoretical and technical aspects, giving rise to permanent openness to critical reflection and mastery of communications between people. This component is intended to equip teachers with observation skills. It also aims to develop their capacity to analyse, and to distance themselves from, their experiences - which may have been painful or pleasurable.

Alongside these components, emphasis should be placed on perfect mastery of the language of teaching. All too often, the lack of accuracy in spoken language brings about incomprehension and many learning difficulties. On the other hand, during training, it is appropriate not to neglect the role of formative assessment and of self-assessment, which allows students to gain awareness of the remaining difficulties and to adjust the course of their training in consequence, whilst facilitating the practical introduction of a broader concept of assessment. Any assessment giving priority to the mastery of subjects would be inappropriate.

Organisation of the training in the form of course units would allow different courses to be devised whilst preserving similarities. This system, which is becoming more widespread, promotes flexibility of training and contact between students pursuing a common objective, namely to become a teacher. It is particularly well suited to training which focuses on the development of independence in young adults who are obliged, in the process, to respect a contractual approach and who benefit as a result from individual monitoring. If it is well designed, it contributes to broadening of the mind, to making curricula more flexible and can offer candidates the choice of time and place. This way of proceeding also seems to us to be liable to promote interaction between instruction in knowledge to be taught and the practice of knowledge to teach. It also has the advantage of facilitating subsequent changes in direction, for example in new sectors or sectors where shortages have arisen.

The length of studies may vary depending on various criteria and in particular the nature of the knowledge to be transmitted (content of the teaching). In view of the complexity of the training and the requirements of professionalisation, it is, however, unreasonable to think of a total of less than three years, which may be extended over a longer period. For example, to meet the requirements and multiple facets of the socio-economic conditions of certain regions, it could be advisable to consider a break in the training time and to alternate the curriculum training units with periods of teaching practice. A preliminary training period could allow the duties to be performed under general conditions to be defined. The training would furthermore be continued and supplemented during the first years of teaching practice, which are particularly important years with regard to the 'professional self-image' of the teacher. In cases where the political and economic conditions so require, this preliminary period could be very short.

A model of alternate training, which is more flexible in its practical implementation, would have the advantage of being part of a new recruitment policy and of limiting apparent waste by modifying the relationship between training and giving up at the start of the career. The research conducted by Huberman on the life cycle of teachers shows in fact that a very large number admit having a feeling of proceeding by trial and error at the start of their careers, leading either to discouragement and abandonment of the profession or subsequently to rigid, conservative attitudes. It is therefore quite possible that a training model examining the difficulties of the first years of the career would promote stability and professional quality.

Certificates should be awarded in close cooperation with all those responsible for training and cover all facets of the profession. An end-of-course certificate (preferably after a first period of classroom experience as a trainee teacher) could be all the more exacting as during this trial period many possibilities for supplementary training would exist (advantages associated with training in course units, possibly combined with correspondence courses).

Ideally, this training should lead to competence in self-training, the teacher becoming capable of reflecting on his own activity and defining training objectives for himself. Nevertheless, the requirement of on-going training should be inherent in the practice of the profession. Apart from the fact that this requirement allows the length of the initial training to be reduced, it also has the unquestionable advantage of strengthening the interactions between theory and practice. This training must allow observation and reflection on daily professional practice - planning of the work, research for up-to-date educational material, terms and conditions of assessment, relational problems with the class, attitudes towards colleagues, the management, and parents, and interpretation and adaptation of official curricula - to be promoted. Its existence is liable to stimulate the necessary exchanges between research and theory and to give rise to a dynamic current within the function and the educational institutions. It could also allow conversions or specialisations by preparing for special functions in the education system. A wide variety of training procedures can be considered, which would enable each teacher to adjust his professional practice and training requirements during his career. The entire system of on-going training, either face-toface or by correspondence, should be coordinated and sanctioned by the competent ministerial authority. It unquestionably constitutes a possibility for upgrading the profession and without doubt is a response to the problem of the number of teachers leaving the profession after a few years of work.


In these few pages, we have tried to show that teacher training must derive from a project for incorporation into a versatile, moving profession. It must combine academic soundness with technical qualifications and give all teachers the possibility during their career of constructing and reconstructing the know-how which is essential for effective practice of the profession. Training can no longer be seen in a specific manner, limited in time. It is necessarily prolonged throughout the career in daily reflection promoted by the introduction of flexible structures.

Any study on teacher training implies a reform of the ultimate objectives of teaching. Depending on the way the profession is seen, the objectives of training and the professional profile will necessarily be different. However, quite obviously, any system giving pride of place, in both teacher training and pupil assessment, to the transmission of knowledge, is obsolete. This assertion is confirmed by the majority of educationalists and specialists in teaching methods. In view of the complexity of the profession, additional studies are a vital prerequisite. Indeed, the absence of basic training in education is liable to foster rigid, inappropriate attitudes with regard to know-how and the condition of future teachers. Care needs to be taken with specialisation as well, and it should not be undertaken prematurely. Specialisation by age group or subject should form part of a system of options and enable possible changes in direction mid-career. Without improving the training and status of teachers, recruitment will pose serious problems in the coming years and will lead to a gradual deterioration in the quality of education.