Teacher educators as a specialised professional group within education create their own specific identity and their own specific professional development needs. In this post, I look at the identities that teacher educators are creating – their key role in the retention of teachers, and the need to form an Teacher Educator Association that supports today’s digital-paladins.
A teacher educator extends to those professionals who are practising in schools and who have formal or informal involvement in the professional development of other colleagues. There is a distinction to be made, between a teacher – educating undergraduates in the art and science of education, between the experience of ‘initial teacher training’ and that of continuing professional development, with the latter typified by school- based models of mentoring and coaching, professional learning communities and peer-focused support.
Taylor (2003) illustrated how organizational, technical, and economic factors as well as values about immersion, identity, and legitimacy determine ways in which game designers structure virtual environments and the content available to players
For teacher educators, there has to be recognition of very very similar issues, and we need to think very carefully about the virtual environments that we allow teacher educators to develop and use in their practice – and be carried out by both men and women.
Much of the formal network decision making and environment setting is done by male, technocrats – which seems a bit wrong, given the number of women in teacher educator roles. So why are the girls not building the networks? Is this a factor in why some many women use Second Life as teacher educators perhaps, or more broadly, why teacher educators events in Second Life are 1000 times more insightful than most other conference formats.
In primary and secondary schools, teacher educators have to build an identity as teacher educators. Our identity is constructed by our involvement in the communities of practice that we belong to, and our identity influences these communities. For the teacher educator, there is a sense that they need to create sub-identities to segment their teaching of students, from the teaching of educators and most often their research interests, which for many, was the drive into teacher education. Wanting to share their experiences, passions and insight into what they believe would be useful and worthwhile practice. Unlike studying a Phd for example, becoming an effective teacher educator requires a change in identity and takes place increasingly in online communities of practice.
This identity is both the person and the context.
Let me single out Chris Betcher – the person, who through his work has created an identity many associate with Apple and IWB technologies. In effect, Chris has multiple sub-identities that come from his involvement and relationships and contexts. As we move about the meta-world, these sub-identities come into focus or blur, depending on where we are. Chris’ identity in his school, will be-reshaped when he takes a broader teacher educator role at a conference for example.
Teacher educators are complex people with multiple identities and sub identities. They require a great deal of agency to create that identity, and have to be active in the process of creating and managing its demands. This is quite different to a work place ‘trainer’ for example – with a distinct one-dimensional performance tied role. Consciously or unconsciously, teacher educators construct their own professional identity based on sub-identities that are available in their educational context – and this today includes the exploding metaverse, not any single system, culture or country.
Teacher educators also cherish their identity as teachers because their past experience gives them credibility in their work with student teachers and mentors (Dinkelman et al., 2006b)
In a changing world, teacher educators are professionally active in digital-communities in order share experiences, methods and their research. It is therefore unavoidable that they must also have the time and agency to create these sub-identities as professionals – as these communities and relationships are complex to say the least.
It is not their role to have to sit and listen to people complaining, ranting and venting on networks that they create – to support professional learning. But it is often a daily-soul-draining experience if they don’t have sufficient agency. This is a significant downside to being a teacher educator using digital space – you have to be thick skinned, hold the party line in a crises, be humble in success and to be willing to tank all the toxicness that comes with it – in order to support those teachers who are not, as a colleague commented “retirement focused” or just plain oppositional sociopaths.
So again, being able to switch identity is a key role in both tanking problems and healing situations that most of the time you didn’t create. So, if teacher educators get to spend a week at a conference – good, they need it.
There is little research around the transformation of a teacher, to a teacher educator. Qualifications, Masters and PhD do not give a clear indication of an evolution, as traditionally the path would be first order (school teacher), second order (teacher educator), third order (higher education teacher) and ultimately Research. In today’s world, the internet seems to have short-circuited this onion. Teacher educators are intensely more interested in building their identity in communities of digital practice, than they are in further, lengthy formal study – as the end goal is not research, but agency, experience and connectedness. This seems to be driven by a belief that change is now an inside out thing, rather than a top down thing.
Formal education cannot provide the relationships and contexts in which teacher educators create their identities – and build their reputation. At the same time, education systems need to understand this – and find ways to not only value it, but to realise that their teacher educators are rare, evolving assets – that can build tremendous agency through their identities.
Networks such as Twitter are used extensive proving grounds for teacher educators – some declare their role while many others are obviously building sub-identities and in some yet to be understood transition. I find there is a distinct pay-wall that comes up, as many teachers appear to be teacher educators, but somehow add a sub-identity that promotes crisis, in order to promote their business aspirations. This is a context for teacher educators – which of course appears simultaneously and at various moments – but I see it as a risk, as to me a big role for teacher educators – is in retention of teachers – rather than training.
I think that the digital-communities create better ‘teacher educator researchers’ – and in that, teacher educators build better sub-identities through their research.
I don’t believe that standing on a stage and delivering the crisis/hope message adds a great deal to the issue of teacher retention or encourages them to take more risks or place more trust in localised teacher educators. It may do the opposite.
Teacher educators have multiple identities to manage and sustain. For example, I’m clearly interested in what we can learn from games. This is just one identity. Depending on the context, this identity appears invisible, or irrelevant. But the process by which I’m learning about games in as a subset. It doesn’t dominate everything I do, but obviously it influences how I do it.
While we have multiple associations in Australia for teachers – History, English, Maths, Science etc., there is a need for an association for teacher educators themselves, so that that they can share experience and research, and not see it washed away in a daily tweet stream.
By doing so, their work and research can help to frame practice and standards.
I think a formal organisation is needed for declared teacher educators – which a declared vision and agenda; because it needs to speak to other organisations who don’t yet speak ‘Twitter’ or “Warcraft”.
If teacher educators are going to build sustainable professional identities, they need to go about it in a professional manner than can be articulated into evidence based research, practice, standards and models – and to civic society – this means a visible Association.
I think this would remove the cycle of crisis/hope messages that spew out at conferences – and focus more on the solutions, than on the problems – and give teachers educators a clear visible identity as learners, not just ‘teachers’ or ‘trainers’.
Anyone know how to form an association?
Dinkelman, T., Margolis, J. & Sikkenga, K. (2006b) From teacher to teacher educator: reframing knowledge in practice, Studying Teacher Education: A journal of self-study of teacher education practices, 2(2), 119–136.
Taylor, T. L. (2003). Multiple pleasures: Women and online gaming. Convergence, 9, 21-46.