The sense (one I share with authors) on concluding this book is one of disappointment. Not overriding disappointment because I can see that some of the participants had positives experiences but certainly enduring disappointment given how few of the participants are still (at the time the book went to press) in teaching. This haemorrhaging of future teachers can’t simply be attributed to poor quality candidates. The simple fact is they all ‘passed the course’ and qualified as teachers. Instead it can be attributed to poor quality experiences. It would be easy to attribute this loss of beginning teacher to their experiences of work-based or work-integrated learning – indeed that is what the evidence of this study (and the authors I feel) suggest. The full extent of their teacher education experiences, however, need to be considered if we are to better understand ‘what went wrong’.
What we do learn form this book, however, is that for many of the pre-service and beginning teachers in this study the staffroom specifically and the practicum more generally were not seen as positive learning spaces. These places did not provide opportunities to transform practice and make a difference but were, instead, places where new teachers engaged in self-preservation and image management. They were not places in which new teachers could take chances and try out new ideas. Indeed, innovations that, at the very least, intrigued them in their University classes had little chance to survive and prosper in the real world. Instead, these were places where they learnt the established script and played their pre-defined role. While we learn nothing of their university-based teacher education experiences we learn a lot, and not much of it good, about their school-based experiences.
The narratives presented throughout this book speak of a ‘mixed bag’ when it came to the practicum. They speak of the ability of these teachers to ‘live up’ to the standards but not ‘live down’ the practices of teaching. They speak loudly of vastly different experiences (which is to be expected and celebrated) and vastly different standards of care (which shouldn’t).
Rossi and colleagues hold that “we have a profession that (like most others) provides opportunities for work-placed or work-integrated learning that will vary across the many sites where such learning takes place. At the same time we have a set of centralized measures (or ways of making a judgement) to assess, first, the suitability of teachers to enter the profession, and second, the quality of the teacher once she or he is part of the system”. So, on the one hand, we have different experiences and, on the other, we have standardized expectations of what pre-service and beginning teachers can achieve in these spaces. There is, as the authors suggest, a certain incompatibility between the freedoms afforded to schools and the centralized control imposed by governments. What’s more it also imagines the staffroom as a benevolent society in which the greater good is always prioritized – which this book would suggest is very far from the truth.
What emerges from this concluding chapter – indeed from the whole book – is a very real sense that we need to question the social space that exists in the staffroom. We need to see, identify and the re-condemn the condemned practices that seem to survive there. We need to create spaces where discussions – safe discussions – can occur about the purpose of this space. We need to acknowledge that such spaces call for compliance and the maintenance of the status quo. We need to see these as places in which new teachers aren't required to match our ‘ideals’ around teaching and where they need perform this identity (at the cost perhaps of their true identity) so convincingly that they can pass the course. We need to see that it doesn't have be a space that is supportive of obsolete practice and which positions many of these as unchallengeable facets of practice. In short, the staffroom is often a place that grants power through conformity.
Instead of accepting these norms as unchallengeable we need to ask ourselves what we ‘identify as’. Do we accept that we are the gatekeepers of practice with the power to either sanction or marginalise new ideas? Do we hold that it is the job of new teachers to read the social space of the staffroom, to decipher or decode its practices or are we there to help pre-service and beginning teachers evolve the subject? Rossi and colleagues ask ‘what spaces do we have?’ and ‘ want spaces to we want?’ before asking us to see the difference.
What clearly emerges from this chapter and this book is the need for high quality induction for pre-service and beginning teachers. Such experiences would challenge not only the formal and planned learning spaces in the school and classroom but also the non-formal and unplanned learning spaces found in the staffroom. Such an induction would start in teacher education programmes and focus on preparing new teachers for the staffroom before moving into the school. Fundamentally such an induction would provide and support all leaners (old and new) to establish identities that would allow them to meaningfully participate in induction.
The question I am left with is “who are the standard setters?” Who decides what is acceptable and what isn’t? Is it the ‘legendary teachers’ we meet last week or is it a collective effort? Whoever it is they needed to be collectively “guided by a vision of good teaching” and they need to be willing to re-analyse taken for granted truths. Rossi and colleagues hold that “the field must be able to justify what they consider represents good practices” and “practice being the type of citizen expected within teaching”.
In concluding this blog and this series of blogs I’m left to acknowledge that while “there is unpredictability and messiness in the reality of schools and staffrooms” this shouldn’t be allowed to impact on the quality of the educative experiences of our students (be they in school or in university/practicum). Fundamentally, and drawing on the words of Rossi and colleagues, “we consider it to be non-negotiable that the learning made available through the workplace and, in the specific case of this study the departmental office or staffroom, must be of higher quality. It needs to conform to all decent ethical standards and should be comparable as a professional learning space across all sites and participants”.
Rossi, T., lisahunter, Christensen, E. & Macdonald, D. (2015). Workplace learning in Physical Education: Emerging teachers’ stories from the staffroom and beyond. London: Routledge.