Upcoming Book Release: Courageous Leadership in Early Childhood Education: Taking a Stand for Social Justice

I am excited for a new book edited by scholars Vivian Vasquez, Mariana Souto-Manning, and Susi Long. The book focuses on social justice practices in the context of pre-school and elementary schools.


The book gives voice to educators, family members, and school administrators, offering several insights on social justice in early year classrooms, including:

* Highlights the actions of administrators as they take a stand to transcend standardized approaches to teaching and learning, creating more equitable educational environments.

* Portrays strategies and resources used to engage teachers in critical examination of self and the institutions in which they work.

* Describes principles and practices that guide administrators as they support the development of culturally relevant practices and policies.

* Offers powerful ways early childhood administrators can approach inequitable mandates. (http://www.amazon.com/Courageous-Leadership-Early-Childhood-Education/dp/0807757411)

The book will be released in the end of December/early January!



Reflections on a Concurrent Teacher Education Program

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.


Concurrent Education: Eat Sleep Teach Repeat


Repeat, repeat, repeat!

“Teaching is not a lost art but the regard for it is a lost tradition.

Hence tomorrow’s problem will not be to get teachers,

but to recognize the good ones and not discourage them

before they have done their stint.”

—Jacques Barzun


In the epigraph above, Jacques Barzun refers to the lack of well-trained teachers and society’s failure to support the good ones. A simple observation of our educational system today highlights the shortcomings of teacher education programs and people’s lost faith in the teaching profession. This paper presents my teacher education program, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether it prepared me to become a teacher. Do not be surprised, but I am discouraged.

As a child, I wanted to be either an entomologist or a teacher. As a teenager, I developed a fear of insects and a love for history. When I was 18 years old, I had officially been admitted to the Concurrent Teacher Education Program (CTEP) at the XXX. The CTEP program allows students to pursue two degrees (HBA/HBSc and BEd) simultaneously over the course of 5 years. Students are required to take education courses that provide them with a foundation for teaching before taking any BEd courses. They include topics such as conflict resolution, equity and diversity, and child and adolescent development.

The program prides itself in providing various opportunities for experiential learning, which include a 100-150 hour anchor subject internship, classroom visits and observations. The internship, considered part of the undergraduate degree and completed before any practicums, is intended to help teacher candidates develop teaching experience in their main area of study. Students participate in organizing extra-curricular activities, providing support, and working with a variety of teachers to deepen their knowledge of the teaching profession. Finally, candidates maintain an e-portfolio to help them track their learning as they progress through the program by encouraging reflection and promoting professional development.

Whenever I mention my program of study, I am told, “You do not have to worry about getting into teacher’s college in 4 years. It’s getting competitive and many people apply because they have nothing else to do.” This highlights one of the strengths of the program. There was a huge sense of relief and security in knowing that excelling in my courses and maintaining my professionalism meant that my dream of becoming a teacher was within reach and in my control. Candidates often saw themselves as part of the ‘lucky few’, but it definitely came at a cost. For example, the intermediate-senior program was only open to students majoring in chemistry, mathematics, or French (based on the needs of schools in Ontario). As a result, I ended up majoring in French Teaching and Learning when I may have enjoyed fields such as management.

Concurrent education was a commitment, which can be seen as both a strength and a weakness. The stipulation for entry also dictated what I studied for five years, which sometimes made my courses feel like a means to an end. It also meant sacrificing many of my undergraduate electives for education courses. The biggest assumption people made was, “It’s okay. You want to be a teacher. What’s the big deal?” The problem was that 18-year-old concurrent students were perceived as 100% set on becoming teachers, thereby ignoring the fact that, like most other first years, we were curious, had various interests, but were somewhat limiting ourselves because of the light at the end of the tunnel.

On the other hand, the socialization into the profession began almost immediately after the first few weeks of our classes. The many hours I poured into classroom observations, reflection papers, and inquiry before even stepping foot into YYY University was a test of my commitment. Exposure to various aspects of the teaching profession over a longer period of time allowed me to make more informed judgments. Some of my colleagues fell in love while others wanted to break up. There was no better way to realize my like or dislike for teaching without immersing myself in it. CTEP was all about immersion.

In addition to the analysis of commitment above, examining course structure and the social impact of the program shed light on its effectiveness. I am thankful that my courses allowed me to experience different grade levels before deciding on the Secondary School stream. By the end of my 3rd year, I had spent time with every age group and knew that Secondary was the right fit for me before beginning any official teacher training courses. These courses have contributed immensely to my teaching philosophy and my development as a practitioner. However, when comparing my undergraduate education to the BEd courses, I realized that the material had become repetitive. With the exception of my Curriculum Instruction courses, many of us saw little value in the teacher training courses because we had covered the same topics over the past 3 years. CTEP saw us as the most knowledgeable and immersed practitioners, when in reality, we were experiencing fatigue, feeling disengaged, and ruing the missed opportunities. Furthermore, the lengthy anchor subject practicum took place in my 4th year, thus leaving a significant gap between its completion and my graduation date. Thankfully, this has since been remedied and students now complete both practicums in their 5th year.

Finally, it is important to consider the impact CTEP has had on my interpersonal relations. I have developed many friendships with my colleagues over the period of 5 years. We became a close-knit community that struggled and celebrated together while sharing countless experiences and horror stories, all of which made CTEP very enjoyable. However, I did feel isolated from my university community because we were required to attend courses at the downtown campus for an entire semester in 4th year. After months away from my home campus, it was back to ‘normal’. The main difference was that I now felt like a teacher, having completed 80% of my teacher training, but was once again a student taking an undergraduate course. Not surprisingly, this has now been remedied since it hindered professional development and students now attend XXX University full time in their 5th year. I was a guinea pig, and after all of it, I am discouraged.

The program prepared me to be a teacher the same way military education prepares a soldier for the battlefield. It is a simulated experience, rich in theory and strategies, but devoid of the reality. Before we can consider admitting that teacher education programs are preparing us to assume the duties of a teacher, we are in need of great reform and rebuilding, from the ground up. On the topic of commitment, I am pleased that CTEP admission has stopped. Instead, XXX University has introduced a minor in education, which enables students interested in the field of education to complete foundational courses that help them develop their leadership skills while completing placements and participating in reflective inquiry. It is a step in the right direction.

In terms of coursework, teacher education needs a wake up call. I do not recall discussing topics such as classroom management, navigating the first year of teaching, realities of the teaching market (beyond “no jobs unless you’re in French”), the politicization of education, the history of education in Ontario, and the lack of support for new teachers. The topic of assessment in teaching should receive its own course; however, it was limited to a few hours in our Curriculum Instruction courses and many of us entered the classroom in September feeling overwhelmed, disjointed, and unprepared. We have all heard the saying, “Teacher’s college is a joke. If you can use a projector, you’ll pass.” My most inspiring teachers have told me that when I become a teacher, I will have to teach myself everything. While I am committed to learning as a lifelong process, I am disappointed that in theory, I have received specialized training deemed sufficient to assume the duties of a teacher; yet, I still feel incapable.

I am angered when people say, “If it’s your first year teaching, good luck. It’s going to be hell.” I am willing to challenge myself as I aspire to become a more experienced practitioner; however, I am more reluctant than ever to sign my French permanent teaching contract. Where are the mentorship programs for recent graduates? What happened to pride in our profession? For example, occasional teachers who have not completed an long term occasional contract longer than 97 days are not eligible for the New Teacher Induction Program. I vividly remember my principal telling me, “I cannot assign you a mentor because you have been here for a week, but report cards are coming up; you should reach out to a colleague.” The individualistic nature of the teachers at the school meant that no one was willing to help me. If I cannot help myself, how am I supposed to help the students? Teacher education programs and professional associations should play a more effective role in the induction of teachers into the profession.

Last but certainly not least, I never fully understood why my program only admitted students majoring in French, mathematics, and chemistry. Ironically, when I applied to the school district with teachables in French and history, I was hired as a social sciences occasional teacher and not for my French proficiency. My point is that teacher education programs have become more concerned with ‘filling holes’ in the Ontario system as opposed to developing teachers that can take their practice anywhere in the world.

In reforming teacher education programs, we need to examine why people want to be teachers and what they need in order to succeed in the classroom. It is as simple as asking for input from teacher candidates instead of delivering a predetermined curriculum that satisfies objectives in a document. Teachers are often told to include their students as partners in learning, but I do not recall being asked for any input until I had completed my program. What if teacher education programs were improved through collaboration with school boards and other stakeholders to gain a deeper, richer understanding of what students need in the classroom? An example is teaching 21st century skills, which require a thorough examination of the curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment. Initially, CTEP sparked a fire inside me, but my teacher education program and the school board have slowly extinguished it. Although I am grateful for everything I have learned, I am discouraged.

Division K New Faculty Preconference

Attention Division K New Faculty!

This Division K New Faculty Seminar is an exciting opportunity to meet, share, and network with other new faculty and the facilitators. The seminar is designed to:

  • Provide support for new teaching and teacher education faculty members,
  • Ask long-term Division K members about their experiences-particularly how they made the transition from graduate student to faculty member
  • Examine various methodological approaches to research,
  • Create professional networks that will last a lifetime, and
  • Make important connections that create a community of new scholars.


The preconference organizers are established scholars who will discuss ways to thrive in your career. Our division is committed to supporting new faculty! Last year we had a many more people who were interested than we could accept. We only have 30 spaces and those who register early will be given priority. The pre conference starts on Thursday, April 7 at 4:00. We meet again on Friday, April 8 from 9:00 – 12:00.

The deadline for Applications for the Division K New Faculty Preconference is Friday, December 18, 2015!

To apply for the pre-conference submit a two-page letter of application that includes a description of: (a) applicant’s background; (b) the applicant’s current position and years of service; (c) research interested and methodological approaches to research; and (d) one or two problems of issues in transitioning from being a graduate student to the role of faculty member. Please send it as a Word document (not PDF) and name it with your last name and NFPC – e.g., KosnikNFPC. Apply early, last year we filled all of the slots well before the deadline. If you applied last year but did not get a spot please state that in the opening paragraph of your letter.

Send your application and questions to Clare Kosnik at ckosnik@oise.utoronto.ca

The Pre-conference Facilitators are:

Renée T. Clift, University of Arizona
Tom Dana, University of Florida
Clare Kosnik, University of Toronto/Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Rich Milner, University of Pittsburgh,
Roland Sintos Coloma, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio



Appreciating multiple perspectives: One Example

There are multiple sites of learning, multiple forms of education, and multiple kinds of learners. From time to time, I (Yiola) have shared posts on Muay Thai as an alternative site of education with a focus on the teacher/student relationship. Muay Thai is a beautiful martial art that originates from Thailand. Most would likely watch Muay Thai and cringe, call it brutal and see it as violent.  It would seem to be a sport that gains  popularity through the thrill of watching and cheering and betting and celebrating in celebrity style the fighters. In the video I share here, World Champion Simon Marcus shares his perspective on the sport.

The way he describes his experience is remarkably peaceful and remarkably personal.  He talks about himself as student of the art and how his teachings bring out his best personal self, where he finds his “most peaceful” moment. He talks about his gratitude for his teacher and the respect for his learnings.

One may perceive the fight as brutally violent while another perceives the fight as moment of peace and clarity ~ a fine example of multiple perspectives. “A Brutal Ballet” indeed.

Education is about knowing yourself, knowing your ability and opening yourself to exciting possibilities for development, growth and achievement. Teaching is about being open to multiple perspectives and appreciating the multiple ways our students find knowledge, achievement and peace… and finding ways to embrace and invite multiple perspectives into our learning environments.


“What curriculum do young people need in the 21st century?”

In his article for TES.com, John Dunford argues for whole education for ALL children not just those at top-attending schools. Dunford, Chair of Whole Education in the U.K., asserts those from econmically disadvantaged areas in the U.K. still receive “mid-20th-century knowledge-based curriculum.” He believes this antiquated curriculum “fails to recognise many of the needs of young people growing up in the 21st century.” He urges educators and policy makers to consider two key questions regarding curriculum:

  1. “What curriculum do young people need in the 21st century?”
  2. “What curriculum does most for the disadvantaged?”

In order to answer these questions, Dunford maintains it requires educators have unique set of knowledge, skills, and personal qualities in order to prepare young people for a rapidly changing world. Regarding the ways in which we view curriculum, he argues:

“It is not either/or; this is a both/and curriculum.”

To read the entire article click here: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/%E2%80%98every-child-needs-a-fully-rounded-education-%E2%80%93-it-shouldn%E2%80%99t-just-be

Reflecting on My Journey as a Teacher

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

Picture of winding roadHaving a 12 year old boy launch a pair of open bladed scissors towards another student across a room full of miniature sized adults during lunch is, from what I recall, the first time I asked myself, “Is this what teaching is?” If I were to promulgate the sentiment that teaching is a “wild triangle,” (McDonald, 1992) this would certainly be the case. My first year of teaching was a fantastic social experiment on survival. As in most life-or-death situations, there is a certain level of commitment to understanding what threats are imminent, as well as sourcing any and all tools to not only ensure your survival, but also your well-being.  What I have since come to valorize as a teacher survival skill since the scissor attack, is the importance of staying awake and paying attention. One danger in the teaching profession thereby limiting the fecundity of opportunities, is becoming numb and indifferent once you have acclimatized to an environment; teaching the same lessons, same subject matter, with a routine schedule. Although the scissor incident posed a physical threat to students in the class, there are other aggregate elements of a different nature that can compromise learning in the classroom. The microcosmic events of the classroom I have observed over the past 12 years, have created patterns that now lead me to direct this reflection to look at broader forces at play in my journey as a teacher. Consistent with many of the articles we have read in class, I am certain that teaching is so much more than content knowledge and I want to suggest that where teacher education might improve, is in providing tools for future educators to acquire situational awareness skills. One such skill I believe is essential to successful teaching is cultivating the ability to stay awake and pay attention; to students, teacher needs and the environment.

Part of what helps us to stay awake in many situations is intrigue. Curiosity is arguably one of the strongest motivators of learning. The disconnect that can happen in the classroom for groups of students is the lack of relevance to their immediate situation. There are students who are able to direct their attention on understanding the relationship between working hard now, to have tools for future application – a behaviour that is often praised by teachers. However, for other students, extreme behaviour like the example from the previous paragraph, are often utilized for students to remain engaged. In both examples, students are simply seeking the same answer, to the same question: “Are you paying attention?” This presents a conflict for teachers, as attention from the teacher can lead to neglect of others and can be counterproductive with the agenda of the day. However, are the two interests so misaligned? Aren’t teachers there to provide support and direct their attention towards the learner? How can motives between teacher and students be realigned?

Contextualizing students can provide a powerful answer. Our stories are where we find validation and often times an explanation for behaviour that may be incongruent with who we want to be. Providing methods to assist teacher with developing this skill is critical to achieving teacher sustainability. Teachers are constantly bouncing their attention back and forth between their immediate surroundings and where to steer a class. Giving teachers access to training and tools on validating statements like, “I see you and I hear you, this is important and we will come back to it, but right now we need to move on,” allows them to prioritize where and how to give their attention. This was not a skill that was taught or even discussed in my training as a teacher. There are in some cases, school support staff or programs to assist in managing this. The relationship between the teacher and student however is paramount to any outside support that may happen, but often the reality is that teachers are not set up for this kind of relational success. It is an exhausting process for many teachers to try and meet the needs of a class. Moreover, common characteristics of teachers lead many to continue to prioritize the needs of students over their own.

Teacher care and needs are complex and dynamic. Much like situational awareness of student needs is essential to the success and longevity of a teacher, so too is the self-awareness of teachers themselves. Many of my colleagues have communicated to me in casual conversations the struggle to connect activities of day-to-day responsibilities in the classroom with the demands and expectations that stakeholders have. This can add a layer of pressure as an additional element of accountability and responsibility is applied to a teacher’s performance. Stakeholders can include, but are not limited to administrators, parents, the public and the state. However it is rare to find a teacher, regardless of experience, who can clearly articulate what exactly it is they need to meet these expectations or to excel in their role. Often times the easy answer is increased monetary access or resources. During the most recent two years at my school, I had the privilege of being one of five staff members who participated in leading the Professional Learning Community (PLC). Our administration had elected to create a more autonomous environment regarding the professional development of the staff, thereby allowing more voices into the conversation of how the PLC should run. At the end of both years, staff participated in a survey and were asked to specify which areas their PLC days should focus on. After results were tallied, groups were free to meet within their specified area of need and generate ideas of how to accomplish meeting these needs. While some groups like technology in education and staff wellness were able to establish clear targets and strategies of achievement, more than half of the staff and over six other groups were not able to clearly state what they needed and opted for ‘department time.’   How are so many of my colleagues unable to articulate this? Have we become so repetitive and comfortable in our routines that the opportunity for something to change cause fear rather than hope? How can we expect our students to create and innovate if we are not willing to do so? I believe that self-evaluation skills have become dormant in many educators – we simply cannot expect changes if we do not know what we need in order to ask for it. Becoming aware and paying attention to what is needed to perform our jobs well becomes the catalyst for turning the opinion of stakeholders to want to work with us. It also allows for earlier intervention before the temptation of repetition and comfort deceive teachers into believing that it’s too late or too hard for change.

Learning environment is something that has eased its way into my consciousness. As a young student in Ontario I theorized that Catholic schools were “nicer, because they had more money.” Later on as a young adult and teacher, I developed an understanding that schools were not learner centered or designed to inspire, but rather a product of industrialization efficiency where the idea of factory and maximized output was prioritized over lived experience. Now, as a new graduate student at OISE, the common school building represents the powerful historical colonial legacy imprinted on much of the globe during a time where dominant cultures attempted to “civilize” indigenous populations through education. Why does environment matter?

As Beck & Kosnik (2006), explore in their book “Innovations in Teacher Education,” we learn that “space is important to community,” (p.79) and that “community is not just a frill: it is fundamental to effective learning.” (p.74). Environmental space matters. There is growing literature on the value of student learning environments. A book published in 2010 by a team of architects called, “The Third Teacher,” by O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson, Bruce Mau and David W. Orr, looks at the link between school environments and how children learn, as well as practical ways to implement design changes to prepare students for life in the 21st century. But who, if anyone, is paying attention? We are able to tear down old apartments, houses and commercial spaces and within months have brand new, modern, highly functional structures that reinvent ways people move through space, yet we accept that schools built in the 1950s are sufficient for students. As a teacher my space had a profound impact on my mental state as my physical environment was isolated and disconnected from other areas of the school, becoming a contributing factor in exploring a career change.

My journey as a teacher has incorporated many moments of realization where I was not paying attention, to which there has been a price. After my sixth year of teaching, I had a strong sense that I needed to find something beyond teaching in the classroom. Dissatisfied by my experience in the classroom, I wanted to change my environment in order to evade the numbing and sleepiness that I observed happening to colleagues and students around me. Ignoring this urgent attempt to capture my attention has led to lost opportunities and questionably a loss of time. Even though I am early in my graduate studies it has already been a wonderful change, where I am constantly required to stay sharp and focused and renew my perspectives. Many colleagues of mine who have completed graduate studies and returned to the classroom consistently attest to the richness it has brought to their practice. Equipped with better tools, these educators are prepared to identify the multiple layers necessary to remain nimble and alert in the classroom. The confidence that is gained through the courage of paying attention to your situation, gives you the faith to leap from surviving to thriving.

Teacher Education through an Ethnographic Perspective

A book that helped me (Cathy) process my observations more astutely is Ethnographic Eyes : A Teachers Guide to Classroom Observation, by Carolyn Frank.  This book describes how a teacher educator trains her student teachers to see the classrooms they visit through an ethnographic perspective.  To accomplish this, the teacher educator used the tool described below:

I used an activity called Notetaking/Notemaing to help student teachers understand the differences between their own personal perspectives and an insider, classroom perspective. Notetaking/notemaking was presented to the student teachers as an ethnographic tool to help them observe in classrooms.  The student teachers were asked to keep an observation notebook and to divide their observations into two sections: Notetaking (or descriptive fieldnotes) on one side and notemaking (interpretations of what is being observed) on the other side.  We then showed them either a photograph or a video of a classroom.  In this way, it was hoped that the student teachers would begin to reflect on how their own personal biases interfered with an objective account or differed from the classroom members’ perspective.  (p. 9)

This tool was used by this teacher educator throughout the year.  She also showed her student teachers how to use it as a means of data collection towards effective assessment.  At the close of the year, one of the student teachers stated, “[e]thnography has prepared me to think in a new way: a way that makes me think critically about everything that happens in my classroom.”

Try watching part of a classroom literacy event or a video of a class just to observe, then watch using notetaking/ notemaking.  You may be surprised by what comes up.

E eyes


Reflections on Teacher Education Bashing and What Teacher Education Taught Me

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

Reflections on Teacher Education Bashing and What Teacher Education Taught Me

David Berliner’s (2000) list of a dozen criticisms levelled against teacher education struck a real nerve in me. I was not at all surprised by the volume of grievances or by the nature of their complaints: they are all “quite familiar” as Berliner himself points out. But I realized as I scanned these critiques about “Mickey Mouse” coursework and the futility of preparing people for a job that “any reasonably smart person can do” (Berliner, 2000, p. 358) that I hadn’t absorbed these assumptions from a suspicious general public. Quite the opposite, in fact, most of the people I know who aren’t teachers tell me regularly that they could never imagine being one. “I don’t know how you do it,” they often say. Instead, these critiques sounded like the grievances of my colleagues. I heard many of them before I’d even started my initial teacher training at OISE, and most often from graduates of it or a similar program. I heard them aired by a number of my fellow teachers in training, especially those who couldn’t wait to get into the “real world” of practice. I hear them even more often now in the hallways and in the staff and work rooms of the schools where I’ve taught since I graduated six years ago. Why are many of us so quick, I wonder, to throw our pre-service education under the bus?

I am just as guilty, at times, of bashing my own teacher education. Despite promoting itself as an integrated program, my Bachelor of Education at OISE at times felt like anything but. My cohort was bound more or less by common interests—I belonged to the “Global Education” cohort in the intermediate-senior panel—but my coursework, at times, felt disjointed in both content and pedagogy. While I was practicing inquiry-based learning in my social sciences methods course, for example, I was being drilled by weekly multiple-choice tests about stages of adolescent development in my psychology course. The program had something of a collective vision, to borrow Kennedy’s (2006) terms, but there appeared to be disagreement among my professors about the way to enact that vision. My practica felt even more disconnected, as though my placements had been last resorts (they were) instead of intentionally selected to meet my needs as a teacher candidate and the program’s own aims. By the end of the first week of my first practice teaching placement, my associate teacher, who was often mapping out football plays in the back of the room while “observing” my lessons, had taken to leaving shortly after the bell for a coffee run. The massive windows of that first classroom overlooked the parking lot below, and I would watch as his car pulled out of the lot and drove silently away while his twenty or so Grade 10 English students, most of them half-asleep, waited for me to do whatever it is that a teacher is meant to do.

These grievances, to be sure, weigh heavily as I reflect on my time in that program, just as the criticisms Berliner identifies carry substantial weight in conversations about what it is that teachers ought to learn and how they should learn it. However, what I find troubling about mine and others’ tendency to bash our own pre-service education is that it often rests on a flawed understanding of learning, and one that ultimately underestimates teachers’ own capacity as knowers and narrowly defines “practice” as the thing that happens between teachers and students in the classroom. If teaching does involve upwards of six distinguishable and simultaneously enacted areas of concern, as Kennedy (2006) has it, then perhaps we are asking too much of our pre-service programs. Or perhaps, since one of our profession’s hallmarks is the “abruptness with which full responsibility is assumed” (Lortie, 1975, p. 59), we are expecting too much too soon. I want to work against my own knee-jerk tendency to bash my pre-service education and do something I haven’t done as often: reflect on what it did offer me rather than what it didn’t.

First a slight detour. One of the most important lessons I learned during my undergraduate degree is that writing well involves pottery-wheeltaking risks and making mistakes. The professor who taught my fourth-year seminar in social movements explained this by way of analogy: approach writing, she told us, as though you are a potter. A potter puts a slab of clay on the potting wheel, and uses her hands to mould and remould the clay until she’s created something that satisfies her. At any time, the potter can remove the clay, roll it in her hands, and start again. A jeweller, on the other hand, who is cutting a diamond for a ring or a necklace, has only one chance to make the perfect incision or else he renders the stone worthless. Writers, she insisted, are under no such obligation: they can do as the potter does, working and reworking what they’ve written until they’re satisfied. I understood exactly what my professor was explaining—so much so that I now share this analogy regularly with my own students—but it’s only recently that I think I may have “learned” this lesson for myself. Or rather, more accurately, it’s only recently that I’ve begun learning this lesson in practice.

I share this analogy, and my “learning” of it, for two reasons. On one hand, it reminds me that learning is not a simple transaction: that we never simply or immediately “apply” what is “learned”—that learning is not about making deposits which we later cash in. I am still very much learning what I portended to have “learned” as a teacher candidate, just as I am still learning to be a potter rather than a diamond cutter. I “learned”, for example, about inquiry-based learning, about student-centred curriculum, about the importance of community and citizenship education to nurture the whole student—all the trademarks of the teacher education collective vision, really (Kennedy, 2006). But learning, for me, is not teleological—there is no fixed or obvious endpoint at which something is definitively “learned”. Standard curricula assume the opposite and posit that a clear destination is not only in sight, but that it can be reached within a bounded timeframe given the right sort of interventions. I don’t think of learning that way, and so why should I hold my pre-service training against these criteria?

The potter analogy is also instructive to me because I like to think I approach teaching in much the same way—as a process of working and reworking—and I do this because that is what I learned about teaching, in obvious and subtle ways, at OISE. My instructors here—particularly in the so-called “Mickey Mouse” methods courses—actually did what Loughran (2006) proposes: they invited us to “see into teaching” by giving us “access to the thoughts and actions that shape[d] their practice” as teacher educators (p. 5). When my social science methods instructor had us developing units of study, for example, she used an inquiry-based model that began with us musing on the purposes of social science education in the first place, and then reading the formal curriculum vis-à-vis our own images of what social science teaching and learning ought to entail. We threaded our own ways of knowing with curricular ways of knowing to develop lesson plans that resonated with and expanded our own values and experiences. Meanwhile she explained the pedagogical choices on her part—the sequencing, the purposeful arrangement of small groups, and so forth—and invited us to reflect on their efficacy for our own learning.

I wasn’t cognizant at the time of the many layers enacted in this seemingly simple task of unit planning. Or rather, although I knew my instructor had intentionally designed the experience with several layers in mind (she told us as much), it’s really only now, with a few years of being in the classroom behind me, that I’ve begun to understand how it and similar experiences prepared me for teaching in ways that I underestimated. It’s not just that my instructor “modelled” inquiry-based learning, or constructivist approaches, or whatever arm of the teacher education collective vision (Kennedy, 2006) such an exercise evokes, it’s that she positioned us, teachers-in-the-waiting, as knowers and doers. None of us had stepped into a classroom yet—we were not “practicing” in the traditional sense—but I believe, in retrospect, that we were in fact already “learning-by-doing” (Lortie, 1975). By weighing in on her decisions, by pottering with her, I feel that we were already “practicing” what teaching entails.

Kennedy (2006) is suspicious of any teacher education program that “lacks a repertoire of habits and rules of thumb” (p. 209). I could easily concur that my program left me woefully underprepared because I left with few practical ways of “doing” teaching. Sure, much of what I did “learn” was front-loaded, and perhaps necessarily so, but as Loughran (2006) suggests, it requires a different sort of energy “for students of teaching to shake themselves out of their well-established comfort zone of (perhaps passive) learning and to begin to question the taken for granted in their learning about teaching” (p. 4). I am resisting these critiques of “front-loading” and dumbed-down curricula because they posit, in the first place, that teacher education is merely preparation for practice and not a kind of practice in itself. Perhaps the greatest single strength of my pre-service education—and the rule of thumb that has sustained me in my career so far—is that it resisted this notion: it forced me to be a potter. Moulding, remoulding and shaping is what I continue to do.


Berliner, D.C. (2000). A personal response to those who bash teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(5), 358-371.

Kennedy, M.M. (2006). Knowledge and vision in teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(3), 205-211.

Lortie, D. (1975). The limits of socialization. In Schoolteacher. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Loughran, J. (2006). Introduction: Developing a pedagogy of teacher education—What does that really mean? In Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education (1-10). New York: Routledge.