PROFESSIONALISM IN TEACHER EDUCATION
The teaching profession has been under increasing pressure since the turn of the century. This pressure on teachers is from many fronts viz.
· Paradox of teaching to standardized tests juxtaposed with teaching for understanding.
· Constraints on time and resources in self-managed schools where there is expectation of teacher as leader.
· Introduction of Information Technology raises expectation that teachers have the skills and knowledge to prepare students for a technology oriented society.
· Expectation of inclusiveness in the classroom despite inadequate physical and emotional support system.
· Expectation to improve professionalism through collaborative and continuous professional development.
Teachers are under considerable stress to maintain a personal and professional balance despite above pressures imposed on them. A question arises as to how these stresses be eased so that teachers continue to strive to improve teaching, learning and excellence for their students?
For teachers to be de-stressed and to deliver their best a change is necessary. Teacher professionalism and autonomy need to be respected and voiced. A method of achieving this grass-roots potential for change and improved professionalism is through professional development.
Professional development can be defined as any professional growth opportunity in which teachers develop their craft, help shape school practice, and build learning communities (Way, 2001). Teacher development is the building of skills, practice, and knowledge that will enhance a classroom, a school, or a community. Professional development is centered around the following: enhancement of teachers’ content and pedagogic knowledge, attainment of higher-order thinking skills within a subject, use of sufficient time and resources that are carefully structured and purposefully directed, promotion of collegiality and collaboration, building of leadership capacity, and meeting of teachers’ identified need.A potential model for professional development lies in Action Research. Action research is a growing field of educational research with the aim of using disciplined inquiry to improve educational practice (Calhoun, 1993). Kemmis & McTaggart (2000) have developed a succinct definition that is most applicable to the context of education:
"Action research is a learning process, the fruits of which are the real and material changes in (a) what people do, (b) how they interact with the world and with others, (c) what they mean and what they value, and (d) the discourses in which they understand and interpret their world."
Action research is a form of reflective practice that is well known and often second nature to teachers (Johnston, 1994) but with the addition of a strong emphasis on collaboration and dissemination of found knowledge.
Classroom action research addresses the individual teacher in the context of improving teaching and learning within the classroom. Participatory action research addresses the need for a system or school concern for transformational change.
Classroom and participatory action research are very suitable to school situations because of their
- Democratic methodology
- Respect for individuals
- Openness to diversity of perspective
- Flexibility of approach
- The fostering of grounded knowledge for changing practice (Watt, 1997).
Where these opportunities are facilitated in a community with a shared vision, action research can be a successful tool for professional development. That shared vision, through collaborative discussion, needs to be focused on improving teaching and learning for students (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991; Johnson, 1993). That shared vision may also include a focus on improving professionalism ach
(Calhoun, 1993; Johnson, 1993). Calhoun (1993) states that there are five elements that need to be considered before implementing an action research project :
- Purpose and process
- External support
- Types of data to be obtained
- Audience for the research
- Expected outcomes.
Through this framework of inquiry, data collection, reflection and action, improvements can be made in the complex classroom situation and to the professional culture of the school (Gabel, 1995; Johnson, 1993).