Zeichner (1983) described four paradigms of teacher education that are still referenced and debated in the field today—behaviorist, traditional-craft, personalist, and inquiry orientations. While there are elements of all four of these paradigms evident in my practice, my teaching philosophy is most consistent with the inquiry-oriented paradigm. Behaviorist-oriented teacher educators focus on a predetermined knowledge base and observable pedagogical skills; preservice teachers are primarily recipients and then executors of the evidence-based practices that comprise the curriculum. In my courses, critical concepts and principles of special education prescribed by the Council for Exceptional Children and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) are covered at length per the requirements for teacher licensure. Special education vocabulary, laws, and process must be mastered; these aspects are emphasized in the first special education course providing a foundation for the inquiry-oriented nature of the remainder of special education track of the Education minor.
Traditional-craft teacher educators view preservice teachers primarily as apprentices who learn from observing and emulating more experienced practitioners. The Education Department’s commitment to providing field experiences for preservice teachers throughout the program is evidence of the traditional-craft elements of the Randolph-Macon teacher preparation program. As the director of fieldwork during the first six years of my experience at Randolph-Macon College, coordinating fieldwork placements for education students to observe and assist with mentoring teachers in area schools was a large part of my job. In addition to maintaining our longstanding partnership with Hanover County Public Schools, I established a new fieldwork partnership with Caroline County Public Schools in 2014 and initiated our first fieldwork placement in Spotsylvania County Public Schools in 2015. Special education preservice teachers partnered with six amazing special educators at Chickahominy Middle School during Spring 2015. This new model provided an intensive foundational field experience working with middle schoolers with a wide range of exceptionalities in collaborative, resource, and self-contained settings. Having opportunities to observe and assist multiple experienced practitioners serves our students well as they develop into effective educators, and I include these important elements in my courses.
Personalist-oriented teacher educators focus primarily on the psychological maturity of preservice teachers—more humanist and developmental indicators. For the personalist, “teacher education is a form of adult development, a process of ‘becoming’ rather than a process of educating someone to teach” (Zeichner, 1983, p.5). In my classes, facilitating the development of young college students into discerning, professional educators is addressed through purposeful discussions and narrative writing assignments designed to help students identify and challenge their presuppositions about teaching that have been shaped by their past experiences. For the past two years, my teaching schedule has allowed me to frequently eat lunch with my students prior to class; some of our most powerful conversations about teaching have occurred over our brown-bagged lunches. Nurturing maturity, cultural responsiveness, and caring dispositions fall under CAEP’s Standard 3.3 which requires programs to “establish and monitor attributes and dispositions beyond academic ability” (CAEP, 2013, p. 17). This is particularly relevant for future special educators who are often responsible for providing social skill and behavioral instruction in addition to academic content areas. I take seriously my responsibility as a teacher educator to facilitate discernment, maturity, and professionalism among the Randolph-Macon preservice teachers.
While the essential elements of behaviorist, traditional-craft, and personalist orientations are evident in my teaching, I am primarily an inquiry-oriented teacher educator. I prioritize the “development of inquiry about teaching and about the contexts in which teaching is carried out” (Zeichner, 1983, p. 5). Preservice teachers will be tasked to teach diverse students with a variety of exceptional needs and abilities in a variety of educational placements. In many cases, my students will need to use instructional strategies and technologies that have not yet been invented. To be effective, they must be inquisitive and innovative, persistent and proactive, lifelong learners and leaders. I cannot possibly teach them all that they need to know in the short time I have with them, so I am compelled to train them to be action researchers and problem solvers. As an inquiry-oriented teacher educator, my classes are often problem-based and discussion-driven. I regularly use instructional technology to organize the course, communicate efficiently with students, and enrich the learning experience, but I do not believe technology is a substitute for the rich and powerful learning that occurs through well-designed face-to-face lessons. Students read and critique research, wrestle with misconceptions, respond to case studies, and interview teachers, instructional aides, parents, and students with exceptionalities. I want my students to develop into inquiry-oriented educators who can advocate for students within and beyond the constraints of the public school systems in which they will serve. I am an inquiry-oriented teacher educator who prepares future special educators to individualize rather than standardize instruction. An inquiry-oriented teacher educator is an essential voice in a well-rounded teacher preparation program, and as such, I believe I am an ideal candidate for this position.
Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. (2013a). CAEP accreditation standards and evidence: Aspirations for educator preparation. Retrieved from http://caepnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/commrpt.pdf
Zeichner, K. M. (1983). Alternative paradigms of teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 34(3), 3-9.