Our reluctance to surrender teacher education to the myth of experience … is founded on a view that experience in the professional arena is only useful in terms of promoting more effective teaching and learning if it is appropriately informed (i.e. by a constructively critical orientation and by the application and interrogation of educational theory) and only as long as its reification is carefully avoided. (That is to say, the important thing is not to see experience as something that ‘lies ahead’ and ‘outside’ of us, waiting for us to learn or not to learn from it, and possessing some kind of inherent value; but rather to concentrate on understanding how and why we experience things the way we do).
Moore, A. and Ash A.(12-14 September 2002 ). Reflective practice in beginning teachers: helps, hindrances and the role of the critical other Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association. University of Exeter, England, , Institute of Education, University of London.
Moore and Ash studied two sets of preservice teachers, first a group who were struggling (the subject of an earlier paper), and then a group doing well both at university and on their prac (the subject of this talk).
They expected to find that professional teacher standards and ingrained assumptions formed from prior experience of schooling, together with the distracting busyness of a preservice teacher’s life, would result in the ten students they studied quickly abandoning deep reflection and falling back on prior beliefs and perceptions about students and teaching. In fact they were surprised by their results.
In the event, we were surprised to discover … [that] although each of the students interviewed was very aware of the impact of previous school and home experience on their current professional perspectives and responses, that awareness was such that it could be critically evaluated and drawn upon constructively by the student rather than having an inhibitory effect.
The students studied struggled to find the time for ongoing reflection, and many of them found mandated reflective tasks became exercises in compliance rather than authentic and useful analysis. But they all valued and practised it to such an extent that the authors concluded:
The levels of self-awareness, adaptability and willingness on these students’ parts to challenge previously held assumptions have led us to hypothesise that such qualities were a major contributory factor to their success in the classroom and that, conversely, the lack of such qualities was a major contributory factor in the difficulties experienced by some of the ‘failing students’ in the previous study.
It was important to these students that their reflections were not done in isolation.
All of our respondents were agreed that much of their most useful reflection was carried out not on their own but in the company of and with the active support of others. To quote Johnston S. (1994, p.46), who effectively links reflective practice with research on and into one’s practice, they found a particular value in ‘formal or informal collaborative groups or networks’ (see also Kemmis & McTaggart 1988).
Most respondents, however, particularly valued discussions with other students on their course and the ‘safe’, supportive environment (Zeichner & Liston 1987) that such meetings provided, regretting that this site was too rarely available to them given the amount of time spent in school and the amount of work to be got through on the college-based part of the course.
This willingness to reflect with peers sat side-by-side with a disquiet that even these successful students felt about certain kinds of authentic reflection opening themselves up to a feeling of being exposed. It seemed that either previous persecutory experiences, or just normal human feelings of vulnerability, made a certain level of openness problematic.
What we did find, however, was that even with these successful students previous experience did act in the same inhibitory ways – albeit to a far less influential extent – as with the failing students we had considered in our previous study: specifically, in the various manifestations of uncomfortable feelings of ‘exposure’ described by the students, whereby someone or something – either a tangible, ‘external’ presence or a voice or voices that had become internalised by them – operated in a disquieting and not always helpful way in the reflective process. While all the students valued the voices of the critical friends and support networks they had chosen – the need for ‘someone else’s eye’, referred to by one student – not all were, by an means, as comfortable with these other uninvited, often invasive critics, whose eyes and voices often produced uncomfortable, negative and unconstructive feelings and whose origins they were typically unwilling or unable to discuss.
This rings true for me. I sense, even in our most successful students, an underlying concern that in talking with me about what most unsettles them, they are opening themselves up to appearing foolish in the eyes of the Other, whether that other is literally me or an internalised persecutory one.