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Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre 2004 Understanding Teachers’ Development in China: An
Illustrative ‘Snap-shot’ of Three Teachers’
Professional Lives
ZHONG Caishun
WU Zongjie
Teacher development is a major concern of current educational reform in China. This paper draws on theories that there are three aspects of teacher development : professional knowledge, teachers’ commitment and community of practice.
This paper reports an illustrative ‘snap-shot’ of three middle school English teachers’ lives, to illustrate the current situation in China of teachers’ professional development. An analysis of this data indicates a current deficiency in professional knowledge, teachers’ commitment and community support, which undermines these teachers’ professional practice for the purpose of professional development.
Key words
Teachers’ professional development, Teachers’ knowledge, Teachers’ commitment INTRODUCTION
Substantial progress in education has been witnessed in China, embracing both educational policies, After graduation, the schools where they work institutional management and teacher training. However may then provide limited in-service training including education in China is still found to be “imbued with mentored teaching, basic skills training, modern problems” (Li,1999,p.179). One major cause of these technology training, short-term training in holidays, problems appears to be the teacher education system participant observation, and collegial lesson planning (Zhang Jiaxiang, 2001). In China, teachers are usually (Zhang Jiaxiang & Sang Yongna, 2001; Zao Mengceng, graduates from normal universities, colleges or schools, 1999). These forms of training however may not fit well where various area of ‘subject knowledge’ such as with the teachers’ professional practice (Song Deru, psychology, pedagogy and methodology are offered for Based on the concept of “lifelong education” (UNESCO report, 1996), the Ministry of Education in Mainland China now seeks to develop teachers’ “further education”, by involving all elementary and middle In this paper the three facets of teacher school teachers in the enterprise of professional development are reformulated as three guiding research development (Cheng Shuhua, 2000). The intent here is questions to invesitgate the situation of Chinese teachers’ Learning from countries adopting a similar “quality of education” goal and with contexts similar to China, such as India (as reported in Dyer et. al, 2004), What expertise does the teacher need to
people come to realize that in-service training could not achieve expected goals where the training content is felt “Xu gao wei shi” (‘the knowledgeable can be the to be irrelevant to teachers’ professional daily practice.
teacher’) may best characterize Chinese traditional To bridge this ‘relevance’ gap, the focus of teacher expectations of teachers. Knowledge of subject matter development has now been oriented towards the has long been considered central in China’s teacher teachers’ lifeworld (Goodson, 1994; Allwright, 2003; education system. This view is now gradually changing.
Freeman and his collaborators ( Freeman, 2002; This paper seeks to investigate three ‘teachers’ Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Freeman & Richards, 1996) lifeworlds’ and to illuminate what is relevant to the propose theoretical frameworks that redefine the scope ‘professional development’ of middle school teachers and nature of teachers’ professional knowledge and emphasize teachers’ personal understanding of their daily practice. For Rose (2003) such changes in the notion of professional expertise indicate a move from THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
‘official’ to ‘local’ knowledge - the former being unitary Research in teacher development has changed its focus and totalitarian while the latter appears to be over the past few years. Two decades ago, it was still “discontinuous, disqualif ied and illegitimate” based on the “delivery mechanism” (Freeman, 1998) which was mainly concerned with what we knew or thought was important about teaching. But by the 1990s interest had been diverted towards “the thinking of the What developmental approach deserves
teacher” (ibid) i.e. teacher learning. This implied that teachers’ commitment?
teacher development was to provide teachers with Approaches to teacher development fell broadly with a “opportunities to learn” (Hargreaves and Fullan, 1992, ‘skills- and knowledge-based’ paradigm in the majority p.1). This change in focus is reflected in the various of our past practices (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1992; Dyer approaches adopted in teacher development practice.
et. al, 2004). Knowledge or skill was considered as Hargreaves and Fullan (1992, p.2) categorize three types something existing objectively there, usually discovered or possessed by some experts or authorities and therefore Understanding Teachers’ Development in China: An Illustrative ‘Snap-shot’ of Three Teachers’ Professional Lives known as “official knowledge” (Apple, 2000). Based Autonomy: For Clement & Vandenberghe (2000, on such a theory, teacher development is usually p.85) autonomy “holds prospect for creativity, personal manifested as efforts exerted in various ways to facilitate study, reflection, the elaboration of new orientations and the transmission of knowledge from trainers (experts) as a consequence for professional development”. For to trainees (teachers) Therefore it depends heavily on Richardson (1997, p.185) a community conducive to training institutions, beaucratic authorities and ‘experts’.
professional development shall be one of “sacred space”.
Teacher trainees only play a passive role. But for Given these characteristics, for professional autonomy Hargreaves & Fullan (1992), this “top-down” or to flourish, it requires both social and institutional “outside-in” method may silence teachers’ voice arising from their practice and prevent teachers from gaining Teacher development, as we can see from the tr ue understanding for their own professional review above, has been approached from various development. As more “local” knowledge is preferred perspectives with different foci. A common feature now, we no longer regard knowledge as something that amongst the more recent approaches is that they address we can move around from one person to another (Wu, teachers’ practical and local needs and teachers’ 2002a, p.339). This implies that teacher development “dwellings” (Wu, p.2002a) i.e. their daily professional cannot be achieved through institutional instruction but life (Goodson, 1994; Allwright, 2003; Wu, 2002a). So through understanding of individual teachers’ life in in this paper we propose to take a “snap-shot” of three middle school English teachers’ professional life in China to illuminate the challenges and opportunities they encounter in their professional development.
What external supports are needed to
facilitate teacher development?
Where top-down imposition of knowledge and THREE CASE STUDIES
contextual irrelevance may drown teachers’ authentic The three case studies comprise three native-Chinese understanding of their practice, interest has focused on teachers of English and their reflections sampled over communities of practice (Wenger, 1998).
one representative teaching week. Convenience Communities of practice are assigned two key sampling - interviewees are long-term colleagues of the researchers: the ‘teaching week’ is arbitrarily selected - Collaboration: Collaboration in teaching can take is an acknowledged research limitation. However the various forms such as peer discourse or dialogue intent here is to report a ‘snap-shot’ of teaching reality.
(Manouchehri, 2002; McCotter, 2001), seminars or The validity of this ‘snap-shot’ stems from the mutual workshops (Frank, 1998), observing colleagues’ respect and confidence shared between researcher and classroom teaching (Richards, 1998), action research respondent as demonstrated in the following biographic in group (Wu, 1995; Carr & Kemmis, 1986) or even informal communication like chat, discussion, writing Huifei: She was born in a scholarly family (her letters or emails, and other collective activities among mother was the headmaster of a middle school), educated in a medium-sized city in Jiangxi, elected Chairperson of students’ union at college and living is manifested as “comportment” within an episode awarded the Championship title in a debate contest. As (Donnelly 1999, p.936), so those episodes are the a teacher, she has been honored as a “model teacher” in windows for us to understand the teachers’ life. Episodes her school and invited to give demonstrative classes for are categorized and analyzed in terms of teachers’ knowledge, commitment and community of practice.
Lifang: She is a girl from the countryside, a The following serves as one example of this analysis second-prize winner in a provincial English proficiency process (Note: interviews were originally conducted in contest and promoted from a rural middle school to the No. 1 in her county for her excellence in teaching achievement and professional competence. Her husband is headmaster of a middle school and they have one I attended a meeting this morning. It was s u m m o n e d by t h e s c h o o l ’s L e a g u e Linwei: He is also from a rural family in Jiangxi Committee. It had nothing to do with teaching.
and known for his diligence as a student at college. As It was held as a response to a circular from a teacher, he was also promoted from a junior to a senior upper educational authorities. . (Interview middle school for his professional accomplishments.
Notes on April 7). In this conversation we The three interviewees have each had five-years’ teaching experience. They are reaching a stage of administrative meeting she had joined. Her “impact concerns” (Fuller, 1969) in which teachers story also reveals that in this meeting they just usually start to be concerned about further development sit there, listening to one school leader’s in their profession by drawing on not only their personal speech reporting on a circular passed down but also social potential. This also can serve well our from the upper educational authorities. From purpose of researching professional development.
Reflecting geographic distances, the data comprise a series of telephone interviews. All interviews that the knowledge within this meeting is “hard” are held in the evening, once a day over a period of one or “official” (Apple, 2000) for it is circulated and full teaching week. Each interview starts with the universally applied in all schools of their city, reminiscences of our past shared college life, our taking no account of the specific situation or needs feelings about our life and career, an account of what they do at work during the day including their daily that teachers show little or no commitment to the teaching routine, their contact with students or agenda of the meeting, since this meeting is colleagues and their feelings and comments on these imposed top-down on the teachers, does not emerge out of their authentic teaching practice and “it had Interviews are recorded in the form of book notes, whose accuracy is confirmed immediately after each that there is no collaboration among leaders and interview. Then episodes or activities are identified. The teachers in this meeting, for what they have to do analysis presupposed the concept that life is revealed is follow the requirements or stipulations in the as consecutive episodes and that the primary way of circular. They do not have the autonomy to change Understanding Teachers’ Development in China: An Illustrative ‘Snap-shot’ of Three Teachers’ Professional Lives the proceedings or content of the meeting. It Their stories in our interviews indicate that the appears that all teachers are taking uniform actions teachers are all more bothered with their daily routines than voicing and reconstructing the meaning of education within their own “knowledge landscape” By drawing on the analysis of their daily practices (Clandinin & Connelly, 1995). One example in the way we illustrated above, we reach the following understanding of middle school teachers’ professional life.
Every day, I teach lessons, grade students’ FINDINGS
Linwei: The majority of teachers here consider that Our analysis shows that the three case studies share their only duty is to perform the routine remarkable similarities in terms of the three analytical classroom teaching. They care nothing about Knowledge
However, we do find that instances where they Our talks with the three teachers all show that they are can engage in “marginal practice” (Wu, 2002), which embedded in “an organizational knowledge structure” can lead to authentic understanding as demonstrated in (Schon, 1983, p.336). The main drive of their professional activities is the imposed “off icial knowledge” from top down. Linwei has the following Now I am experimenting with a new theory— Our primary duty is to fulfill the requirements Caishun: How did you come up with that idea? listed in the syllabi and help students achieve high marks I came across it in some books. And I felt the idea is not only significant to our education As illustrated above the official guidelines are but also practical in my teaching. So I started internalized as the perception of teachers’ duty, and are to try it. I surfed on the net to look for relevant embodied in their pedagogical discourse in terms of both materials and new ideas for my teaching. And Caishun: I am quite interested in it because in my university some teachers are experimenting Commitment
with a kind of similar theory called “RICH”.
By “commitment” here we do not mean the time, energy That’s too great! Could you send me some or emotion teachers devoted to their profession. Instead relevant materials? The problem I have now it is intended to mean the self-elaboration of authenticity is lack of materials and equipment. (Interview of teachers’ practice i.e. the personal horizon which a teacher explores in order to enact his authentic understanding in his professional life.
Huifei’s spontaneous response to the idea of task- in which all teachers could achieve ‘professional based learning is rooted in her concern for her daily development’. But they are not well accepted by teachers teaching routines. Through her marginal practice as we can see from teachers’ responses: (experiment in her own private space of classroom) she This afternoon it was our time to do collegial starts to match her life and work. This could encourage lesson planning. But this activity has long her further exploration in her professional life. But this existed in name only. We never actually did authenticity will depend on her capability in negotiating it. We just sat there, some having idle talks the dialogues between her reading of institutional text and others minding their own business.
and her own exploratory practice, which is the hardest Linwei: Although we are supposed to observe colleagues’ classroom 15 times every school year, we do not observe this rule strictly. We Community of practice
think it is of little help to our own teaching.
All three stories reflect the features of their professional communities. The collegial activities they talk of in the However, this lack of interest in those collegial Classroom observation: In Linwei’s school, all activities seems to be in contrast with their uncertainty teachers are required to observe their colleagues’ in teaching and inner desire for opportunities to learn classroom teaching 15 times every school year.
In Lifange’s school, they are required to observe I just go it blind. I really want to see how others at least each colleague’s classroom teaching once are getting on. I wish we could have more Collegial lesson planning: Both Huifei and teaching in other schools. (Interview Notes Lifang’s schools require that all those who teach the same subject grade meet and plan their lessons Linwei: Learning from other teachers is important. We need more opportunities to learn from those S t a f f m e e t i n g : E ve r y we e k t h e s c h o o l experienced teachers. (Interview Notes on administrators will convene all the staff at least once, to circulate new educational policies, These two types of paradoxical stories are regulations or information on school’s daily life.
categorized as “overt” and “covert” by Clandinin & Connelly (1995), which are told respectively in public and private spaces. According to Clandinin and Connelly One remarkable feature of these activities is that (1995), it is the covert stories that are related to teachers’ they are all officially administered, as time and places professional development and therefore should be are fixed for teachers to meet and measures are taken to encouraged in practice. However, this kind of “narrative make sure that all those involved will take part on time authority” (Olson & Craig, 2001, p.670) is often thwarted and make requested contributions. These activities were or silenced in professional contexts so that teachers intended to develop a collective and collaborative culture always feel uneasy to speak out such covert stories: e.g.
Understanding Teachers’ Development in China: An Illustrative ‘Snap-shot’ of Three Teachers’ Professional Lives We do sometimes ask each other questions.
professional development. Through the study of three But they are usually problems with language school teachers’ one-week career life, we find that all points for teaching. We rarely discuss such the three teachers are imbedded in educational contexts professional questions like how to teach. We where authorized versions of knowledge prevail, feel uncomfortable to talk about those things.
teachers’ voice and their authentic understanding are suffocated, collegiality is mandated and manipulated superficially and staff are generally alienated at work.
Lastly we would also like to mention in passing The culture can be characterized as stagnation, some differences we find between these three teachers.
resistance and alienation. It is far from conducive to They differ in degrees of passion and commitment teachers’ professional development.
towards their profession. Whereas Lifang is a highly Educational authorities and researchers in devoted teacher and accepts her current way of life as a Mainland China recognise these problems and are teacher, we can feel a sense of “having no other choice” making strenuous efforts to popularize the concept of from her words in our talks. Linwei has decided to school-based in-service training for middle and primary change his job. He is leaving to study for his master school teachers (Yang Xiuzhi, 2002). This concept degree. Only Huifei appears enthusiastic about her job.
allows schools to design their own training plans, Certainly personality in relation to gender may be one objectives and content based on the school and teachers’ important reason for their differences. But we find the specif ic practical needs. Teachers are expected to contexts also play an important role. For example in achieve development in their own daily practice. This Huifei’s school, she can experiment with theories like approach towards teacher development aims to shape task-based learning and explore new possibilities. We “teachers as learners” and “schools as learning know these innovations in teaching require communities communities” (Clarke & Hollingworth, 2002, p.949).
of certain authenticity. The possibility in Huifei’s school Basically, we agree that this concept should be is made possible by the openness of her school in the enouraged to address the situation facing middle school city. For example, she has easier access to information teachers now. But in order to realize a fundamental such as internet and higher value is placed on change in our educational practice, we would argue that professional development. But Lifang and Linwei do our endeavors should be first directed to address the not have such luck. In the relatively less developed towns, the institutional morale appears to be more conservative, where teachers are more ready to accept what they are used to through institutionalization.
Transforming current teachers’ beliefs and
value systems about educational knowledge
and practice
The first reality we reveal in our study is the dominance IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHERS’
of “official knowledge”. We have already pointed out PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
that one result of such dominance is the uncoupling of This paper reveals in current middle schools in China theory and practice. In order to motivate teachers’ more challenges than opportunities for teachers’ professional development, we must first of all make them realize the indeterminacy and unpredicatibility of teachers to follow. We argue that in-service training now the constant changing reality and the limitations of the should be re-focused on teachers themselves. This is authorized version of knowledge in addressing their congruous with our stress of “local knowledge”.
changing practical needs. We shall also commit them When teachers begin to turn their interest to their to the belief that the truth of knowledge only comes own daily practice, they may be able to start a dialogic from their authentic educational practice.
process between their own beliefs and practice. In this We find most of our teachers are always looking way teachers can involve themselves in “exploratory for or expecting to be given some kind of model in practice” (Allwright, 2003) and reflect authentically on teaching so that they can simply follow it1. But they are actually often disappointed by those transplanted To arrive at such a goal theoretically teachers need teaching methods or approaches, which are usually the results of technically manipulated experiments, because those scientific findings are irrelevant to their practical that teacher development programs are started not contexts. Their needs can only be addressed through because their daily practice is problematic and their own understanding in practice or “local needs correcting. Instead, we shall take our daily knowledge” (Dyer et. al, 2004). So “teacher practice as nor mal and base professional development programme(s) needs to be able to convince development on the normal. (for this point see teachers of their own capacity directly to effect change, and to build on and extend teachers’ views of the that teacher development is a process of negotiation possible” (ibid, p.51). Teachers will not simply depend between educational theories, teachers’ own on the theories and official knowledge they are provided authentic (local) understanding and authentic with. Instead they will see themselves as creators of (local) practice, which may be illustrated by Allwright’s (2003, p.115) closed circle that unites But this shift cannot simply be stimulated through ‘Thinking globally, acting and thinking locally’.
inculcation. Otherwise, the new endeavor will fall again that the authentic voice and practice of teachers into a vicious circle as we we have seen in the past can only be nourished in authentic communities.
educational reforms.The prerequisite of its success is that school-based in-service training be implemented in an authentic sense of “school based”.
Transforming school into a learning
“Contrived collegiality” may be the best concept to Committing teachers to authentic reflective
represent the current nature of school communities in practice
Chinese schools. Most of the collegial activities are As we have argued above, most teachers are more ready institutionalized and compulsory, as our study has to accept what they have been accustomed to. They are shown. They are grounded on the extant institutional resistant to change imposed upon them. This has been and educational systems like unif ied curricula, the reason for the failure of our past education reforms.
examinations, etc which function to strengthen the We can never successfully formulate any model for all traditional ‘technical practice’ (Halliday, 1998) rather Understanding Teachers’ Development in China: An Illustrative ‘Snap-shot’ of Three Teachers’ Professional Lives than stimulating ‘authentic practice’. Within such Lifang and Linwei both betray their own authentic communities, teachers will not feel safe, for they are understanding to give way to the dominant institutional always faced with challenges from the institutions, control. They are doing what they are actually unwilling colleagues, and students. Now most schools in China have introduced the scientific management mechanism, which forces teachers into struggle against each other.
constructive collegiality. For the former, the way out For example, they have to be evaluated by institutions might be, as Hargreaves and Fullan (1992, p.16) argue, for their personal promotion; they have to compete with “to shift the balance of responsibility for teacher their colleagues for the security of their position in the development and curriculum development from the school, and they hold the responsibility for the students’ centre to the periphery, from administrators to teachers, performance in the examinations. In this way, how could and from men to women”. To achieve this we need to teachers have true dialogues while working together? provide enough safe space in which teachers can freely How could they practise authentically? The following talk about their covert stories. This kind of community words of two teachers reveal part of teachers’ mental must be based on democracy, mutual understanding and joint action. We must be particularly cautious against any violent interventions by institutions and beaucracy.
Since my students are going to take the college These three case studies were one enterprise to entrance exam soon, I had no way but to do explore Chinese middle school teachers’ professional those reading and listening practice exercises life. From this research, we already got a snap-shot of their social and institutional constraints in professional Linwei: Sometimes I did come across some ideas but development. But we want to state here that the I could not apply it in practice. Because for significance of research of this kind lies more in its the senior students examination is considered consciousness raising than what it reveals of individual most important by all. I could not risk my students’ future for my personal experiment.
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