Paddling Against the Tide: Contemporary Challenges in Field Education
In casual conversations among social work field and teaching faculty, topics seem to consistently default to its many challenges. From unprofessional behavior to lack of readiness to unrealistic expectations for placements to poor fit and lack of availability of quality placements, explanations range from the internet, the economy, an over-taxed voluntary workforce of field supervisors, and overextended programs and agencies. This paper seeks to shed light on some of these “water cooler” conversations and examines the truth (and consequences) of these assumptions via an exploration of data and literature, an analysis of recent articles in the Field Educator journal, and the musings of two directors (one field and one program) regarding our ethical obligations to our students and the profession at large. During a 6-year period, articles in the Field Educator clustered around the following topics: field pedagogy/field instructors, innovative approaches to finding/expanding field placements, evaluation and assessment of field, issues in field/gatekeeping, student preparedness and culture/diversity. With social work programs growing at a fast rate and field site agencies often grappling with tightening budgets and an overtaxed workforce, what should social work education be doing to ensure that we are attending to multiple competing factors that have an impact on our pursuit of providing high quality experiences for our students and communities? This paper provides some food for thought, and encourages continued conversation as our profession and our educational programs evolve.
KeywordsField education Field challenges Signature pedagogy
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