Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Three Contested Conceptions of the Teacher and Their Implications for Teacher Education

  • Christopher WinchEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_46-1

Introduction: Three Ideal Types

There is considerable disagreement about what kind of occupation teaching is. It is generally agreed that for someone to teach it is necessary that there is some subject matter that they teach and someone to whom that subject matter is conveyed (Passmore 1980). However there is disagreement as to how that subject matter is conveyed. This does not merely mean the technique that is used to convey what is to be taught but the general form of the conveying. Thus Socrates, in comparing teaching to midwifery in Meno, is not just referring to the analogy between teaching and bringing a human into the world but is situating the occupation of midwifery as a craft and by implication suggesting that teaching is a craft which involves the skillful deployment of dialectical rather than instructional abilities (Plato 1970).

A craft is an occupation which relies on knowledge accumulated by individuals and their occupational communities, usually over long periods of time, acquired by novices through experience under the supervision of experts in the craft. Critical to the success of craftworkers is the ability to practice their abilities in a way that is appropriate to the situation they find themselves in: the tools and materials at their disposal as well as the needs and whims of their clients. They do not require systematic knowledge, let alone scientific knowledge, in order to practice, and much of what they know cannot be articulated but only passed on by example (Sturt 1923). Conceptualizing teaching as craftwork is very popular, not only in traditional societies but also in the UK and the USA, where suspicion of educational theorizing and research is widespread, both within the policymaking community and the wider public. The typical craft teacher has good subject knowledge, has the right character and attitudes (is made of the “right stuff” in Tom Wolfe’s phrase), and has sound situational judgment.

The executive technician is a by-product of the fragmentation of the labor process described by Adam Smith (1981), whereby the various discrete tasks performed by the craftworker are broken down and articulated in a sequence. Executive technicians have very little discretion in their work. When teaching is organized on an executive technician model, curriculum and lesson planning is done for them by what one might call educational technologists, based on research carried out by professional researchers. All the executive technician has to do is to put the prescribed curriculum into effect via the prescribed pedagogical methods, which typically consist of model lessons whose sequences are delineated minute by minute. England’s National Literacy Strategy and parateaching programs in India are examples of the use of the executive technician, and there are also numerous commercial examples which can be bought “off the shelf” and used in state schools in the UK, USA, and other countries.

The professional or professional technician practices an occupation that depends on a theoretical rationale, be it scientific, ethical, or normative, which is of some degree of abstraction and systematically organized. It usually takes time and effort to acquire. Priests, lawyers, and doctors are usually given as paradigmatic examples of professionals in this sense. Engineers, accountants, and managers may also be seen as more recent examples of professionals in this traditional sense, while other occupations such as nursing, social work, and policing are sometimes called “semiprofessions,” because they embody some but not all of the marks of a traditional profession (Etzioni 1969). One school of thought holds that teachers are professionals, on the grounds that in order to do their work to a high degree of effectiveness, they need an appropriate theoretical background in order to inform their judgments. It is important to realize what professionals’ relationship to theory is. In the main, professionals do not develop protocols for action from their theoretical resources, in the way that the educational technologist does for the executive technician, but apply theoretical considerations to the situation as they find it and combine the resources from their guiding theory with their appreciation of situational constraints and affordances in order to form professional judgments. Professionals do not use “technical knowledge” in Oakeshott’s (1962) sense. That is, they do not use theory to develop protocols which are then applied situationally in what he calls “practical knowledge.” In fact, professionals do not really need technical knowledge except in a restricted range of circumstances. Their expertise rests on their ability to combine theoretical considerations with situational awareness in forming plans of action and making workplace judgments.

The teacher as craftworker, executive technician, or professional is an ideal type. They may or may not exist in their pure form. There may be differing mixtures (e.g., some teachers may rely principally on craft and less on theory), or some executive technicians may have the opportunity to exercise craft expertise in a restricted range of circumstances. Professionals teaching a subject on which they have little knowledge may, perforce, have to practice as executive technicians in these circumstances. On the other hand, it is not possible to simultaneously be a teacher in more than one of these categories. That is, they cannot teach the same lesson as more than one of these kinds of teachers. Thus, there may be incompatible mixtures. It is not possible, for example, to follow protocols to the letter and at the same time have the opportunity for situational adaptation. Craftworkers who use theory to inform their judgments in a significant part of their working lives are no longer craftworkers but professionals. It is important to note, however, that an element of craft sensibility is an essential component of the expertise of the professional. As has just been noted, the professional cannot be a protocol follower inasmuch as they are practicing as professionals. But since they arrive at judgments through applying theoretical considerations in the light of situational awareness, they necessarily incorporate an element of craft sensibility into their work.

Why Contested?

Because there are incompatible elements to the different conceptions of the teacher, the adoption of a dominant model involves choosing between conceptions that are to some extent incompatible. In other words, these different conceptions are in contestation with each other in the sphere of practical educational politics. Choices need to be made. If not, they are made by default, since a country’s teachers will adopt one conception of teaching as the dominant form. Left completely to their own devices, they are likely to adopt the craft conception, unless the commercial success of executive technician programs prompts their wide adoption. On the other hand, the adoption of the professional model will, likely, be a political decision because the state will need to commit considerable resources to the creation of an appropriate teacher education and professional development infrastructure. The widespread adoption of the executive technician model will also require the development of research, development, and training by the state. This model will, then, if adopted on a large scale, depend on the initiative of the state, a condition not true of the craftworker conception of teaching. As can be seen in the independent school sector, craftworkers tend to be ubiquitous. Given the apparent academic success of independent schools, it is often claimed that their methods of inducting teachers and the conception of teachers and teaching that they adopt should be a model for the state sector.

To summarize, two conceptions of teaching (craft and executive technician) deny the role of theory as part of the teacher’s active repertoire in teaching, two (the craftworker and the professional) affirm the need for situational judgment, and two (the executive technician and the professional) affirm that theory should inform practice, albeit in very different ways in each conception. This observation in turn implies that the formation of a country’s teaching force will need to be organized in different ways according to which is to be the dominant conception of teaching. The next section will consider the implications of these distinctions for teacher education.

Educating the Craftworker

The traditional approach to the development of craftworkers has been apprenticeship. The novice is traditionally an employee and works for low remuneration while acquiring the craft. The craft itself is learned through something like what Lave and Wenger (1991) call “legitimate peripheral participation,” whereby the apprentice is entitled to assume progressively more central and difficult aspects of the occupational work, until he becomes fully competent. Such instruction as there is, is given by the employer or a senior craftworker. This is the traditional form of apprenticeship. Much more common now in Europe is the dual apprenticeship, in which the novice is an employee but attends a formal educational institution both in order to continue his/her general education and to acquire the theoretical background to the occupation. In this sense, the dual system apprentice is on the way toward becoming a professional technician in the sense explained above. However, if teachers need no theoretical background in order to become fully competent, an apprenticeship based on the dual approach becomes superfluous.

To follow the logic of the conception of the teacher as craftworker is then to induct the teacher into the occupation of teaching through a traditional apprenticeship, perhaps after the would-be teacher has first received instruction in the subject which she/he is going to teach at university or a tertiary institution of some kind. Such institutions would, however, have at best a minimal role to play in the development of the teacher’s occupational competence. Such is the model that the UK seems to be set on following for a large proportion of its teaching force through an apprenticeship in teaching program. An important point should be noticed about this approach; it is highly localized. The apprentice is trained to teach in a particular school or group of schools with their own distinctive expectations and characteristics.

Educating the Executive Technician

The executive technician needs to be trained in classroom routines prescribed by an educational technologist. In order to practice these routines, an executive technician needs a certain amount of basic education so that they are at least “one step ahead” of their students. But they do not need to have any profound subject knowledge or any “pedagogic content knowledge” (Shulman 1986), which the craftworker would be expected to acquire during the course of apprenticeship. Shulman would consider both subject and pedagogic content knowledge necessary to the repertoire of an accomplished teacher. The routines which the executive technician is expected to practice can be done initially in a controlled or safe environment, and then practice can be extended to more normal classroom conditions. Great economies of scale could be expected from a national adoption of the executive technician model of teaching. Nationally sponsored research could lead to the production of a national curriculum and associated lessons prescribed in great detail, supported by standard equipment and textbooks. Intending teachers could receive induction through classroom-based training and could then be sent into schools to practice the routines that they had been taught. They could be there either as interns or as apprentices as described above.

It is not difficult to see that the training of the executive technician type of teacher would be both quick and relatively cheap and could involve quite considerable economies of scale. Any nation intending to achieve a mass scale of very basic education might be tempted by this model. Whether it is suitable to the achievement of more ambitious aspirations is questionable.

Educating the Professional Technician

Would-be professional technicians (or “professionals” for brevity) should be assumed to have at least the same degree of subject knowledge as craftworkers, which they may acquire either prior to their professional formation or alongside it (e.g., as in Germany). The direct engagement with conceptual frameworks of education and the principles, practice, and findings of educational research distinguishes their professional formation from that of craftworkers and educational technicians. However, it is now more widely recognized than it was perhaps 50 years ago that a close relationship between the theoretical and the practical elements of professional formation is necessary. This in turn implies that the relationship between universities and schools should be a close partnership with each party having a significant say in the structure and practice of the program. If this implies a degree of institutional complexity in the arrangements for teacher education, then it may well be a price worth paying if the results are a perceptible increment in the quality of the teaching force compared to that produced by the other two routes discussed above.

It might be useful to take an extant example of the professional formation of teachers, that of Germany. The professional formation of teachers at both primary and secondary levels is approximately 7 years. This consists of both subject instruction and professional formation interwoven. The first 3 years lead to a level 6 (Bachelor) qualification, and a further 2 years lead to a level 7 (Master) qualification and an initial license to teach. This is followed by an employment contract with the state government, giving the teacher civil service status, whereby the teacher is a kind of apprentice, carrying out teaching in realistic conditions but with a high degree of guidance and mentoring. After a period of up to 2 years, dependent on satisfactory performance, teachers are awarded a full license to practice.

The German model is not entirely satisfactory. There is a sharp break between the more theoretically oriented and the more practically oriented phases. This is not to say that there are no practical elements in the first 5 years of the program, but they do not involve a close relationship with schools in the sense that schools are significant stakeholders in the program. Phase 3 of the program has, if anything, the contrary disadvantage; all the responsibility for the future development of the intending teacher falls on a particular school with little or no contribution from a university. A significant improvement on this approach, which maintained the essentials of an integrated university – school partnership with an element of controlled entry into employment and the full set of operational conditions for teaching – would be to involve schools or, better, consortia of schools, into a partnership in which the whole program could be planned and carried out. This approach could also incorporate where desired: elements of apprenticeship, staged licensure, and a school-based approach to the acquisition of practical research expertise in the context of partnership with a university.

Conclusion: What to the Choices Imply for the Teaching Force?

Different conceptions of teaching imply a different model of teacher education and professional formation for each conception. All three conceptions are viable if properly realized and matched with appropriate expectations for the performance of the education system. The choice for countries or states contemplating reform of their education systems is first, what they wish the dominant conception of teaching to be, and, second, what proposals they then should put into effect in order to realize that conception. It is not difficult to see the attractions of either the craft or executive technician models for budget – conscious policymakers or indeed policymakers who would like relatively quick results (particularly the case for the executive technician). A disaggregated system such as is developing in the UK is also a favorable terrain for the development of localized or even school-specific teacher training. The professional model promises higher expenditure and a longer wait for results. The advantages in terms of performance are likely to be increments on the other two models. Particularly telling will be the prospect of any perceived advantage over the executive technician model in reducing or eliminating the tail of underachievement at the elementary stage of education, where reduction becomes progressively more difficult as one attempts to transform the educational prospects of the most hard to educate sections of the population.

A related issue is recruitment and retention of the teaching force. The craft conception can recruit from a broad pool of potential candidates, ranging from highly qualified subject specialists from elite universities to poorly qualified candidates for service in basic elementary education. The executive technician need also not be very highly qualified relative to his/her students. It is perhaps ironic that in a very harsh accountability environment teacher educators running elite programs such as Teach for America default to the protocol-driven executive technician model in order to ensure quantified targets for the performance of their trainees are met. Accountability structures are thus another factor influencing teacher education programs. It should also be noted that such programs also assume high attrition rates with a large proportion of trainees leaving after several years to pursue different careers. Both craft and ET models, with their relatively short training periods, can adopt an “easy come easy go” approach to retention with equanimity, even though there are cost implications to high attrition rates. The professional model, on the other hand, will aim to recruit candidates with high academic qualifications who are capable of professional preparation up to and beyond Master’s level, both in their own teaching subjects and in educational studies and educational research. This may involve recruiting for teachers from a different section of the population from the traditional one, which may also prove to be a challenge in terms of expectations and public image. Much may depend on the public perception of teaching and on the willingness of taxpayers to finance such programs. Good retention rates will be absolutely necessary to sustain the model financially, and this implies careful thinking about career structures and opportunities for professional development at the mid-career stage.

Teacher education policy involves choices, with trade-offs between those choices in terms of quality and effectiveness, expense, and risk. These choices are made against a background of cultural attitudes to education and teachers which are often difficult to shift and imply a degree of “path dependency” for each country in its policymaking.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, Communication and SocietyKing’s College LondonLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jeff Stickney
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada