The project sought to investigate the practical activities and material conditions of higher education-based teacher educators’ work in England and Scotland. We worked with a small sample of 13 teacher educators from a variety of institutions in England (8 participants) and Scotland (5 participants). The participants had a range of experience, subject specialism, level of academic qualification and phase (although most were, nominally at least, secondary subject specialists). We interviewed and observed participants at work and asked them to complete work diaries at two different points in our year-long study. We made both quantitative and qualitative analyses of our data.
The research revealed that relationship maintenance was an almost defining characteristic of teacher educators’ work. Relationship maintenance involved activities directed at partnerships with schools but also a great deal of work on individual student teacher wellbeing. Superficially, the activities underlying this category included email and telephone correspondence and informal conversations in school or the university or college. On closer analysis, however, we found that these communicative activities were in fact aimed at maintaining (and in some cases building or repairing) relationships with students, staff in schools (professional tutors or mentors) and colleagues at the university. Partnership teacher education – in which schools work with universities and colleges to train teachers – works and there is abundant existing evidence in support of this fact. But our small-scale study across England and Scotland shows that it is the higher education tutor who seems to make it work, often at the cost of research-informed teaching and research.
In talking about their work, teacher educators characterised it as socially important and highly pressurised. More experienced teacher educators tended to regret policy-determined changes in their role towards quality assurance and away from higher-level teaching. Their experience as teachers was an important, perhaps necessary, foundation of the work, but it was the cumulative experience of assessing many lessons by student teachers in many different schools that provided teacher educators with a distinctive if not unique breadth of contextual perspective on the developing beginner.