Teacher education partnerships as an act of resistance to the systemic forces undermining teacher autonomy

Year: 2019

Author: Victory, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is presented from the perspective of a union owned provider of professional development. It draws on the experience of a long term practitioner and research into Biesta’s theory of education (2006, 2010, 2013, 2017).

Widespread systemic support for professional standards (AITSL), centralised curriculum (ACARA), teacher obligations to measurable student outcomes, and imposition of formulaic pedagogical models (e.g. Victorian High Impact Teaching Strategies), has sacrificed teacher autonomy to the control of policy makers. This paper argues that by drawing on the work of Biesta, and similar education philosophers, and creating new partnerships between initial teacher educators and education unions (AEU and IEU), who represent the majority of teachers in school settings, there is an opportunity for new approaches.

Biesta argues for emancipation in education. Inherent to his approach is the freedom of the subject to choose his or her own response to new knowledge. The teacher cannot, and should not, determine the outcome of the experience for the student. For Biesta (2017), it is not that teaching causes learning, it does not, but the teacher opens the possibility for learning to occur. The core of Biesta’s understanding of emancipation in the education encounter is that education relies on a particular type of relationship between teacher and student and a particular understanding of teaching. Thus, it is in the shared moment between teacher and student, that the agency of the teacher makes the difference.

This paper argues that teachers must have the freedom to engage in their own learning, beyond systemic prescriptions. A teacher who is responding only to formulaic policies and feeling the weight of compliance with standards risks missing the evental moment in their relationship with the student. The challenge for teacher educators is to find the relationship, and an approach to teaching, that builds teacher agency and promotes autonomy.

Teacher agency is central to the education unions (AEU and IEU). It is most often expressed in terms of promoting just pay and conditions for teachers, but the unions are returning to a focus on teacher education in response to workload issues. Here is the possibility for new partnerships between initial and in-service teacher education institutions, who share a commitment to teacher autonomy, building teacher agency, and who value education as emancipation for student and teacher. Success will rely on building a new language for the profession and exploring the borderlands between research and practice.