Learning by teaching. Experiencing school practice as the way to learn to be teacher

Year: 2012

Author: Jóhannsdóttir, Thurídur, Roth, Wolff-Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Teacher education tends to be premised on the idea that one learns to teach by first acquiring theory in university and secondly applying it in real classrooms. Marx/Engels suggest the opposite: ideas, conceptions, and consciousness emerges from practical activity in contrast with the idealist belief that development occurs from theory to practice. In Iceland, because of lack of teachers in rural schools, individuals often begin to teach prior to obtaining teaching degrees. In this paper, we articulate some of the advantages that arise when teachers learn to teach in practice.
The empirical material used to ground our argument is a part of a larger ethnographical study of school-based student teachers in Iceland. Data was generated by means of interviews and observations in the schools where they taught while enrolled in a distance teacher education programme for pre-service teachers. Drawing on a dialectical cultural-historical activity theory as a framework, we use the experience of student teachers learning to be teachers in local school as documentary evidence for the process of learning to teach through teaching practice. Three concepts are especially relevant in this case, namely emotional experiencing (perezevania), zone of proximal development and collective responsibility.
Recently Roth and Radford have suggested the need for rethinking Vygotsky's widely known concept zone of proximal development by arguing that it has not only the asymmetrical dimension as usually assumed but also a symmetrical dimension that is important to take into account. The symmetry refers to inter-comprehension in interaction between people rather than the conventional understanding of the individual benefit of social interaction. By understanding the zone of proximal development symmetrically opens up an understanding of how teachers learn during their experience of being teachers interacting with pupils in the classroom. Important part of this learning process was the apparent "other orientation," characteristic of what Marxist and Bakhtinian approaches understand as the "material intercourse of humans." The empirical data show how becoming as a teacher includes learning to orient to others in a symmetrical space where emotional experience (perezevania) is a central characteristic. The dialogical and symmetrical relations also imply collective responsibility, the operation of which we exhibit in our case study.
We conclude that learning to teach through teaching is a viable - and, perhaps, highly desirable - alternative to the currently mainstream model. We suggest that learning the "language of real life" may serve as a basis to learn the theoretical discourses prevalent in academia.