Abstract This research explores the qualities of effective EFL language teacher educators from the perspectives of pre- and in-service teachers at a university in China. Drawing on data from focus group interviews with these teachers (from different teacher education programmes at the university), the findings of the study demonstrate the perceived qualities of effective language teacher educators, including, in the words of some of the participants, being ‘fountains of knowledge’, having ‘eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’, and ‘providing a personal touch’. This study offers an important frame of reference for EFL teacher educators to reflect on and improve their professional practice in order to meet their students’ complex and diverse learning needs. Introduction In many EFL contexts (for example mainland China and Hong Kong), language teacher educators are centred in various teacher education programmes provided by higher education institutions, and they play a pivotal role in preparing and developing future generations of language teachers through their teaching, practicum supervision, and the collaborative research teacher educators and teachers engage in (Golombek 2015; Yuan 2017). In spite of the significance of language teacher educators, there is a lack of research into the qualities which make them effective: a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours, and personal dispositions (Koster, Brekelmans, Korthagen, and Wubbels 2005) which allows teacher educators to work productively and develop successfully in their situated contexts. The present study thus seeks to fill this void by investigating the qualities of effective EFL teacher educators in China. Differing from the existing literature which focuses on teacher educators’ perceptions and experiences (for example Murray and Male 2005), this study draws on the perspectives of their students, i.e. language teachers in both pre- and in-service teacher education programmes. The existing literature has emphasized the notion of ‘student-centredness’ in providing appropriate and sufficient experiences and guidance to meet language teachers’ diverse learning needs in teacher education programmes (Abednia 2012). To this end, it is important to explore and understand how language teachers perceive effective teacher educators’ qualities; these qualities can shape teacher educators’ professional practice and social interactions with teachers (Koster et al. op.cit.). Without such an understanding, teacher educators may run the risk of misleading and even impeding their students’ professional learning and long-term development. Drawing on data from focus group interviews with both pre- and in-service teachers in a normal (i.e. teacher education-oriented) university in China, this study can add to our knowledge of EFL teacher educators, and, in order to promote the effectiveness of language teacher education, can provide an important reference point for teacher educators to consider. Teacher educators’ qualities In recent years, research in general education has shed some light on the important qualities of teacher educators. For instance, some studies (Berry 2007; Chauvot 2009) have demonstrated that effective teacher educators need to construct a comprehensive knowledge base, and strategically and reflectively apply such knowledge in their work. Specifically, while teacher educators need to be equipped with strong subject content knowledge (relating to the subject matter) and pedagogical content knowledge (relating to how to teach the subject), they should also possess rich pedagogical knowledge about how to teach teachers, drawing upon a deep understanding of the educational system, curricula, and policies in their work contexts (Goodwin and Kosnik 2013). In addition, some researchers (Cochran-Smith 2005; Klecka, Donovan, Venditti, and Short 2008) have emphasized the significance of research in guiding teacher educators’ professional work. In other words, effective teacher educators need to take up the role of researcher by systematically inquiring into various aspects of teacher education (such as its curriculum, practice, and policy) to enrich the knowledge base of the field. They should also examine their professional work (for example classroom teaching and practicum supervision) through self-study and action research, which can promote their teaching effectiveness and generate practice-oriented theories (Golombek op.cit.). Apart from their own engagement in research, teacher educators are encouraged to guide their students to engage in classroom-based research, for example through practical courses and university–school partnerships, in order to bridge the gap between theories and practice (Yuan and Mak 2015). Given the social and emotional nature of teaching (Zembylas 2005), teacher educators also need to demonstrate strong collaborative skills by working with a range of different partners (for example school leaders and mentors) in order to create a safe, open environment, conducive to teacher learning (Yuan op.cit.). Research also suggests that teacher educators’ professional qualities are not context-free (for example Murray and Kosnik 2011); instead they are subject to the institutional and sociocultural contexts in which the teacher educators work, wherein different stakeholders (for example school teachers and learners as well as institutional leaders) are involved. In particular, language teachers, with their individual backgrounds, experiences, and needs, play a crucial role in influencing how teacher educators engage in their teacher education practice and construct their professional qualities. However, despite a growing body of research on teacher educators in general education, scant attention has been paid to the professional qualities of EFL teacher educators from the perspective of language teachers. This study seeks to address this gap by answering one central research question: What are the essential qualities of effective EFL teacher educators as perceived by pre- and in-service language teachers? The study This research1 is situated in K University in Beijing, China, which is a university known for its strong teacher education orientation, with both pre- and in-service teacher education programmes in different subjects including the English language. At the beginning of the study, research invitations were sent to all students in three EFL teacher education programmes, i.e. a Bachelor of Education programme (BEd), a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics programme (MA), and a Professional Development programme (PDP). A total of 18 students, 14 females and 4 males, responded and joined the study on a voluntary basis. The participants were divided into three groups according to the programmes they belong to. Specifically, five participants were from the BEd programme (named T1 to T5), six from the MA programme (named T6 to T11), and seven from the PDP (named T12 to T18), who had teaching experience ranging from 3 to 12 years. Research ethics approval was obtained from the university before the study commenced. Participants in each group were invited to take part in a focus group interview with the researchers to explore their perceptions about the qualities of effective teacher educators based on their individual learning and professional experiences. For instance, the student teachers from the BEd and MA programmes were asked to reflect on their learning experiences and interactions with teacher educators at the university site, while the school teachers from the PDP were encouraged to look back on their pre-service learning stage as well as school teaching experiences and make comparisons between their previous and current teacher educators. During the interview, the first author, who was from a different university, mainly took the role of ‘facilitator’ by asking questions (for example about their previous learning experiences and teacher educators), while the participants took turns to answer the questions to ensure a fair contribution. Then they were encouraged to share, discuss, and even debate ideas freely with each other to construct an in-depth understanding of an effective language teacher educator. The interviews were conducted in Chinese, i.e. the participants’ mother tongue, in order to put them at ease. Each focus group interview, lasting around 120 minutes, was audio-recorded and transcribed by the researchers for analysis. A qualitative, inductive approach (Miles and Huberman 1994) was adopted during data analysis to shed light on the qualities of effective language teacher educators. By carefully reviewing the data, the researchers identified various codes related to language teacher educators’ qualities. For instance, eight participants emphasized an effective teacher educator’s need for rich knowledge about language including its culture and literature, while 16 participants focused on the ‘social knowledge’ of effective teacher educators in helping them learn how to interact with different people (for example colleagues and school leaders). All the identified codes were further compared, integrated, and modified with reference to the existing research literature on teacher educators (Koster et al. op.cit.; Goodwin and Kosnik op.cit.), which generated three major themes to answer the research question. The three themes, taken from the participants’ own statements as ‘indigenous concepts’ (Patton 2002: 454), are ‘fountains of knowledge’, ‘eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’, and ‘providing a personal touch’. Table 1 shows the detailed codes with frequency counts under each theme. To enhance the validity of the study, we (the authors) conducted analysis independently and then engaged in further discussion to reach a consensus about the findings. table 1 Data analysis results Themes Codes ‘Fountains of knowledge’ (58) Knowledge about language learning and teaching (18) Knowledge about language literature and culture (8) Knowledge about the institutional and social context (16) Knowledge about how to teach teachers (16) ‘Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ (59) Developing a vision about language education (10) Collaborating with teachers and school leaders (18) Providing extra learning opportunities (10) Engaging in continuous learning to update their expertise (12) Modelling how to seek further learning (9) ‘Providing a personal touch’ (40) Developing a caring and supportive relationship with students (18) Sharing their personal experiences, feelings, and reflections (8) Helping teachers learn how to cope with difficult situations and negative emotions (14) Themes Codes ‘Fountains of knowledge’ (58) Knowledge about language learning and teaching (18) Knowledge about language literature and culture (8) Knowledge about the institutional and social context (16) Knowledge about how to teach teachers (16) ‘Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ (59) Developing a vision about language education (10) Collaborating with teachers and school leaders (18) Providing extra learning opportunities (10) Engaging in continuous learning to update their expertise (12) Modelling how to seek further learning (9) ‘Providing a personal touch’ (40) Developing a caring and supportive relationship with students (18) Sharing their personal experiences, feelings, and reflections (8) Helping teachers learn how to cope with difficult situations and negative emotions (14) Note: detailed codes with frequency counts are included under each theme View Large table 1 Data analysis results Themes Codes ‘Fountains of knowledge’ (58) Knowledge about language learning and teaching (18) Knowledge about language literature and culture (8) Knowledge about the institutional and social context (16) Knowledge about how to teach teachers (16) ‘Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ (59) Developing a vision about language education (10) Collaborating with teachers and school leaders (18) Providing extra learning opportunities (10) Engaging in continuous learning to update their expertise (12) Modelling how to seek further learning (9) ‘Providing a personal touch’ (40) Developing a caring and supportive relationship with students (18) Sharing their personal experiences, feelings, and reflections (8) Helping teachers learn how to cope with difficult situations and negative emotions (14) Themes Codes ‘Fountains of knowledge’ (58) Knowledge about language learning and teaching (18) Knowledge about language literature and culture (8) Knowledge about the institutional and social context (16) Knowledge about how to teach teachers (16) ‘Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ (59) Developing a vision about language education (10) Collaborating with teachers and school leaders (18) Providing extra learning opportunities (10) Engaging in continuous learning to update their expertise (12) Modelling how to seek further learning (9) ‘Providing a personal touch’ (40) Developing a caring and supportive relationship with students (18) Sharing their personal experiences, feelings, and reflections (8) Helping teachers learn how to cope with difficult situations and negative emotions (14) Note: detailed codes with frequency counts are included under each theme View Large Findings This section summarizes the pre- and in-service language teachers’ perceptions of the qualities of effective EFL teacher educators, as uncovered by this study. ‘Fountains of knowledge’ The participants depicted effective teacher educators as ‘fountains of knowledge’ in supporting teachers’ professional learning and continuing development (T15). First of all, all the participants believed that teacher educators need to develop systematic, up-to-date knowledge about how to learn and teach English: The most important thing, of course, is to learn some effective ideas and approaches from teacher educators to improve our classroom teaching. (T13) The majority of the participants also emphasized that effective teacher educators need a rich knowledge of the English language itself, including its literature and culture, which can help open up teachers’ minds and stimulate their motivations towards language teaching. For instance, two student teachers described how they were influenced by a teacher educator whose rich knowledge of English literature not only added to their interests in English, but also provided them with an ideal image of ‘a language teacher’ to model themselves on: Her passion and knowledge about English literature really made me see the meaning and fun in being a language teacher. I hope I can be a teacher like her who can touch students with what I teach. (T8) Despite their emphasis on various types of knowledge related to language and its learning and teaching, the participants also attached importance to effective teacher educators’ contextual knowledge of language curricula, policies, and school contexts, which play a significant role in shaping how language education is perceived and practised in reality. For instance, over half of the in-service teachers argued that while they believed in some innovative teaching approaches (for example formative assessment) promoted by the National English Curriculum Standards, they faced strong obstacles in implementing such approaches in their teaching due to the strong exam-oriented culture of the educational system. To bridge the gap between the espoused curriculum and their teaching, they believed that it is important for teacher educators to explore and provide ‘a contextualized language pedagogy to facilitate teacher innovation in local classrooms’ (T16). Some participants further emphasized the need for ‘social knowledge’ in guiding their social interactions and professional development in schools (T5). For instance, due to the rigid school curriculum and conservative culture, T8 found it challenging to engage in meaningful collaborative learning with her school mentors who ‘simply wanted to follow the established norms and practice’ during her teaching practicum (T8). Therefore, she expected teacher educators to give more guidance not only on how to teach English, but also on how to deal with social relationships as an English teacher. Similar views resonated with some in-service teachers who also encountered problems in their social interactions: I think we also need advice on how to deal with our colleagues and school leaders who may share different values and beliefs in our daily work. This kind of social knowledge is important for our career. (T13) Thus, according to the participants, language teacher educators need to develop ‘social knowledge’ based on their understanding of the complexities of the school environment in order to help their students socialize, develop, and innovate in their work. ‘Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ Apart from a strong emphasis on teacher educators’ knowledge base, the participants argued that effective teacher educators also need to ‘keep their eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’ (T7). By ‘eyes on the stars’, they meant that language teacher educators need to develop a sense of vision which captures their essential insights into language teaching and teacher education. According to T15 and T18, their teacher educators’ vision served as a ‘shining star’ which guided the educators’ own professional practice and shaped their students’ learning to teach: I saw a lot of teachers bury their heads in work and forget about the meaning and goal of language teaching … I think teacher educators can remind us of our missions and visions by sharing their own. (T15) Meanwhile, ‘feet on the ground’ means that teacher educators should engage in continuous learning in order to update their expertise given the dynamic nature of English and English language teaching: Language is changing in the era of the internet and the information explosion … So teacher educators need to keep learning and inform us how language transforms and how we can better teach our students. (T10) In other words, while teacher educators put a lot of emphasis on language teachers’ continuing development of practice, they should also take up the role of ‘learners’ to broaden their own knowledge of language and language learning. More importantly, the participants hoped their teacher educators could provide a model of how to continue their professional learning based on their professional practice: Our teacher educators often advocated that we should continue to learn in our future practice. I agree with this idea but I hope they can actually show us how to do it by sharing their experiences and strategies. (T2) Also, the participants believed that language teacher educators need to work closely with teachers, to guide them to learn and practise throughout their professional lives. T17 gave a vivid example of how he interacted with a teacher educator who served as his mentor in the first year of language teaching. In a mentoring scheme established by their district educational office, a teacher educator from a local university was invited to help him improve his teaching. T17 recalled that at first the teacher educator gave him a lot of suggestions, but these were, however, generally abstract and included many theoretical terms. After a period of classroom observation followed by rounds of discussion, the teacher educator came to understand her student’s background and recognized his teaching ideas. She also changed her language and picked up some terms used by the teacher in his daily communication with colleagues in the English department. Reflecting on this experience, T17 mentioned that: It is critical for teacher educators to develop a language that teachers can understand and to work with teachers as partners in real practice. (T19) In addition, the vast majority believed that teacher educators should ‘get out of their ivory tower’ and engage in collaboration with different stakeholders, such as school leaders, in order to enrich language teachers’ learning experiences at both pre- and in-service stages (T5, T10, and T21). For instance, two student teachers (T8 and T9) shared their experience of working as research assistants for teacher educators in collaborative research projects between their university and local schools. In the projects, they gained opportunities to visit different schools for class observations and interaction with students and language teachers. Such experience not only added to their teaching knowledge and competence, but also enriched their self-understanding as prospective language teachers: I felt lucky to be involved in the project through which I gained a better understanding of what it means to be a language teacher and what preparation I need to do for my future in the program. (T9) Therefore, while an effective language teacher educator needs to engage in continuous learning in line with his or her vision about language education and teacher development, he or she should also be a supportive and resourceful collaborator in creating rich opportunities to facilitate language teachers’ learning to teach. ‘Providing a personal touch’ Another important perceived attribute of effective language teacher educators relates to their emotional connections with their students during the complex journey of learning to teach. As T12 mentioned: Learning to teach can be emotionally challenging. When we need some support and encouragement, some teacher educators were quite distant. I think they wanted to maintain their images as authorities and experts, but all we need is a personal touch to cheer us up. (T12) When asked what ‘a personal touch’ entails, some pre-service teachers described a caring and supportive relationship with their teacher educators, which can inject a sense of motivation into their professional learning. One critical example was that T5 received constructive guidance from a teacher educator through individual consultation: I told her that I was not confident about my English proficiency, so she asked me to meet after the class and gave me useful suggestions on how to improve my English. We also chatted about my future career plans. Although the consultation was short, I felt that she really listened and tried to help me improve. I think I want to be a teacher like her in the future. (T5) The quotation above suggests that teacher educators’ care and support could not only facilitate student teachers’ professional growth, but could also influence their future practice in language classrooms. The significance of ‘a personal touch’ was also recognized by school teachers who stated that teacher educators should be sensitive to language teachers’ individual differences and affective needs. Some participants who were exposed to various teacher development activities such as seminars and workshops felt disappointed at ‘the standardized training with little attention paid to what they were really going through in everyday work’ (T21). Instead, they argued for a more personalized approach which embraces not only cognitive but emotional learning and interaction: Emotional support is important given our heavy workload and pressure from the school … We need someone who can understand our situations and help us learn how to cope with negative emotions and stay strong in our job. (T23) Thus, the teachers expected a strong emotional dimension in teacher education so that they could receive guidance on how to navigate negative experiences and feelings, and continue their ongoing improvement. T18 shared how her English department engaged in long-term collaboration with teacher educators from a local university via lesson study. On one hand, through lesson observation and collective reflections they received concrete suggestions on how to improve their teaching and cope with the challenges in their daily work; on the other hand, they felt the teacher educators valued their teaching experiences and voices, which added to their professional confidence and motivation to continue learning: I often shared my joy and difficulties with the teacher educator and she would show her sympathy and try to give me suggestions. This respectful relationship has become an important source of support for my work and learning. (T18) Overall, informed by their previous experiences and observations, the participants highlighted the need for teacher educators to be student-centred and humanistic in catering to their practical and emotional needs with sympathy and respect. Discussion This article reports on an exploratory study about pre- and in-service teachers’ perceptions about the qualities of effective language teacher educators. Echoing some previous studies (Koster et al. op.cit.; Goodwin and Kosnik op.cit.), the results show multiple dimensions of the perceived qualities of language teacher educators in relation to their capacity for cognitive engagement, social interaction, and engaging at an emotional or affective level. For example, while the participants argued that teacher educators should help them develop a comprehensive knowledge base about language (for example literature and culture) as well as its teaching and learning, they pointed out the need for guidance from teacher educators as to how to construct their social knowledge to survive and thrive in school contexts. Given that learning to teach is charged with complex and difficult emotions (Zembylas op.cit.), the participants also expected to receive support from teacher educators in developing coping strategies to navigate challenging situations and negative emotions in their daily work. The study also extends the existing literature by shedding light on how teacher educators can design and implement effective approaches to help language teachers’ practice and their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Differing from the traditional transmissive mode of teacher training, the participants expected language teacher educators to broaden their horizons and adopt a nuanced and integrative approach in their professional work. In classroom teaching and practicum supervision, for example, language teacher educators need to show respect for their students’ previous experience and knowledge, and co-construct meaning with them through open sharing and dialogic negotiation (Golombek op.cit.). Although it is useful to introduce relevant research and theories, teacher educators need to avoid the overuse of technical terms and develop a language that is accessible to language teachers for mutual learning in specific discourses. Given their professional status and expertise, teacher educators should also be active in reaching out to local communities and using their social resources to create opportunities (for example through university–school collaborative research) for their students to engage with their situated educational contexts and expand and deepen their learning in practice (Yuan op.cit.). Moreover, while teacher educators need to develop their vision about language education through their teacher education practice and research (Klecka et al. op.cit.), the participants in the study also expected teacher educators to help them construct their own visions which could inform and guide their classroom practice and future development as language teachers. Another significant finding of this study relates to the way EFL teacher educators act as role models, with powerful impacts on language teachers’ professional learning and practice. The participants stated that language teacher educators need to demonstrate the useful theories and effective approaches they advocate in their own practice so as to enhance their students’ understanding and uptake. This thus testified to the cognitive dimension of teacher educators’ modelling in helping language teachers acquire and integrate what they learnt from teacher education courses into their classroom teaching. Emotionally, while some participants were influenced by their teacher educators’ passion for English literature, which enhanced their interest in language teaching, they also emphasized a caring and supportive relationship with their teacher educators, which can exert a ‘modelling’ effect on how they will interact with their own students in the future. Furthermore, the participants expected teacher educators to model how to engage in continuous learning by openly sharing the challenges, coping strategies, and gains of their professional work. This, however, is often a neglected area in many educational contexts where teacher educators are regarded as ‘experts’ who have no need or opportunity for revealing their difficulties and vulnerability (Yuan and Mak op.cit.). Thus, it is important for teacher educators to transform their mindsets and move out of their comfort zones by explicitly demonstrating their professional practices (for example in teaching and continuous learning) and sharing the rationale, reflections, and feelings that accompany their practices. In this way, not only can they foster a closer relationship with language teachers through positive influences on the latters’ learning motivation, but they can also help language teachers develop contextualized knowledge and metacognitive strategies as they pursue self-improvement. Overall, drawing on pre- and in-service teachers’ perspectives, the study sheds light on the essential cognitive, social, and emotional qualities of effective language teacher educators, which are in line with previous studies of teacher educators’ views (Golombek op.cit.). Such congruence can provide teacher educators with a sense of assurance in practising what they believe in their teaching of teachers. More importantly, the study contributes to our understanding of how effective teacher educators’ qualities can be actualized in their daily practice. In particular, modelling can serve as a critical strategy for catering to teachers’ learning needs at the cognitive and emotional levels. It needs to be noted that, while it is important to take language teachers’ views and expectations into consideration, language teacher education is a highly complicated and dynamic enterprise influenced by various institutional and sociocultural factors (for example language policy and curriculum reforms). The findings of the study can thus serve as a point of reference for teacher educators to actively and critically reflect on, examine, and improve their professional practice in order to prepare and develop competent language teachers. Conclusions To conclude, this research adds to our knowledge of the qualities of effective EFL teacher educators, including being ‘fountains of knowledge’, having ‘eyes on the stars and feet on the ground’, and ‘providing a personal touch’, from the perspectives of pre- and in-service teachers. As this study only draws on interview data, future research can make use of observational methods to explore how teacher educators interact with their students in practice in order to generate more insights into the effective practices and qualities of language teacher education. Rui Yuan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language Education at the Education University of Hong Kong. His research interests include language teacher identity and teacher development. His publications have appeared in TESOL Quarterly, System, ELT Journal, and Teaching and Teacher Education. Yalin Hu is a PhD candidate in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature, Beijing Normal University. Her research interests include language assessment, teacher education, and action research. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Footnotes 1 This research is supported by Start-up Research Grant of The Education University of Hong Kong. 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ELT Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 29, 2017
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