- The Dynamics of Teacher DevelopmentNegotiating Where We Stand
Postsecondary teacher development takes many forms at institutions across the country —department- or institutionally sponsored workshops, an ongoing conversation between a WPA and a teacher, institutes sponsored by national nonprofit or for-profit organizations. Across these varying structures and sponsors, teacher development initiatives remain sites of potentially (un)productive dissonance that occurs as participants attempt to engage the differing contexts through which individual teachers identify the meaning and value of their work as teachers. In this essay, we explore the challenging dynamics of teacher development efforts. We argue for expanding notions of "context" to include the underlying assumptions or guiding philosophies framing the development effort and offer several strategies for naming one's teacherly commitments and negotiating potential translation difficulties that may arise when moving between or among those commitments. Development initiatives growing out of this more expansive understanding of context can offer postsecondary teachers active rather than passive roles in rethinking postsecondary classrooms.
Many of us have faculty1 development stories —uncomfortable moments in a workshop where two people square off over different goals for a writing course, or, equally unnerving, a stony silence around a challenging pedagogical question. The following two, more detailed accounts demonstrate how underlying assumptions can surface in unexpected ways. During a recent workshop on documenting teaching that Debbie cofacilitated at a [End Page 481] neighboring institution, she was surprised when participants' expressions grew puzzled as they scanned sample teaching portfolios that had been successful at her home institution. In preparation for that workshop, Debbie and her cofacilitator spent a good deal of time developing a set of activities and collecting several examples of successful teaching documentation (teaching philosophy statements, teaching portfolios, etc.). They had also devoted considerable time to thinking about that institution and how the workshop had been advertised. They discussed who was likely to attend: teachers of composition and communication, a small number of whom were also graduate students working on their master's degrees and a larger number of whom were full- and part-time lecturers. Perhaps an administrator or two and some tenure-line or tenured faculty might attend —but the majority in attendance would be lecturers.
Though mostly right in their assumptions about who might attend, the cofacilitators discovered that they were wrong in thinking that they had adequately accounted for "context." While some participants remained quiet as they scanned the portfolios, those who spoke were diplomatic but concerned. The statements of teaching philosophy seemed unnecessarily wordy and poorly written, some suggested. Others found the portfolios difficult to navigate or understand. Some, in communication studies especially, found the documents to be so text-heavy as to suggest little attention to the visual aesthetic quality of the product. Debbie and her colleague turned to a group discussion of how difficult it is to read teaching materials outside of the context for which they have been produced and how important it is when preparing such materials to consider the target audience and any institutional charge that may shape that audience's reading practices. The conversation was productive, but in the end, Debbie and her cofacilitator were left thinking that they had not thoroughly considered how teaching materials that were successful at their own institution might have been shaped by their institution's particular focus on research. The teaching philosophy statements they had circulated, for example, often drew on discursive features that are common in published scholarship in the field of English studies: densely argued positions staked on distinctions that are sometimes very subtle. For workshop participants teaching in the face of alternative sets of pressures, this feature of successful writing about teaching at another institution proved difficult to value.
This particular challenge of teacher development —that of engaging alternative contexts through which the work of teaching and learning is rendered meaningful —is not limited to cross-institutional workshops where participants [End Page 482] might have quite varied motives for attending and widely differing expectations for the work together. Indeed, it can happen when participants make a more extensive commitment, ostensibly signing on to an overarching philosophy as expressed in a lengthier call for applicants. Such...