This interview features Helenrose Fives, Tammy Mills, and Charity Dacey, authors of the article, “Cooperating Teacher Compensation Benefits: Comparing 1957-1958 and 2012-2013.” We asked them to tell us about the stories behind their research. Their article is published in the March/April Issue of the Journal of Teacher Education, and is available to view here.
Q. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?
About 5 years ago Helenrose had a conversation with one of the Montclair State University Teacher Education and Teacher Development doctoral students, Linda Abrams, about the nature of the student teaching experience from the perspective of the cooperating teacher. Linda was interested in cooperative/mentor teacher learning at that time and had a wealth of personal experience to draw from. One point that struck Helenrose from this conversation was the apparent capriciousness by which Cooperating Teachers (CTs) were compensated for their work as school based teacher educators. Linda, an experienced teacher, described a variety of ways that she had been compensated across different school districts and by various universities. This conversation led Helenrose to a search of the published work for any record of how cooperating teachers had ever been paid. Through this search she found VanWinkle’s 1959 article, and the desire to do a follow up of this work was immediate. As a team Helenrose, Tammy, and Charity are all deeply committed to teacher preparation and development. Moreover, we share an interest in the pragmatics of the lived experience of teachers such that issues of compensation, preparation, and perceived benefits can influence this experience in subtle but meaningful ways. We were also motivated but a sense of injustice that was perceived may exist for cooperating teachers who seem to conduct most of the teacher educator work during the most important component of preservice preparation but who have little preparation for this role and receive little to no compensation for their efforts.
Q. Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?
For the past few years in New Jersey we have heard that the number of required fieldwork hours for all individuals seeking licensure for teaching in NJ would be increased. Like many policy changes, rarely are the concerns and implications considered from the perspective of the hosting schools and cooperating teachers considered. Since the time we initiated this study the requirements have taken effect. Thus, cooperating teachers will now be responsible for supervising and supporting student teachers for additional hours. Despite this increased expectation on CT, to our knowledge, there has been no discussion of increasing compensation for CTs.
Q. What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?
We had two key challenges in conducting this work. First, while we wanted to replicate VanWinkle’s report, the findings he published were incomplete. As we note in the article, his purpose was to share with teacher education programs ways that they could encourage cooperating teacher participants. Thus, he wrote broadly about each program and highlighted novel things each program did. But he did not provide complete information on each school. From a methodological perspective this made direct historical comparisons impossible. Moreover, in addition to the JTE article by VanWinkle that we ultimately used as our comparative piece in this investigation, VanWinkle reported on his findings from other schools in the journal he edited at the time Public Relations Ideas. In the JTE article he wrote, “These replies were published as they were received in five issues of Public Relations Ideas in the winter of 1957-58” (VanWinkle, 1959, p. 125). Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the help of a research librarian we were unable to access all of these other sources where information on more schools may have been found. Ultimately, we determined that replicating the JTE publication would provide readers and ourselves with a small piece of this larger picture and recognize the limitation of our sample. The second challenge we faced was in developing a conceptual frame for understanding this work. As noted, VanWinkle simply described the activities from the schools he choose to talk about. Thus, he did not offer a theoretical or conceptual framework from which we could begin to frame our own work. Moreover, most of the published work on cooperating teachers is really about their influence on student teachers. Further, that work rarely addresses how cooperating teachers benefit (or do not) from this experience. Ultimately, in our search of the published work we found Korinek’s (1989) article on cooperating teacher preferences. This allowed us to perform a conceptual analysis on VanWinkle’s findings in relation to Korinek’s (1989) findings in order to develop a conceptual framework to describe the possible benefits and compensation that can be afforded to CTs.
Q. Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?
In 2014 at AERA we presented results of a multinational investigation of compensation and benefits for cooperating teachers. While there was consistency between some of the themes that we found in our US specific study (e.g. monetary compensation, supporting CTs professional learning, and engagement in the university) there were also differences in CT compensation practices in other countries. We found great variability within and across countries and teaching contexts in their approaches to compensation and benefits for CTs. In our global society scholars of teacher education frequently draw from international research our small findings indicate that when discussing the student teaching or practicum context it is important to understand the ways that CTs are compensated in those context in order to make meaning from the findings. For instance, in one country (Norway) CTs receive a large stipend (800-899 euros), are assigned multiple student teachers, and are provided release time from their typical teaching duties to engage in this work. In fact, in response to an item on our questionnaire about networking opportunities such as lunches, dinners, or awards for CTs the representative from this country responded “I don’t think we do this in Norway?” This struck as a salient response, when CTs are well compensated for their work and given supports to complete, then chocolate fountains and teas are no longer necessary. We would have liked to explore this issue more deeply in our article but space and data prevented this.
Q. What current areas of research are you pursuing?
At times mentors report feeling conflicted when the learning goals of their K-12 students are not being met or are at odds with the learning needs of student teachers (Abrahams, 2016). Such situations have been reported to cause ethical dilemmas for cooperative/mentor teachers. Charity is currently starting her dissertation research exploring teachers’ ethical dilemmas and decision making processes, and she intends to explore the role of CTs ethical dilemmas with respect to this issue and others that emerge.
Tammy is interested in understanding the expertise of teachers in different domains and is currently completing her dissertation on the development of expertise for teaching reading. CTs typically view their expertise development in light of their classroom practice with students, not in light of their learning as CTs (Koskela & Ganser, 1998). The expertise of CTs is not yet fully conceptualized. A clearer portrayal of their expertise, including the knowledge demands of their role and motivational influences, may point to a landscape of possibilities for how we might think about and envision the work and compensation of CTs. Developing a better understanding the dimensions involved in the expertise development of CTs may have fruitful implications for both research (i.e., by conducting a variety of studies) and for practice (by recognizing CTs’ needs for professional development).
Q. What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?
Berliner (1994) described teaching as a job that is “…inherently difficult, emotionally draining, and require[s] public performances” (p. 33). When one becomes at CT each of these aspects of the teaching profession is exacerbated. Bullough and Draper (2004) highlighted the issues of emotional labor and identity that accompany the work of CTs. These hidden dimensions of this work are often left unacknowledged and unstudied by scholars. Moreover, gaining a full understanding of the work of CTs is challenging in the current climate of teacher utility and instrumentalism. A clear depiction of the demands on a CT could lead to generative discussions regarding compensation and benefits for the role. Perhaps the most salient of which could be identifying meaningful ways for CTs to learn from this experience.
Q. What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?
Read, read, read, and engage in deliberate discourse with others. Exploring questions, raising doubts, and debating with professors and other students leads to more refined and strategic research, and ultimately more findings with greater validity evidence. Pushing ourselves to be better scholars requires reflection and surrounding ourselves with other scholars who are engaged in inquiry, rather than those who present themselves as experts. If teachers are first and foremost learners, it follows that the truly great teachers are always learning something new. Recently someone asked, “Would you rather drink from a running stream or a stagnant pool?” The moral of the story is to always pay attention to what others are drinking. Learn from someone who has learned all there is to know, and you drink from a standing pool. Learn from someone who is still learning, and you drink from a running stream.
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