This interview features insights from the JTE article “Examples of c/Critical Coaching: An Analysis of Conversation Between Cooperating and Preservice Teachers” by Charlotte L. Land. The article is published in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education. You can read the full text by visiting this link.
Q1. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?
One of my aims as a teacher educator is to support teachers in recognizing ways that their own identities and histories influence their expectations for schooling: what counts as knowledge, what learning looks and sounds like, what roles students and teachers are supposed to play, and so on. Doing this sort of critical reflection on our own lives and experiences is important work we can begin within teacher education courses at the university. However, those courses too often feel disconnected from the work actually happening in schools.
Early in graduate school, I served as a field experiences facilitator. Working in this role emphasized a lot of what I was learning about teacher education, including how critical discussions of power and oppression can easily get buried in the day-to-day details of planning and teaching. Perhaps just as importantly, I was also reminded that no matter how often I tried to check in with and observe preservice teachers, the real burden of mentoring and coaching fell on the shoulders of the cooperating teachers who were alongside them every day. When I got involved with the larger Coaching with CARE research project—led by Drs. Beth Maloch, Melissa Wetzel, and Jim Hoffman at The University of Texas at Austin—I was really excited about the possibilities this new vision of mentoring preservice teachers offered. Cooperating teachers, in this model, were recognized and valued as the powerful teacher educators they are.
At this point in the project, the cooperating teachers were not just learning about coaching, but were also in a part-time Master’s program that emphasized asking a lot of the same critical questions their preservice teachers were asked in coursework. I was really interested in how those questions—critical questions about how power worked in classrooms, whose voices and experiences were being authorized or not, how our own expectations for school are connected to more global systems of power and oppression—might make it into preservice teachers’ reflections and conversations about their day-to-day teaching experiences. As this article highlights, even within this seemingly idyllic context, finding or making space for important critical conversations was still really hard work.
Q2. 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?
As a new scholar, this was actually one of the hardest lessons to learn. While research, by its very nature, can always only be a partial rendering of what happened, writing about research requires even more narrowing, to share just one story of the data. For me in this piece, that meant leaving out so many other stories about important work that was happening within cooperating and preservice teacher partnerships. For example, while it was mentioned in the article, I probably could have written an entire piece just looking at Mia and Jasmine. This pair engaged with critical questions not only about their teaching, such as ways participation in class discussions were connected to gender and to language (i.e., how they might disrupt patterns of English-dominant male students sharing more than others), but also asked questions about how their fourth-graders were engaging in critical conversations within their class.
Q3. What current areas of research are you pursuing?
My current research project follows the thread of critical, socially just teaching that runs through this article. In this project, I invited four practicing teachers to think with me about how we might make writing instruction more humanizing, in ways that value students’ culture, language, and experiences, and more critical, by redistributing power and agency in and beyond the classroom. I generated data both from our inquiry group meetings together and through my observations of writing instruction in their first, fourth, seventh, and ninth grade classrooms. I am currently finishing writing my dissertation from this research, and I look forward to sharing findings about how the teachers used the inquiry group space to reimagine writing instruction and about specific tools or strategies they tried out in their classrooms that supported them in handing over more decision-making to student writers.
Q4. What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?
As a new scholar myself, I think it’s important, especially for graduate students, to remember that we’re not in this alone. We are always thinking with others—through face-to-face conversations and through reading and engaging in other scholars’ work—about our teaching and our research. While it’s only my name in the byline of this particular piece, it came to be only through work done in the larger Coaching with CARE project done by Drs. Maloch, Wetzel, and Hoffman as well as a whole team of graduate students. I also got feedback from writing groups and critical friends (specific thanks to Saba, Lucia, Thea, D’Anna, Kira, Natalie, Jess, and Kit) and a wonderful group of editors and reviewers at JTE that helped me tell this story. While academia is often portrayed as solitary or even competitive, I think it’s really more of a team sport. We can all get better if we help each other tell the important stories from our work.