Back in February of 2021, Cambridge published the first Cambridge Element in Language Teaching (they have loads of other really interesting Elements series for those that are interested) – Language Teacher Educator Identity, written by Gary Barkhuizen. I recently got myself a copy, and as usual the Element delivered. This Element, however, was perhaps one of the most interesting that I’ve read, but also one of the most difficult to review in terms of summarising what Barkhuizen writes about. I’ll do my best to cover as much as I can in this short review, going over what I liked, didn’t like, etc. as well as answering a number of questions posed by Barkhuizen within the Element.
Gary Barkhuizen’s Cambridge Element, Language Teacher Educator Identity, presents a fascinating look into what it means to be a language teacher educator, with the Element presenting a range of definitions and classifications, whilst at the same time raising questions about and awareness of the complexity of ‘identity’. The Element begins with an overview of those who call themselves language teacher educators (Barkhuizen scaffolds the reading experience through the inclusion of personal narratives as well as analyses of other teacher educators’ narratives, which are analysed in some detail throughout); throughout the remainder of the book, readers take a look at questions related to what language teacher educators do, and why they develop. By the end of this book, readers should expect to have a clearer understanding of the complexities of language teacher educator identity, as well as have many more questions of their own – Barkhuizen eloquently presents information whilst, perhaps unknowingly, guiding the reader to think about their own identities as language teacher educators.
There are 74 pages of reading content in this Element – and I’ve highlighted, written notes, scribbled questions on probably 70 of them. What I’m trying to say is that there is a lot packed into this Element, and so these three takeaways that I present a mere handful of the goodness to be found inside.
“This Element has attempted to address some of these questions, and may even have answered some along the way. What it has shown is that the lives of language teacher educators are extremely varied. Any one teacher educator working across time and place will change the work they do, and in the process they too will change. And different teacher educators working in different contexts can be doing very different things but all call themselves language teacher educators. Characteristic of their work is pedagogy, research, and service (institutional and community), and working across these domains with their own communities means that teacher educators are constantly negotiating their multiple identities to position themselves where they want to be or do not want to be.”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.73
- Language Teacher Educator Identity is complex and ever-changing: As you read this Element, one thing that is made very clear is that being a language teacher educator is complex, especially from an identity perspective. Barkhuizen first presents a list of 14 classifications of language teacher educators depending on their roles, positions, and responsibilities (I feel that I most likely fit into either role 10, School-based language teacher educator, or role 13, Teacher educator and language teacher), and also a number of definitions from literature of language teacher educators. Much of the element then focuses on exploring the main ‘areas’ identified in these definitions: LTE (Language Teacher Education) pedagogy, LTE research and scholarship, Institutional service and leadership, and Community service and leadership. The diagram below (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.48) illustrates these elements working together regarding ‘identity work’ (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.48). Barkhuizen (2021, p.48) also says that “the four outer circles are of slightly different sizes, representing actual workload and ‘identity-load’ associated with those domains”. These circles “might expand or shrink (or even disappear) depending on the kind of teacher educator one is and.the contexts in which they work”. That is, each of these circles represent, more or less, the influence these areas have on the identity of language teacher educators. Now, let’s take a look at each of these components in a little more detail:
- LTE Pedagogy: LTE is refers to “what teacher educators do and say in their activities and interactions and the reasoning behind those activities and interactions” (Johnson & Golombek, 2020, p.117). Barkhuizen (2021, p.50) writes that “a language teacher educator’s identity is fluid and constantly changing but whatever shape it takes at any particular time and place it will always include, often primarily, a pedagogical dimension”. This is what Barkhuizen has made the LTE pedagogy circle the largest.
- LTE Research and Scholarship: Interestingly, one of major components of being a language teacher educator is being involved in research. Now research can be many things, from actually “carrying out research projects” to “disseminating research findings in publications and at conferences” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.52), which I was happy to hear – from Barkhuizen’s overview of ‘LTE research and scholarship’, I can now see that I do take part in this component, albeit in a reduced capacity when compared to other language teacher educators who have defined research roles. This circle is somewhat smaller than LTE pedagogy because (as in my case) research may not be a necessary component of a language teacher educator’s role.
- Institutional Service and Leadership: From what I understand, this refers to the administrative responsibilities that may or may not come with being a language teacher educator (e.g., “administering courses [or] coordinating practicums” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.51). In terms of size, this circle is much smaller because “it is probably true to say that it reflects how teacher educators perceive their professional identities. Very few would identify as an administrator, for example” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.51).
- Community Service and Leadership: Barkhuizen draws on the British Council’s (2017, p.17) framework for the continuing development of teacher educators, especially its notes on professional practices: “promoting the teaching profession through examples of creativity, innovation, passion, and vision within teacher education and within teaching”. So, this refers to being a part of language teaching associations, “sitting on boards or advising community language schools” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.53), etc. (there is quite a lot that fits in here). Barkhuizen (2021, p.53) writes that this is the smallest circle because “language teacher educators probably identify least with this community domain. [He says] ‘probably’ because first and foremost their office job description places them within an institution with an assigned professional position. For most teacher educators this is where their key responsibilities lie, where their student teachers area, and where the work they do gets remunerated”.
“Whether prepared or not, confident or not, experienced or not, the transition to being a language teacher educator is nevertheless a change in direction, and this means a disruption to the professional identity of the new teacher educator.”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.35
“Having identities associated with and emerging from the four interrelated communities would inevitably mean that teacher educators experience some internal conflicts. How often do we hear academics say something like, ‘I love teaching and research, but hate admin’?”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.49
- Language teacher educator identity involves internal conflict: As teachers move into teacher education, or as ‘people’ become teacher educators (Barkhuizen uses his own background as an example of how one can move into teacher educator without much teaching experience), there are bound to be internal identity conflicts. Barkhuizen talks about these conflicts from two major perspectives: becoming a teacher educator and already being a teacher educator. We see that in both internal conflicts are likely to occur. For example, when one makes the move into teacher education, they may face conflict regarding their teacher identity and their teacher educator identity, with many wishing to maintain something on the former. For established teacher educators, there may be some that resent having to carry out admin, as such will see themselves as teachers of teachers, not administrators. These tensions, Barkhuizen (2021, p.36) writes, are not to be “treated lightly” – later noting that professional development and support for teacher educators themselves should be present in institutions (and notes that often it is not) so as to help with these tensions.
“All participants in this study perceive some sort of ‘gap’ between who they are and who they want to be (or who they think they should be) as professional teacher educators of future English teachers. It is this gap they desire to fill by embarking on further in-service graduate study. By investing in this further advanced professional development a number of things happen. They enter a period of transition in their professional lives where their familiar teacher educator identities are disrupted, (re)negotiated, and (re)constructed. As evident in the interview extracts, the teachers are aware of this change – it is what has made them decide to study further.”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.63
- Teacher educators identify gaps between who they are and who they want to be: Barkhuizen makes reference to the narratives used within the Element when he writes about ‘gaps’ within language teacher educators ‘selves’. Interestingly, he noted that all teacher educators in his study were aware of the changes that occur during further development that is taken in order to bridge this gap, in fact he says “it is what has made them to decide to study further” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.63). Barkhuizen (2021, p.63) then goes on to say that “their reasons for studying further, therefore, are intimately interconnected with how they see themselves and with who they want to be in the future”. This, then, means that as teacher educators, if we embark on development, it is generally because we see a change that needs to occur. Barkhuizen has a number of perceived development:
- Personal-focused development: Basically, teacher educators want to keep learning because they enjoy the learning process and what it brings to themselves. Here it also focuses on personal growth.
- Academic-focused development: Basically, wanting to learn more to get a stronger theoretical grounding in certain areas.
- Practice-focused development: Here teacher educators aim to develop their pedagogical knowledge and awareness. This could be things like developing curriculum development skills, or perhaps even looking at how they carry out observation feedback sessions.
- Research-focused development: This one is quite interesting. It focuses on not only carrying out research, but also learning to do research, or even “how to use that competence to filfil professional goals, such as getting published” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.64).
- Student-focused development: Here we embark on development because we are driven to help out students. This one is a kind of ‘strange’ one in my opinion, as all of them I would imagine help our students in some way or the other, but if we think about the specific rationale for development, then many may carry it out for this reason.
What I liked
“Having outlined the content of this Element, here is a note about what it does not cover. This falls into two main areas. The first has to do with the process of language teacher education – how it is or should be done. In other words, this is not a textbook about second language teacher education, its pedagogies and curriculums, or the design of its programmes. In a sense, though, it is about all of these, but only insofar as they relate to the identities of the people pivotal to the teacher education process – the teacher educators.”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.5
- Very clearly outlines what the Element is: I thought that the introduction very clearly outlined what Barkhuizen wanted to achieve with the Element. This is something I appreciated, as I wasn’t particularly sure what I was getting into.
- Uses both personal narratives and narratives from other teacher educators to scaffold the reading experience: Throughout the Element, Barkhuizen draws on the narratives from his study with a group of language teacher educators. He looks at their narratives through the lens of language teacher identity, identifying themes and ideas common in all, and then matching these to more generalisable themes. He also includes a number of his own personal narratives along the way. I felt that these helped me understand the points that he was trying to get across. Furthermore, they also prompted me to think about my journey into language teacher education, my experiences, etc.
“In this section, I discuss each of the eight interrelated propositions put forward by Johnson and Golombek (2020), which they believe constitute language teacher education pedagogy as a central domain for the knowledge-base for language teacher education (LTE). I do so from the perspective of the teacher educator, focussing specifically on what they mean in relation to their identity. I want to stress here that Johnson and Golombek’s (2020) propositions represent only one view of the processes or pedagogy of language teacher education, and I am not saying that these propositions indicate what should be happening in teacher education programmes.”Barkhuizen, 2021, p.38
- Includes an overview of ‘doing language teacher educator work’: Barkhuizen draws on the work of Johnson and Golombek (2020), and highlights eight interrelated propositions that Johnson and Golombek (2020, p.119) believe “constitute LTE pedagogy as a central domain for the knowledge-base of LTE”. After reading Barkhuizen’s summary, I actually went and read Johnson and Golombek’s article (very worthwhile) to make sure I had a clear understanding of everything. It was interesting to see the ‘propositions’ looked at from slightly different angles – whilst Johnson and Golombek were looking at these propositions from a ‘good practice’ and ‘LTE pedagogy’ perspective, Barkhuizen was looking at them from a language teacher educator identity perspective, i.e., how carrying out these processes influence, change, prompt change, etc. in language teacher educators’ identities. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these propositions, drawing on both Barkhuizen’s Element and Johnson and Golombek’s article:
- LTE pedagogy must be located: I took this to mean that LTE pedagogy needs to be context sensitive as “what happens locally in language teacher education [is] interconnected with much broader scales of context, larger ideological discourses with which teacher educators and student teachers engage” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.41). Johnson and Golombek (2020, p.120) write that “teacher educators must create locally appropriate professional development opportunities, practices, and resources that are socially, culturally, historically, and institutionally situated in and responsive to teachers’, students’, and community needs”, which I feel connects quite nicely with what Kumaravadivelu (2006) refers to as the “parameter of particularity”, i.e., that any post-method pedagogy must “be sensitive to a particular group of teachers teaching a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embedded in a particular sociocultural milieu” (Kumaravadivelu, 2006, p.171). From an identity perspective, however, “both the actual process of teacher education, in collaboratively imagining the future teaching of their student teachers, and in imagining their future teacher education practice (including pedagogy and research), teacher educators negotiate and construct identities” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.41).
- LTE pedagogy must recognize who the teacher is and who the teacher wishes to become: In effect, this proposition means getting to know the teachers you are working with, and understanding who they are, who they want to be, etc. To be able to help teachers understand who they are and who they want to be, Barkhuizen (2021, p.42) writes that a certain type of language teacher educator is needed – “one who sees the importance of self-reflection as a means of understanding both who one is and is becoming (one’s identity) and one’s teaching actions”. Basically, by trying to understand our teachers, we begin to build an understanding of who we are as well (and as such are always “being and becoming” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.42) language teacher educators).
- LTE pedagogy must be intentional and goal-directed: these intentions and goals must be made explicit: I really love this one. It pushes us to be accountable as well as to ensure that we are operating in an appropriate manner (e.g., working towards established needs). Interestingly, this is one area in which there is a risk of ‘overexposure’; that is, there is a line between being explicit about rationales, etc. and exposing so much of one’s self that one is vulnerable or “[crosses] an ethical line” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.42). Identities, thus, can be ‘contested’, by other teachers or even the teacher educator themselves. Taking Johnson and Golombek’s proposition and Barkhuizen’s identity perspective into account, I feel this basically means that we should give enough information about our values, thoughts, beliefs, rationales, etc. to justify why we are doing something and to show that we are accountable for the learning process; however, we should not cross the line into divulging so much information that it gets too ‘personal’. It also means that we should be prepared to have teachers contests our views, perhaps even criticise them, and this with then perhaps push us to reevaluate our values, attitudes, beliefs, etc., and our language teacher educator identities.
- LTE pedagogy must create opportunities to externalize everyday concepts while internalizing relevant academic concepts through authentic, goal-directed activities of teaching: I took this to mean create opportunities to bridge theory and practice. We need to, in effect, support teachers in “linking the academic concepts to teaching practice so that [they] are better able to understand their teaching and thinking about teaching, and thus make more informed pedagogical decisions” (Barkhuizen, 2021, p.43). So, as language teacher educators, we need to not only have the knowledge and awareness to be able to bridge this theory-practice gap, we also need to be ‘current’ with research, ideas, practice, etc. This is where identity comes into the picture – we see ourselves as needing to be well-informed, and as such we move towards doing this, and thus part of our identity is shaped by this need for currency.
- LTE pedagogy must contain structured mediational spaces where teachers are encouraged to play/step into being and becoming a teacher: Whilst Johnson and Golombek (2020, p.123)don’t offer a super clear definition of what structured mediational spaces are, they do note that “within these structured mediational spaces, teacher educators should identify the upper levels of teachers’ potential (i.e. zone of proximal development) as teachers attempt to enact their teaching activities in ways that are beyond their current levels of competence and comfort. Thus, structured mediational spaces should be intentionally designed to function as a ‘safe zone’ for teachers to play with their emerging understanding of the academic concepts they have been exposed to and/or as they attempt to enact alternative ways of teaching that they are not yet able to do without assistance”. Basically, these mediational spaces are times in which language teacher educators mediate learning, and help teacher progress from one stage to another in something, having identified the zone of proximal development. As teachers are trying out new identities in these spaces, teacher educators need be very aware of the identity they maintain – that is, their mediator identity. Whilst Barkhuizen doesn’t explicitly state this, I imagine that this mediator identity may at times conflict with other language teacher educator identities, and here is where the identity work occurs.
- LTE pedagogy must involve expert mediation that is responsive to teachers’ immediate and future needs: When I read this, I felt that this very much repeated what was said in propositions two and three. However, ‘responsiveness’ is what is focused on in this proposition. That is, we language teacher educators may have established needs, etc. and have become acquainted with the teachers we are working with; however, their needs, limits of potential, etc. may change throughout the course of ‘training’ – and we need to respond to these effectively. Barkhuizen (2021, p.44) writes that “from the perspective of teacher educators, responsive mediation is about focus, listening, being open, decision making, supporting, and feeling. This is taxing indeed. Identities are exposed in the process, which implies they are open to inspection and challenge”. Here we deal with identity challenges such as wanting to be seen as a competent teacher educator, even when perhap we are unsure of certain things (e.g., I can think of my first few years in language teacher education, and working with very experienced teachers – it was difficult for me to identify where they needed to be working, and I felt conflicted about this).
- LTE pedagogy must have a self-inquiry dimension, involving teacher educators and teachers working together or by themselves, in which they seek to trace teacher professional development as it unfolds over time and place: Basically, we are looking at how we have developed over time, and how we are developing now. Language teacher educators mediate this process, but can and should also be involved in this process also. Barkhuizen notes that narrative inquiry is a good way for this to occur. This got me thinking about Sponge Chats. In effect, I’ve been asking teacher educators, materials developers, etc. to talk about their journeys into their respective positions, roles, etc. I feel that this counts as some type of narrative inquiry. What would be interesting, however, would be to see how those teacher educators, etc. felt post-Sponge chat – did this help them gain a different/clearer perspective of their career? Was the Sponge Chat effective in making clearer their own development pathway? Was it effective in helping them build a clearer understanding of their professional identity? Perhaps simply being invited to do a Sponge Chat added validity to their identity?
- LTE pedagogy must demonstrate a relationship of influence between teacher professional development (as a result of LTE pedagogies) and student learning: Oh, this is a real goodie in my mind, but I also think it’s one of the hardest to achieve as we can never really be sure about what impact a certain intervention, development tool, etc. will have on teachers and then on students (although we can have a good idea, so it’s not all bad news!). Barkhuizen (2021, p.46) uses Johnson and Golombek’s (2020) term ‘relationship of influence’ to talk about the identity perspective: “A relationship of influence might also refer to the influence that teacher educators have on their own student teachers. In a similar way to the teacher educator–
teacher–language learner relationship there exists an institutionally oriented teacher education programme–teacher education–teacher relationship. In these two relationships of influence, the teacher educator has slightly different roles, and claims and exhibits different identities”.
- Makes difficult concepts easy to understand: So, reading about identities and how people negotiation, construct, etc. these can be cognitively demanding work. And, whilst I won’t say that this Element is an ‘easy read’, I will say that Barkhuizen communicates somewhat difficult and complex ideas quite clearly (something other writes should take notice of!).
- Loads and loads of questions to get one thinking: At the end of the Element, there are no less that 40 questions included to get you thinking. These questions have been framed as potential research questions, although many of them can be done from a personal language teacher educator perspective, in my opinion (I’ll aim to answer a few shortly). Whilst these questions are not directly connected to the content within the Element, they do allow the reader to use what they have read to better respond to them.
What I didn’t like
I don’t really have any points that I didn’t like to present here as the outline from the beginning very clearly put in my mind what I was going to read about, and I don’t feel that the title misled me at all – I knew what I was getting into. Perhaps, however, the inclusion of a task for readers regarding their own identity work could have been useful. What I mean by this is the readers could have been asked to create their own diagram showing how big each of the circles from Figure 1 (see above in the takeaways section) are for them in their context and with their experience. Of course, this has many of the pitfalls associated with self-assessment, but perhaps it could have been a good starting tasks for teacher educators in terms of understanding themselves. Again, this is not a criticism – rather, an idea of something else that could have been included. This being said, if we think along the lines of tasks for readers to complete, there are many that could have been included.
Applying to practice
In terms of applying the Element to my practice, it’s hard to find just one thing to ‘apply’ as the Element focuses on identity work, which is by nature quite complex. With this in mind, I thought that I would do two things: one, I will aim to reflect on my own identity as a language teacher educator through writing about the circles in Figure 1; and two, I will answer two of the questions from the last section in the Element.
Reflections on my own identity as a language teacher educator
So, I decided to record my thoughts as a kind of ‘stream of consciousness’ audio reflection. Here are the parts:
Question: What do language teacher educators gain from participating in local teacher conferences and how can they contribute?
Question: How important is it to have ‘good leaders’ for the development of the language teaching profession? What do language teacher educators have to do to become those leaders?
Who should read this book?
- Language teacher educators: This a really interesting read if you are involved in LTE. If you’re not, then maybe it’s a skip this time. I found loads of value in seeing how certain narratives and research went together, as well as looking at how language teacher educator identity is constructed. I do think that this book will be particularly useful to language teacher educator educators!
Barkhuizen’s Element was a fascinating read. It is not something you can read in a day – you will want to read over certain sections a few times to fully grasp everything (although this is not to say that it is written poorly – on the contrary, it is written very well), especially when connecting it to your own practice/identity. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on the Element, though. So, if you’d read it, please let me know in the comments. Also, if you want to respond to the questions above, please do also – it would be great to hear your opinions!
Book title: Cambridge Elements – Language Teacher Educator Identity
Author: Gary Barkhuizen
British Council (2017). Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Framework for Teacher Educators. https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/2022-05/4204_British%20Council_CPD%20Teacher%20Educator%20Framework_Text%20revisions_04%20final%20040222.pdf