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A Winning Entry: AACTE Profiles 2023 Outstanding Dissertation Awardee

Lightning Jay was awarded the 2023 James D. Anderson Outstanding Dissertation Award for his work, “Imagining classrooms: A comparative case study of pedagogy and learning in teacher education” during this year’s AACTE Annual Meeting in Indiana. In this article, Jay provides a summary of his award-winning dissertation and how the research contributes to teacher education and supports policies that invest in the profession.

 AACTE is currently accepting nominations for the 2024 James D. Anderson Outstanding Dissertation Award. The deadline has been extended to Friday, August 11. Learn more and submit an entry.

Bio: Lightning Jay is an assistant professor in Binghamton University’s Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Leadership. Before coming to Binghamton, Lightning taught middle and high school history in Brooklyn, NY and Minneapolis, MN and earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. His research works at the intersection of social studies and teacher education. His interests include making teacher education more authentic, responsive, and effective, preparing teachers to lead ambitious discussions of history that promote thinking about the difficult past, and supporting students in thinking historically and historiographically.

Role: Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Leadership, Binghamton University

Dissertation Title: Imagining classrooms: A comparative case study of pedagogy and learning in teacher education

Dissertation Abstract: This dissertation is motivated by the urgent uncertainty of teacher education pedagogy. The work is urgent because students and schools need teachers to be proficient, equitable, and self-sufficient from the moment they take the helm of the classroom. Yet, it is uncertain because teacher education research has struggled to definitively articulate how most teacher educators teach and whether it affects teachers’ beliefs or practices in the long term. This uncertainty reflects the complexity of teaching and learning as well as the limitations of prior research on teacher education pedagogy, which has historically relied on small-scale self-studies in which teacher educators describe the workings of their own classrooms. Difficult to aggregate, disseminate, or evaluate, these studies often struggle to shed light on the broader field. In this dissertation, I compare the enacted practices of six secondary social studies and English Language Arts teacher educators at three institutions representing a range of pedagogical perspectives, and investigate the implications of those practices for teacher candidate learning. Data collection combined observations of teacher education coursework in six methods classes, with interviews with both teacher educators and candidates, as well as videos of teacher candidates’ teaching in the field. Analysis investigates three questions: How do teacher educators prompt candidates to engage in reflection about instructional practices? How does the discourse about practice construct images of students? And how do candidates take up teacher educators’ pedagogical content knowledge? The findings reveal that each methods course created its own imagined classroom, a projected space where novices and teacher educators constructed projections of teachers and students. The imagined classroom affords teacher educators substantial latitude to curate discussions of teaching, student learning, and the disciplines. Engaging in these projected spaces, novices appeared to internalize some elements of their instructors’ vision while retaining some of their own perspectives on teaching. Contrary to canards about education schools’ lack of rigor, this dissertation finds teacher educators and candidates engaged in nuanced reflective work. Further exploring the complexities of teacher learning, the opportunities for making teacher education more justice-oriented, and the challenges facing teacher educators will continue to support the systems responsible for developing future teachers.

Journals: Findings from the dissertation have been published in Teaching and Teacher Education and Theory and Research in Social Education. Other manuscripts are under review.

Implications for Practice: The results of this study recommend a deeper engagement with pedagogies of practices. Demonstrating that pedagogies of practice are widespread, varied, and under the control of teacher educators opens new space for experimentation with how teacher educators can curate examples of teaching and prompt novices to imagine their classrooms. The dissertation research highlights both potentially powerful uses of these pedagogies as well as potential pitfalls. Incorporating these concepts has prompted my personal work as a teacher educator to be more deeply enmeshed in practice as I encourage novices to think about teaching as a kind of situated and responsive decision-making. Methods courses have become more focused on exploring common instructional dilemmas, novices’ learning has more frequently involved action, reflection, and experimentation, and instruction and evaluation have become more explicitly tied to specific school and communal contexts.

Implications for Policy: At the level of policy, this dissertation argues for the importance of both the university-based methods classroom and the student teaching experience. At a moment when some policymakers have sought to shift teacher education instruction online, decrease student teaching requirements, and shorten teacher education, this study recommends an alternative tack. The kinds of thinking that this study documents are made possible by the in-person interactions between teacher educators and novices and are informed by candidates’ experiences with students. Increasing funding for teacher education, maintaining requirements for student teaching, and creating alternative structures that enmesh university-based education more deeply with K-12 schools would all bolster novices’ opportunities to think deeply about teaching practice. The study also highlights the importance of teacher educators and would support policy measures intended to support teacher educators’ collaboration, professional development, and status as essential professionals.

Future Research: Since completing this dissertation, I have taken further steps to better understand how novices become teachers and how teacher educators can contribute to that development. With colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Oregon State University, I have been part of a five-year longitudinal study of social studies teachers’ early career development. This multidisciplinary project, Discuss Philadelphia, looks at both the situated identity negotiations that teachers are required to navigate as well as the enacted results of their instruction within the classroom. Findings from this research have informed exciting projects including the development of a new observation tool for social studies classrooms, proposals rethinking some of the ways that pedagogical content knowledge has come to frame teacher education, novel approaches to including students in professional development, and new perspectives on teachers’ developmental trajectories. Closer to home, I have also received funding to collaborate with a colleague at Binghamton University to develop a small-scale qualitative causal study that examines the affordances and constraints of different forms of representing practice within methods courses. I am excited to leverage this learning to become a more effective teacher educator and researcher.

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