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"You’ve snatched the carpet from under my feet": courses as contexts for change in in-service language teacher education
Maria Antonieta Alba Celani – Catholic University of São Paulo


Extension courses, summer courses or one-shot workshops are not generally seen as the most effective framework for teacher education programmes (Fullan, 1991; Celani, 1988).

Even within the time constraints of an extension course, however, it should be possible to achieve change in teachers’ practices, provided it offered: firstly, a conceptual basis grounded on reflection and dialogue; secondly, follow-up support of a special kind involving the teachers who have finished the course and thirdly, an in-built evaluation of the whole process.

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The main aim of this paper is to address this problem by discussing the possibility of relating foreign language learning and teaching theory and teachers’ practices, practice being seen as the locus for the (re)construction of theory, in the short time available in an extension course.

The discussion will be conducted while reporting on a research project carried out within a large teacher education programme, in which a possible answer to the question below was sought.

How can teachers as professionals be educated to become reflective practitioners, within the boundaries of a course structure?


The reasons why short extension courses generally fail may be various, but one of them is that they are based on the assumption that all classroom situations and all teachers are equal. One of their main weaknesses is the fact that they do not contribute to the teachers’ growth both as professionals and as individuals. There is usually no room for personal reflection on the job to be done and on how it is being done. They do not give room to questioning. The main focus is transmission of knowledge, thus indicating that the view of professional development held is that it depends on updating of knowledge only.

Sporadic courses, seminars, workshops, in general, may be seen like islands on the sea of the teacher’s professional life. They are events in which new advances in the field are presented,  new materials are shown and discussed, and even new theories may be  introduced. Between one island and another, however, there are no bridges, no communication, no integration with day-to-day work, no continuity.

It is not to say that the content of such courses is always irrelevant. On the contrary, it may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. Mainly, because they are nearly always not designed having the teachers’ needs in view. They are isolated spots, not only in teachers’ lives, but also in the educational context of the school, the city, the state, the country, whereas what is needed is a system which establishes a constant flow of ideas, of exchange of experiences, of actions, resulting from a reflective process based on the teacher’s own practice.

Continued teacher education cannot be seen in terms of products, resulting from courses only, for example, but must be understood as a process which enables the teacher to educate herself, as she moves forward in her career as an educator. It is a form of education which having no deadline to finish permeates the whole work of the individual, eliminating, consequently, the idea of a finished product, for example mastering a technique, at a certain time or period.

It is frustratingly wasteful to have thousands of workshops, conferences and extension courses that lead to no significant change in practice when teachers go back to their classrooms. Lack of follow-up support, lack of follow-up evaluation and, mostly of all, lack of a clear conceptual basis are the causes of a rather depressing situation which seems to be the norm, not only in Brazil but also in other countries, according to the literature on the subject (Fullan, 1991).

There would be several possibilities for the design of a continued education programme for English language teachers. Recently the literature (Zeichner, 1996; Smyth, 1987; Freeman, 1992, 1996, 1998) has been emphasising the need for a long and continuous process, closely linked to classroom practice, in which transmission of knowledge occupies a minor place. The development of a reflective process implying changes in representations, beliefs and practices becomes the major focus in the programme. This view requires a lot of time availability and a large staff for close support and follow-up in the teachers’ change process, the main objective of this approach.

In the case of the Brazilian experience I am reporting on, however, such an approach was difficult to be carried out for practical and economic reasons. How could one reach a very large number of teachers with no time availability for personal development, as they have to teach in more than one school, sometimes in three different shifts on the same day? How could one put together teams large enough to follow the work of these teachers in so many different places?

It is essential to be able to understand and face realistically the relation between what is ideal and what is feasible in certain circumstances. It was decided, consequently, to rethink the validity of offering a professional development programme having as its main supporting pillar just a course. It became apparent that what was needed was  a course based on a different theoretical frame of reference, i.e., a frame of reference that would have reflection on and in practice as the basis for the construction of knowledge regarding foreign language learning and teaching theory, which would lead to teacher change. At the same time, a course aiming at developing multipliers. Given the huge dimension of the public school network where the programme is being developed, if on the one hand it became apparent that it would be unrealistic to try to reach all the English teachers in it, on the other hand, it seemed essential to think of a multiplying effect in-built in the continued education programme that would guarantee its sustainability. What was seen as a mere multiplying effect, at first, however, was to become an integral part of the course as this moved on.

The teachers that participate in the course do not leave the programme once their initial course is finished; they take up positions of action with their colleagues, helping them to reflect on their practice in a systematic way. A cadre of critical thinkers is thus created in the community, leading to professional development.

Schön’s (1983, 1987) view of reflective teaching (both “on-action” and “in-action”) seems to provide a useful framework for exploring the possibilities for changes in teachers’ representations related to teaching and learning English in Brazilian public schools. A reflective approach seems to be more effective, as it is problem-oriented and hypothesis generating. It relates to principles and not to rules. Reflection, in the educational context, involves replacing pedagogical knowledge with questions deriving from pedagogical practice. This is also Freire’s view of the construction of knowledge: a set of reflections recreated in the light of questions and discussions in order to “illuminate” reality (Freire and Shor, 1986:25).

Let us now turn to a brief description of the research programme within which the  course that I am going to report on and discuss is situated.

 1. The structure of the research context 

The research context is a reflective teaching programme involving three institutions: a large non-profit language teaching organisation (Associação Cultura Inglesa São Paulo), a university (Catholic University of São Paulo) and the state of São Paulo public school system where the teachers involved come from. The Cultura Inglesa sponsors the whole programme and offers language improvement (one to three years, depending on teachers’ needs) and the Catholic University is responsible for the one-year reflective course. At present there are about 700 teachers involved in the programme, at different stages.

2.  The research site: the course and the workshops

The research site is the course Reflection on and in action: the English teacher learning and teaching, taught at the Catholic University of São Paulo by a team of teachers and researchers from the Graduate Programme in Applied Linguistics and the English Department. It is a 150 hour course comprising eight modules and taught in two semesters.

At the end of the course the teachers get involved in becoming multipliers in their respective areas of work by means of monthly workshops offered to the whole English teaching community in the state of São Paulo.


In order to make clear where the research is set it is necessary to describe the course structure and the participants and how they connect with the workshops.

The course structure

The course consists of eight interrelated modules, four concerned with the development of  reflective learning  and four related to classroom and syllabus design concerns.  The former include topics such as learning to learn: the importance of reflection, reflecting on the reconstruction of theory from practice, self-evaluation as a reflective process; the role of the multiplier in the reflective process. The latter include topics such as reflecting on the needs of the public school student: which skills to give priority to; reflecting on the social practice of discourse; rethinking English phonology: from awareness to action and reflecting on English grammar.
All the modules are closely interrelated, in the sense that those more concerned with developing a reflective posture serve as basis for those more concerned with factual aspects.

The participants

The participants in the research project are: public school teachers, multipliers, course teachers, course research teachers and researchers not teaching in the course.

The course was offered for the first time in 1997 and at the moment the whole programme in its various stages involves about 700 public school teachers. The examples in this report refer to the first groups of the experience; they are 67 public school English teachers, all graduates holding a teaching certification. Despite having obtained tenure through a public examination on a competitive basis, all of them felt that they still needed a language improvement course offered by the institution which is sponsoring the programme. Depending on individual needs, the language improvement course may last for between one to three years. Very few have taken regular extension courses, but a fair number have sometimes attended workshops, usually offered by publishers. Their teaching experience ranges from 4 months to 24 years, about one third concentrating on the 5 to 10 years range. All have very heavy teaching loads, a minimum of 20 contact teaching hours weekly to a maximum of 40, often in three shifts in different schools. All teach very large classes (about 40 students minimum), in schools with very limited resources in difficult urban areas with violence and poverty spreading over. Both students and teachers, with very few exceptions, come from a low or very low socio-economic background.

Multipliers are those teachers who, having completed the course, will voluntarily be involved in the preparation and presentation of monthly workshops open to the whole English teaching community in the state. In this task they are assisted by the reflective teaching course staff.

Course teachers may participate in the programme either as just teachers of the different modules of the course or as teacher-researchers, as members of the researching team. There are also teachers not involved in teaching the course, but closely connected with it as researchers and co-ordinators.

2.2. Rationale and assumptions

The rationale for the course is that educational practices are socially and historically constructed processes that reflect certain assumptions specific to the time and culture within which they are produced. Therefore, the assumptions made derived from four main conceptual areas: dialogue, culture, change and teacher education, the latter being the background for the definition of the other three. Dialogue (Freire, 1980) triggers the synergic effect resulting from this complex of concepts, as teachers have theories and intentions that must be considered; hence the need to link the question and the answer to actions done or to be done or to be reformulated (Freire and Faundez, 1986).

Brazilian teachers in the late 90’s reflect the educational picture of the country in terms of  lack of preparation connected with the type of pre-service courses offered in most universities, the different type of student that they have to deal with, the change in institutional support, etc.

In state schools, until very recently English was a minor discipline, a low status subject in the curriculum, a subject that no one would fail, as it was considered an activity and not a proper discipline. This fact was felt as demeaning by teachers and interpreted as English having no importance in the curriculum by the students. So, the educational picture involving teacher morale and resources available was one of  discouragement and feelings of neglect.

University and teacher initial preparation programmes are determining factors in teachers’ future action as professionals, because they are a culture in themselves, not a preparation, a warming up, for the culture that the in-service education process tries to develop. Consequently, the effects of that culture, given its characteristics, is going to make change more difficult later on.

But, being able to change is a sine qua non condition for development. This involves the belief that it is impossible to accomplish the deep purposes of students learning unless teachers are continuous learners themselves and teaching is seen as an on-going professional obligation (Hargreaves and Fullan, 1998).

Culture is here understood as shared principles of life (Clarke et al., 1976) and representations of lived experiences (Freire, cited by Giroux, 1988), choices made by people being thus embedded in their own history, their thinking and the way their learning took place (Russell and Korthagen, 1995).

Brazilian state school teachers, although coming from different pre-service teacher education institutions, where they obtained their first degree, share the culture of ELT prevailing in the vast majority of these institutions. Their adoption of methodologies will be influenced by factors generated by that culture.

Teachers’ histories and the ways they were taught will certainly influence their thinking and beliefs regarding teaching English in a public school. They will be influencing their reflective teaching process as well.

It is not very useful, however, conceiving of “a culture” as an established, almost irreversibly stabilised way of thinking, believing, acting, judging, as culture is also “an adaptive process that accumulates the partial solutions to frequently encountered problems” (Hutchins, 1995:  354).

Let us now then look at culture in the process of change, bearing in mind Freire’s view that “culture is an arena of struggle and contradiction” (Freire, cited in Giroux, 1988:117).

 Change involves complex processes, for the development of which conflict is essential. Hence, the painful nature of these processes, particularly when complex change is involved, such as changing your views of learning, of teaching, of looking at education. These views are deeply ingrained in people’s minds and are not changed by their holders just being told to do so. Culture change is a difficult lengthy undertaking. Changing and shaping take a long time and will best be achieved in the world of action (Fullan, 1993:ix).

As to the concept of teacher education adopted in the programme, it is one that sees the teacher as learner, as a career-long proposition, really a continuum of learning (Fullan, 1991:289). It is critical, and being so is always an anti-method pedagogy in the sense that critical teacher education provides no specific road to the way a critical educator must teach or a student must learn – there is no such a thing as “the right way to teach X”.

So, we regarded the teachers in the course as agents rather than victims of change. This necessarily requires an effort, and brings in confusion and disquiet. It also requires the development of mechanisms to question and update mental maps on a continuous basis. A way of thinking that is continuously open to the next paradigm and the next and the next. So, within this framework, problems are embraced by those who face them; no ready-made solutions are offered (Fullan, 1993).

This view of teacher education is based on the dialogue. But dialogue, as understood by Freire (1980), is neither mere depositing of ideas in others, nor the simple interchange of ideas to be consumed. It is the meeting place for reflection and action, which inseparably from those who are engaged in dialogue, are turned towards what needs change. Learning to ask questions is the basis of teacher education, because, according to Freire (1985),by developing the habit to ask, we are developing the habit “to be amazed”.

3. The research design

Let us now look at the research design by starting with its theoretical grounding.

3.1. The theoretical background

This programme, while looking for answers to questions of a more theoretical nature referring to teacher education, aims at playing a distinctly practical role of intervention in the public school social context, whereby the participants themselves become also change agents in the professional context. The participants are seen as collaborators in the construction of meanings related to teaching and learning theories and to classroom discourse. This kind of research paradigm is still relatively new in Brazil and has been particularly developed at the Catholic University of São Paulo (Magalhães, 1990, 1994a e 1994b,1998; Celani, 1988; Liberali, 1999; Romero, 1998; Polifemi, 1998, Fongaro, 1998; among others).

Collaborative research assumes that all participants become researchers of their own action, which means, as discussed by Wong (1995), going against views established by the culture of the school or university as an institution and also against ways of behaving explicitly or implicitly maintained by teachers and students, and in our case between researchers and researchees. The concepts of reflection and collaboration here imply a view of co-ownership, co-authorship and co-construction. Consequently, the concepts of teaching and learning, the intentions and reasons which are at the base of choices made in relation to content or tasks must be made explicit, questioned and (re)constructed by the participants. 

3.2. Instruments and procedures

Data were collected and analysed according to interpretivist research procedures. The instruments include: questionnaires, interviews, video and audio recordings, field notes, course projects, reflective diaries, personal and professional narratives, reflective sessions and one-minute papers. Data were collected at different moments before, during and after the end of the course.

For this report I will discuss data pertaining to the first year of the programme, which refer mostly to questionnaires, diaries and field notes. Data being collected after that have not been analysed yet. Actually that first year served as a pilot experience to tell us whether the project was viable or not and led us to design a much larger programme which is starting now.

Findings at the outset

The findings at the outset, i.e. when teachers first arrived for the reflective course, are consistent with the general culture of pre-service teacher education at the university, which is the place where this kind of education takes place in Brazil.

The situation depicted by Howey and Zimpher (1989) and by Goodlad (1990) in relation to pre-service education programmes in universities in the US would be also true of Brazil. Although there is practically no empirical data on this subject available in the area of foreign language teaching, one knows from experience with teachers and/or contact with education departments that pre-service teacher education for ELT is deficient. Furthermore, until very recently the predominant view in this area was a mistaken understanding of what the education of the foreign language teacher should consist of. In 1984 Celani pointed out what seemed as undue attention being paid to the so-called “theoretical” component on the one hand and to the technical component on the other hand. The very representations that students, future teachers, brought with them revealed the mistaken expectation that learning to become a teacher of English meant learning to use techniques (Celani, 1990). Very little was done in the sense of creating a reflective atmosphere so that the future teacher would become aware of the social nature of her work in the foreign language classroom and of the social function of that work in the Brazilian school.

In pre-service teachers learn from the theory shared by their professors. In these settings there is very little room for developing the ability for personal questioning and for questioning the views of others, particularly of “authorities”. And the prevalent view is that becoming an English teacher involves the acquisition of know-how, which can be achieved by imitation of techniques provided by the methodology course; it also involves learning from didactic exposure, i.e., the theory provided by the course is all important. So, in this set up the reasons for believing X or Y derive from what you are told by authority and not from reflection resulting from practice. It must also be emphasised that there is very little practice provided by pre-service courses.

Summing-up, in pre-service courses teachers are seen as primarily technicians, pedagogical clerks, to use Giroux’s (1988:167) metaphor. A culture of positivism, i.e., teacher training prevails, aiming at imparting techniques of bringing about learning in others. Creating the belief that there is one correct way of doing things, whereas reflective teaching stands for a culture of relativism, encouraging pluralism.

Let us look at the established “truths” or methods of truth production embedded in the teachers' practices as revealed by the answers to a questionnaire used at the beginning of the reflective course with three groups of teachers in order to illustrate this point.

Expectations as to the reflective teaching course

The most frequently mentioned themes were: get to know more attractive methodologies, recycle, understand teaching theories, acquire knowledge, get to know other ways of teaching .

They are reflected in the following sample of quotes:

I’ve brought a strong will to learn, a lot of drive, enthusiasm, humour. I hope to take back knowledge. (E.M.)
All of us who start this course are looking for answers to and solutions for some problems... (E.R.)
I hope to find new ideas, more attractive methodologies ...(E.P.)
Learn new methods, not tied down to the textbook. (S.K.)
I’m a student looking for new ideas, new methods, new information. (G.O.)
Learn techniques for motivating all students. (V.S.)
Any recycling is important, because what you learn at University is a minimum and you easily accommodate. (E.S.)
Help me professionally, fulfilling all my needs. (R.S.)
I’d like to understand teaching theories better, so that I can apply them in my classes. (M.C.)

But there were also comments of a different nature, such as find myself as a teacher, rethink my practice, enrich my practice, exchange experiences, change, reflect on objectives, question the role of the teacher, which are reflected in the following quotes:

I’d like to understand when people talk about objectives, how to reach these objectives;. (M.P.)
I hope the course will lead me to question my role as a foreign language teacher and define my objectives for teaching English, also making me see if my practice and my objectives are coherent. (M.O.)
Help me find myself as an English teacher. I want to be a well prepared teacher and want to have access to materials which help me to be better. I’d like to grow professionally. (M.K.)
I hope to be able to reflect on all I do in the classroom and through this reflection to improve the quality of my teaching. (A.A)
... exchange experiences relating to my practice and enrich my classes. (C.S.)
... I hope to feel more secure... I see these changes in teaching and notice that the intention is good in theory, but in practice, in the classroom, it’s very difficult. (M.S.)

4.2. Perceptions relating to professional development

These are consistent with the teachers’ expectations regarding the reflective teaching course. The vast majority saw professional development attained by means of attending extension courses, occasional talks or workshops. Hardly anybody mentioned discussing problems with colleagues, for example.

Reflection on their own practice

The questionnaire included a question asking how they reflected on their practice. The fact that a good number did not answer the question or gave an answer which was a kind of self-evaluation of their work as a teacher may be interpreted as showing that the teachers were not familiar with the idea of  what reflecting on one’s own practice meant.

Let us look at some quotes.

I doubt that I can hand over anything to my students, although I believe that I’m a good teacher because I have a lot of knowledge. (A.M.)
I like to hand over to others what I’ve learned and how I’ve learned. (E.B.)
I don’t get good results because the students are not interested. (M.I.B.)
A good practice in the classroom requires extra resources which the school cannot always offer. (M.S.)
Although I try, I don’t achieve my objectives. (G.O.)
I always try to remember that I have to learn more. (A.M.)

There are quotes, however, that show that teachers, although not clearly familiar with the concept have, feel, perhaps intuitively, the need to question their practice by looking for somebody else’s reaction, in this case, their own students’. The quotes below may be interpreted as revealing this view.

I try to diagnose my work each class. (E.L.)
By feeling the students’ reaction. (V.A.)
Each class is a challenge which I try to defy. (R.R.)
For others, however, reflecting is interpreted as diagnosing or evaluating results:
I question my performance and evaluate results at the end of the year. (C.S.)
Looking at what the students have assimilated. (V.P.)
By means of the students’ feedback obtained from tests ...  (M.G.A.)

But perhaps there is an inkling of what is meant by reflection in this context in the quotes below:

When I don’t like something I’m devastated and try to change. (M.V.)
It seems that I’m always trying. (I.H.)
Even after five years of teaching I think that I haven’t yet found my way as the teacher I want to be. I have a vague idea: the teacher who leads, who listens as much as she talks, who understands the language of learning: the difficulty, the need, the success. (C.N.)

It was very encouraging to see that the teachers were committed to their profession and had a clear view of the moral purpose of their work. When asked what they saw as their strength as teachers, a picture of understanding of the social purpose of teaching and what this entails emerged. Their answers can be summarised as follows:

The vast majority like what they do, they have professional commitment and respect for their students and a good relationship with them; they are patient, dynamic, curious, optimistic and dedicated; they like people.

These are all good pre-requisites for starting a course in which a new interpretation of teaching and learning is going to be its backbone. A receptive attitude towards reflection leading to change could reasonably be expected, within the framework of the course which assumed that change cannot come about from some top-down, formulaic direction, that teachers have theories and intentions that must be considered, and that assisting teachers in exploring the origins of their practice invites a dialogue between teachers and teacher educators.

Findings at the end of the course

During the course and by means of different instruments – diaries, one-minute papers, reflective sessions – data were collected giving indications of the pattern of development at different stages. For the purpose of this paper, however, I will concentrate on data obtained at the end of the course.

By the end of their course, perspectives had shifted somewhat. Earlier themes continued, but there are signals of change, at least as to what involves more awareness as to the nature of their job. There are signals that the teachers were now able “to think explicitly about their ... assumptions, in order to bring them out of the shadows of tacit knowledge” (Bruner, 1996:47).

The following are some comments that are worth while looking at:

What was done intuitively before, is now done more consciously. (L.W.P.)
I know that there are no miraculous definitive recipes ; it is up to us to 
discuss, raise questions, stimulate curiosity and encourage the search for solutions. Our teaching system is very complex indeed. (M.A.R.)
The teacher as liberator must be a critical person, aware, liberated and courageous to reach metamorphosis...  Study and discussions together with classroom narratives done with sensitivity are the best way to help establish relationships. What changed? The relationships among we teachers, motivation and enthusiasm for the new, for new ideas in education. I’m glad to have had this experience because it has made me think about things that I ‘d never thought of before. (M.E.S.R.)
What I liked best in this course was having been able to discover myself and to get to know myself. Fortunately I liked the person that I discovered in myself... I’d like to keep in touch. (S.W.).
Before this course we got into the classroom and “poured” the content on to  the students, without asking ourselves whether they wanted to learn that or even if they were learning or not. Now we know that the learner is very important in the teaching/learning process and that we have to start from her/his needs having very clear objectives in mind. (G.M.)
It was important to realise that we don’t have to know everything and that we are not the owners of knowledge, but that we learn with our students. (Group evaluation)

Watching themselves teach on video tape and analysing their performance critically with the help of the group seems to have been a very important component of the course. These are some enlightening comments:

The most important fact that led me to reflect on my classroom practice was watching myself in action. It was the best and the worst part at the same time. It was the worst because it is not an easy task to see yourself in action and analyse your attitude as a teacher with a critical view, but with my friends and the teacher’s help it became not as difficult as I’d thought. (S.K.)
The recordings were the most outstanding feature of the course. I’d never thought of recording my classes and then analysing them, sorting out the good from the bad. Very valid, chiefly because of the analysis and the conversation with colleagues. (S.R.)
To see oneself in action, being prepared to receive suggestions is one aspect of reflection that fosters not only personal growth, but also professional growth. (L.W.P.)

But some of the old views persist, although in mitigated form. Some have not yet been able to grasp the new view of teaching and learning that the course had been trying to make them experience, i.e., that learning is in the learner, the teacher is a participant in the learning process, and that there is no handing over of knowledge.

I’ve noticed that I don’t have clear objectives for my classes. What I need mostly is suggestions and new techniques to teach English ...(G.S.)
At the university I didn’t learn anything that is being taught in this course. Everything that you’re handing over to me is new and is being very useful. But I’ll be applying it only next year... (D.N.)

Although we cannot automatically take the statements at face value, on the whole one can say that at the end of the course their comments show an overall level of awareness that was not apparent earlier, even if there are still tensions. Or, perhaps, are the tensions  an indication of the awareness building up? One must not forget that awareness does not develop overnight.

The final report of the course teacher responsible for the last module says:

At the beginning, the group was not able to handle theory in a concrete way in the analysis of the recorded classes and had great difficulty in keeping away from value judgements. After the self-evaluation module, however, there was a clear change. There was a clear effort to use theory as a form to understand actions and to explain them.  Value judgements persisted, but there was also and interest in understanding actions and their theoretically based change.

Critical reflection was more and more taking on an important role in the discussions and in the way the reflection was conducted. The teachers began to realise that the work of the multiplier wouldn’t be just presenting to their colleagues the contents of the course that they were taking themselves, but it meant constructing with them a critical reflective process. ... The majority showed the great need for a larger theoretical foundation in order to discuss practice on theoretical bases. All showed the need to recognise the action first, so that a later reconstruction of that action becomes possible. Above all, all showed the need for more critical reflection. (F.C.L.)

Culture in the process of change as an arena of struggle and contradiction

Let us go back now to Freire’s concepts of culture presented earlier in this presentation:

Culture is the representation of lived experiences ... and practices
Culture is an arena of struggle and contradiction. (Freire, cited in Giroux,1988:117)

Lived experiences are part of teachers’ histories and will consequently trigger contradictory feelings during the reflective process. So, it is easy to understand that this brings about a feeling of lack of orientation, of competence decreasing during the first attempts at trying something new. The tendency, at this stage, of returning to familiar ways of doing things in order not to lose your bearings, is understandable.

As Macedo (1994) argues, trying to develop a critical pedagogy is always an anti-method pedagogy in the sense that critical teacher education provides no specific road to the way a critical educator must teach or a student must learn – there are not five correct ways to teach X or Y. Furthermore, at moments teachers will feel that change is making the job harder, particularly given the difficult circumstances in which their job has to be done. And this is disturbing. But as Russell (1995:107) very aptly states, “we must assume that we are living contradictions, and use the strategies of action research and the perspective of reflective practice to identify contradictions, change our practices and gather data to show the consequences of our changes.”

The arena of struggle and contradiction is clearly visible in the following excerpt:

“We were comfortably asleep in aunt Vera’s lap when, all of a sudden a white hurricane snatched the ground from under our feet and threw us into a deep well! I was fascinated by the storm: somebody had the courage to knock down the wall of ignorance behind which we hide the lack of logic in our work ( and why not in a series of acts in our lives?).
For quite some time “Mrs Why” made me feel like an idiot in front of my students, as I no longer knew what I had to do there. It was after this stage, after having cleared the ground, that I was able to reconstruct (or at least to try to look for) a more coherent basis for my attitudes.
You’ve planted a seed of unrest deep down in me and I’ll do my best so that it never dies. It was worth while!” (G.S.)

Overcoming resistance to change, however, is not the same as creating commitment to change (Fullan, 1991:84). Change requires commitment of energy and resources. It requires people to take risks and break habits. It causes discomfort and uncertainty. It creates needs as well as satisfies them. So, when undergoing change people need more support and security than when their world is stable; these needs must be satisfied for substantial change to go forward (Fullan 1991:95).

In-service teacher education within this framework is an up-hill battle. There will always be relapses, moments of discouragement, ups and downs in commitment. All of this sounds rather discouraging, but it is the norm. That is why follow-up and support are essential, particularly support coming from peers who have gone through the same process. This is why the workshops are such an important component of this project, particularly because so far there has not been any kind of institutional counterpart from the educational authorities. So far we have been working outside the educational system. Perhaps one could refer here to the concept of “toxic” culture and “infectious context”, as presented by Deal and Peterson (1999:8): the social millieu, in our case the educational system, is so negative that even the most motivated individuals can become discouraged and disheartened. But, if the institutional context is not conducive to development, it is necessary to look for opportunities that foster sympathetic contexts. It is also necessary that those opportunities be offered by those who have a feeling of accountability and are no longer able to be indifferent to the disastrous situation that they see around them. In the case of our project, the opportunity for keeping the flame burning is not just the course, but the empowerment it gives to the teachers, enabling them to be involved in change, not only for the sake of their own professional development, but also for the sake of effecting some change in the system.  Actually, Fullan (1993) sees collaboration as one of the capacities needed for change to become effective: “There is a ceiling effect to how much we can learn if we keep to ourselves. ... People need one another to learn and to accomplish things”(p.17). This came out very clearly in some of the teachers’ comments in our data.

It’s important for the teacher to share her lived experiences in the classroom with colleagues, so that an encouraging interchange is established. (M.A.A.)

Something which I learned and enjoyed was becoming aware of the similarities in our autobiographies. It was very comforting to know that there are more people in the same situation like me and they’re fighting to overcome the difficulties. (S.K.)

Vera is the instructor who had dealt with the previous module on learning to learn.

7.  Where do we go from here?

It is clear that a more extensive evaluation of the whole process is needed, but it was felt that there were sufficient indications to suggest that a wider more ambitious project be designed and carried out. This is what is happening at the moment.

So, going back to my main question, How can teachers as professionals be educated to become reflective practitioners, within the boundaries of a course structure?, I believe that our evaluation of the initial experience has given us enough indication as to what such a course should consist of: practice as the basis for reflection, looking at their own practice by means of representations of existential real situations (the videotaped classes), thus enabling them to keep the cognisable object at a distance. All this conducted in dialogical form involving not only those responsible for teaching the course, but mostly the course participants themselves, thus guaranteeing support coming from peers. This support is not to be found only within the walls of the course itself, but first and foremost in their action as workshop organisers and presenters after they have finished the course. This has a triple effect: it motivates those who have taken the course to go on reflecting and acting, it encourages those who are still taking the course to see a role for themselves in the near future and it should also encourage teachers in the wide English teaching community to join forces with those already involved in the programme.

The reactions of the teachers involved made us believe that, in spite of  the relapses resulting from moments of discouragement, in spite of the initial reaction which prompted the title of this paper – “You’ve snatched the carpet from under my feet” - they seemed to have faith in the potential of the kind of professional development proposed by the course, even if they realised the real costs of attempting something new: the extra time and energy required, the possible addition to their normal workload, and not even the remotest chance of being granted release time for their involvement not only in the course, but also in the organisation of the workshops.

Adopting a Freirean (Freire, 1980) perspective, and accepting that awareness raising implies utopia, all those of us who are involved in the implementation of the programme take a utopian stance. But, accordingly, by utopian we do not mean unfeasible or idealistic; we mean having a historical commitment requiring critical thinking, at the same time seeing hope as essential for true dialogue leading to change. For teacher education we accept, on the one hand “the dilemma of imperfection”, i.e., keeping faith in the ability to change for the better while knowing that a final and settled end can never be attained (Bruner, 1996: 97), and on the other hand the utopian notion of “unrealised possibilities” (Giroux,1988:173). An apt metaphor to close these considerations might be Bloch’s in his analysis of daydreams: “The content of the daydream is not, like that of the night dream, a journey back into repressed experiences and their associations. It is concerned with, as far as possible, an unrestricted journey forward, so that instead of reconstituting that which is no longer conscious, the images of that which is not yet can be phantasied into life and into the world”(Bloch, 1970: 86-87, cited by Giroux, 1988) (my emphasis).

A more apt closure, however, seems to be these two poems written by one of the teachers in the course, which offer us, utopians, good glimpses of “that which is not yet”.

I have to bet all my tokens
and risk all my points
I have to change and never lose hope
I have to find my self-confidence
and try to reformulate
my life.
I have to look for new things
and rethink,
and join forces,
in order to solve the problems
of the “new world”.
I have to learn to swim
and to dive deep
into my yearnings.
I must fight against my fears
and come back stronger.
I have to find myself
and tidy up everything,
because after going through the tunnel
I know that
a light
I will find.

10 September 1998
At the beginning of the course, after a reflective session on Doris Lessing’s short story “Through the tunnel”.

When I arrived

I was looking for a light,
which I eventually found.
I realized that nobody is
a blank page
and that we can learn
with each other.
One must reflect,
find the “what fors?”; “whys?”
and change!...
Our mind needs
We are people
in constant changes
and these changes
must be spread
in order to change actions
and look for solutions...
I came looking for a light,
which today I know was hidden
inside me.
And I’m going to take a lot more
inside my little rucksack,
because I’m going to multiply my knowledge
knowing that I’m not alone.
We’re together in this boat,
rowing always forward,
in order to build a future
far better than the present.

25 June 1999
At the end of the course, as part of the course evaluation.

Cida Antunes Translated from the Portuguese
A Brazilian teacher


I thank Leila Barbara, Antonio Paulo Berber-Sardinha and Rosinda de Catro Guerra Ramos for their constructive comments and feedback. I also thank the public school teachers and the teachers in the reflective course for their commitment and enthusiasm.


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