The education of future teachers
Prof. Dr. Kathrin Fussangel / Institute for Educational Research
Photo: UniService Transfer

“We have to reflect on their own role as teachers with the students.

The psychologist Prof. Dr. Kathrin Fussangel on the training of future teachers at Bergische Universität.

"Prospective teachers are poorly prepared for the profession," says at least the Passau school pedagogy professor Norbert Seibert and thus mixes up the German educational landscape properly. Already low standards are not being met, a large proportion of teachers are unsuitable, and the lack of classroom training has almost doubled the failure rate.
At the Institute for Educational Research at Bergische Universität, psychologist Prof. Dr. Kathrin Fussangel researches and teaches, and her experience of the student situation in Bergisches Land is different.

Are prospective teachers poorly prepared for the profession?

"I think we actually prepare student teachers quite well," begins the scientist, whose main focus is on empirical school research. She says that one must consider the different forms of preparation in the context of professionalizing teachers. "We actually talk about three phases in teacher education. The first phase is university studies, in which more theoretical, scientific basics are taught. Then comes the teacher traineeship as a practice-based training phase, and the entire professional practice is referred to as the third phase of teacher education, because lifelong learning naturally plays a major role for teachers as well." As a teacher, you also have to continue your education and training, take advantage of learning opportunities at school, work with colleagues, and continue your education there. A university degree essentially imparts the scientific and theoretical basics, and that succeeds very well in Wuppertal.
"In recent years, there have actually also been efforts to strengthen the link between theory and practice," Fussangel explains. "Here in Wuppertal, for example, we have a focus on the practical semester as part of the quality initiative for teacher training." This extended internship phase in the degree program is well received by students, he says, but needs to be accompanied intensively. Guidance on reflecting on these experiences against the background of what has been learned theoretically is one of the important tasks in the internship semester for the educational sciences and is essential for the students.

Reflecting on one's own role as a teacher

"The students in the practical semester accompany the same learning group over a longer period of time and get a feeling for how a relationship between teacher and student can develop," Fussangel explains. "We have to reflect on their own teacher role with the students very early in their studies. What does it actually mean to be a teacher? What does that have to do with me as a person? How can I create interactions with students, and what are the demands of being a teacher in the first place?" Feedback from students, he said, clearly indicates that they learned a lot during the internship semester and are very satisfied with the experience. "Being able to actually be in the school for half the year has its advantages," the psychologist says, continuing with a smile, "even if they then complain, of course, when they have to go back to university." They are downright hungry for practice, she says, and some find it difficult to readjust to everyday university life after such a long time. Continuous reflection on what they have learned must be repeated throughout their studies, with different emphases.

Teaching is changing due to corona

The pandemic with the relegation of face-to-face courses to digital formats has presented all teachers with new house challenges. Yet Fussangel has also had good experiences with digital exams. "In our case, the results of the exams have not fundamentally changed. Of course, we also had intensive discussions among our colleagues about the pros and cons of these digital exam formats, but by and large we got through this Corona period just fine with them."

Are the study regulations too far removed from practice?

Time and again, criticism of the lack of conflict and communication skills among young teachers in the teaching profession is also sparked by the study regulations, which appear to be too far removed from practice. Fussangel says: "Of course, teacher training can be accused of being theory-heavy and science-based. But I think it's important, because teachers have to impart subject knowledge to students. They have to have a good professional basis. That's relevant for designing didactic concepts." Nevertheless, she thinks the increase in practical components, as is the case in the existing practical semester, is good, but their different perspectives need to be brought together even better. "In Wuppertal, we are also on the way to further developing the interlocking between the institutions, for example. During the practical semester, the students are accompanied by the university on the one hand, but also by the centers for practical teacher training, i.e. the ZfsL, and they still have mentors at the schools who accompany them. Bringing these three perspectives together, that's the big challenge." Although there are definitely teacher training models in international comparison that always offer university and school in parallel in dual form, the scientist considers the scientific foundation that must be created in order to also be a good teacher to be important.

Distance learning neglects social-emotional competencies

Online zoom meetings don't exactly promote social behavior. Newcomers to the profession often have problems coping with the complex social situation in the classroom and report an increased experience of stress. How does one promote the social-emotional competencies of beginning teachers under such conditions?
"Under corona conditions, it was actually difficult," reports Fussangel, who has also had his own experiences in this regard. "You sit in front of the screen with 30 tiles, half of the audience didn't turn on the camera. It was also difficult for the practical phases because students couldn't get into the schools because they were closed." Once they reopened, the schools again would have had to deal with many problems, so students then also had less teaching experience. Direct contact with students via digital forms was difficult, he said, and relationship-building certainly fell short. "You have to make up for that now. When you're aware of that, you also realize that you can learn and practice interaction design and classroom conversations..."

Being a teacher = daily interaction with children and young people

Fussangel postulates that one of the basic prerequisites for taking up a teaching degree program in order to work in the teaching profession is an enthusiasm for working with children and young people. No one knows at the beginning how the professional activity as a teacher will develop for oneself, but "the competencies that you need for the teaching profession", she says, can be learned and thus also routines can be developed, for which you in turn need the theoretical foundations that a university offers. Only then can a realistic picture of the teaching profession with all its tasks emerge. Each of us has been to school once, and Fussangel knows that we all have images in our heads that are positive or negative. However, student teachers should detach themselves from this and redevelop their own teacher role through scientific and theoretical university courses. "The teaching profession means that you interact with children and young people every day. That is the main activity regardless of the subject. You have to be enthusiastic about that. If you're also on fire for your subject, then you can inspire and motivate others."
Fussangel thus agrees with the Potsdam professor of educational research, Dirk Richter, who says: "Above all, a good teacher must be able to explain well, he must be well versed in his subject, he must have pedagogical and psychological knowledge, but also enjoy teaching, and be actively involved in the school. And last but not least, of course, respect and appreciation for the students is part of it."
A stronger interlocking of university and school education of student teachers, in addition to more time for exchange with colleagues, for further training and for reflection on one's own teaching, would be desirable framework conditions that would pay off for the students in everyday school life.

Uwe Blass (conversation from 02.11.2021)

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Fussangel is head of Empirical School Research at the Institute for Educational Research in the School of Education at Bergische Universität.

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