Existing literature distinctly indicate that poorly monitored teaching practice will hinder the development of teacher identities among students in undergraduate teacher training programmes. Conventional teaching practice will seemingly allow for some interaction between students and their mentor teachers, as well as between student teachers and their mentor lecturers. However, constructive engagement between student teachers during teaching practice is less prominent and programme managers seldom create sufficient opportunities for student teachers to share ideas, identify shortcomings and strengthen their own teaching strategies in a community of practice.

In this paper we report on a study where student teachers’ views were investigated in terms of the characteristics and roles of effective teachers. We followed a Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) approach, involving approximately 800 final-year student teachers as participants. All participants were involved in a six-month teaching practice period at the time of the study.

For the purpose of data generation, participants (student teachers) were involved in a 3-hour on-campus workshop one month into the teaching practice period. They discussed the following characteristics of effective teachers in small groups of around ten:
(a) the subject knowledge of teachers,
(b) the caring expertize of teachers,
(c) the teaching skills of teachers,
(d) professionalism,
(e) curriculum specialisation,
(f) teachers as ICT users,
(g) and teachers as assessors and evaluators.

These roles blend closely with universal standards linked to undergraduate teacher training programs. Next, participants completed a second data generation PRA-based activity, focusing on the people and/or institutions who had contributed to the development of their identities as teachers. Finally, they had to identify areas for further development they could work on.

Preliminary results pertaining to the first two activities indicate that student teachers from different subject and phase specialisations all indicated that strategies such as question-and-answer techniques; role play and play as strategies; the use of computers, media and models; direct teaching and demonstrations; cooperative learning and group work; inquiry-based teaching; as well as problem-based learning, posed various challenges to them during teaching practice, irrespective of the fact that methodology lecturers dealt with the content of these strategies as part of their formal tuition. Students often found themselves poorly equipped to deal with these challenges. They highlighted the importance of mentor lecturers, mentor teachers, peers, parents, the university and the department of education in not only supporting them when experiencing challenges, but also in informing their professional development as teachers.