ACADEMIC SERVICE LEARNING IN TEACHER EDUCATION: PROMOTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCIES AND IDENTITIES
Researchers and practitioners are interested in organizing meaningful service experiences that encourage college students to take initiative in community activity. Service experiences in teacher education, in particular, are often described as essential to the development of teacher practice and identity, moving teacher candidates from apprenticeship of observation to apprenticeship of action. Field experiences provide an opportunity for role integration, career goal clarification, and civic engagement. These experiences introduce teacher candidates to the social contexts of learning and development, and may prepare them for the adoption of professional roles in the community. Because teacher education is typically initiated in the undergraduate years, teacher candidates experience the dual pressures of developing interpersonal and instructional competencies, and constructing personal and professional identities. These processes co-occur and service-learning experiences may serve as a point of intersection between them.
In the current study, we are interested in determining if service involvement can moderate, or jumpstart, the exploration of possible identities and provide pathways for sustained professional development. This paper examines the lived experience of teacher candidates involved in mentoring and tutoring high need students in schools and community-based settings in an integrated academic service-learning project, and explores the perceived benefits of service participation. This research is informed by an interpretive frame, as we assume that participants engage in a process of meaning-making through the course, and in the context of, critical field experience. Over the last four years, teacher candidates at a Midwestern university in the United States participated in an academic service-learning project that was integrated into a teacher education course in Adolescent Development. We conducted a series of interviews with a random sample of 16 teacher candidates, and used the constant comparison approach to identify themes within and across narratives.
The teacher candidates in the academic service-learning project reported a change in their views about access and barriers to higher education, and developed in-vivo knowledge of adolescent learners. They had practical experience working with youth, confronted issues of authority, and practiced “relationships,” all while making a contribution to youth and community development. They articulated the benefits of service involvement in terms of the development of teaching competencies and identities. Notably, they described the ability to connect content from the university courses with interactions with youth and adolescents, and the process whereby they internalized these understandings into their teaching practices and self-representations. Their narratives speak of multiple benefits that result from organized and integrated service and community engagement. Thus, this research is situated at the confluence of college student development and teacher identity development theory, and further explores these in the context of a larger dialogue on equity and social justice in education.