• Pausing at the Threshold
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Castle Conference 14 Event Schedule
  • Vulnerability, Ontological, and Epistemological Assault
  • Section I: How can we position, reposition, reframe, re-imagine, and integrate new learnings from the past, present, and future?
  • Section II: What inspires you to pause, deliberate, consider, or take a mindful stance to determine new or enduring practices?
  • Section III: What opportunities are you considering, contemplating, exploring, or embracing to contribute to different communities and audiences?
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  • Threshold Inertia

    Fearful to Move Without Redefining Pedagogy and Elucidating Praxis
    &
    PraxisReflexivityStudent IncivilityHelicopter Teaching
    Abstract As a Ph.D. candidate and graduate teaching assistant in the final year of my program, I had to reevaluate my teaching practice and discern how I had become a helicopter teacher/ instructor. I had to lean into my community of practice and I had to re-evaluate and objectively examine my teaching practice and pedagogies enacted. I had to adjust my course to meet the unique needs of students educated during COVID. In the process, my resiliency, my self-efficacy, and my identity as both a teacher educator and academic were challenged, realigned, and then redefined by my shift in identity from a secondary educator into a postsecondary educator and scholar.
    "A major threshold is passed when you mature enough to acknowledge what drives you, and to take the wheel and steer it." ~ Andrew Stanton

    Context of the Study

    As a social justice teacher educator (Goodwin & Darity, 2019) and literacy GTA in a midwestern teaching university, I taught the cross-disciplinary literacy methods course required for pre-service teachers. As my identity as a teacher educator and praxis pedagogy (Arnold & Mundy, 2020) has evolved, I have enacted a pedagogy of preparation (Brower et al., 2021) to maintain my course’s applicability and relevance for my students (Kitchen & Berry, 2020; Martin, 2018, 2020). According to Brower et al. (2021), preparative pedagogy encourages a community of learners in which students express their understandings and take academic risks and scaffolds preservice teachers as they master the content and skills required to be successful. Additionally, students view their agentive roles as teachers and the exigence of an informed and ethical civic engagement required for a healthy democracy.

    As a self-study teacher educator and graduate teaching assistant, I am constantly in a state of reflexivity and proactively exploring approaches to improve my practice, enhance my literacy methods course, and increase my sense of self-efficacy as an instructor (Craig & Curtis, 2020; Trout, 2018). I view engaging in self-study as an ongoing, purposeful, and strategic form of individualized professional development as I negotiate becoming a professional teacher educator (Ritter, 2017; Vanassche & Kelchtermans, 2016). Moreover, Martin (2018) states that the process of becoming and evolving as a teacher educator is “Ultimately, productive and enabling identities (including teacher identity and teacher educator identity) will emerge and reemerge through flows of becoming” (p. 264).

    My progress in becoming a teacher educator and identity formation as one appeared to be on a normal trajectory until the fall of 2021. That semester, exacerbated by the demands of COVID-forced program changes and unrealistic student demands, I was confronted by a threshold in my pedagogy and my identity as a teacher educator. It had become salient that although I intended to honor my students’ feedback and adjusted my course in response to their suggestions, I had slowly morphed into a helicopter teacher educator. Houser et al. (2020) state that helicopter teachers provide explicit step-by-step instructions and templates to eliminate any ambiguity or do for students what students can and should do for themselves, such as keeping track of assignments and course deadlines. McAllum (2016) adds that students substitute “helicopter parents with helicopter professors'' (p. 364). As students have changed over the years, many teacher educators have become uncertain of the best instructional practices to meet students’ increasing emotional needs while providing the skills necessary to become effective teachers prepared to enter the field (Leach, 2019; Lynch et al., 2018). Although many teacher educators manage to appropriately scaffold students, if their teaching practice crosses over into helicopter teaching, they may prevent students’ authentic learning (Grant, 2017).

    Compounding the issues are Generation Z students and their unique characteristics. Researchers have found Gen Z students often exhibit: 1) an attachment to technology at the expense of learning, 2) a fear of making mistakes, 3) a procrastination of assignment completion until necessary, 4) a low attention span, 5) a need for constant reinforcement and approval, 6) a need for frequent reminders of upcoming academic tasks, 7) the requirement of an explicit connection between content and how it is relevant to their immediate situation, and 8) a high rate of mental illness or diagnosed anxiety disorder (Houser et al., 2020; McCoy, 2020; Schwieger & Ladwig, 2018). Consequently, Grant (2017) argues that some faculty are so cognizant of the emotional fragility of their students that their shift to helicopter teaching has become an unintended outcome.

    Objectives of the Study

    The objectives of this self-study were to review previous semesters’ course feedback, the fall of 2021 student emails, and the alterations to my course over five years to identify where and when my teaching practice morphed from a pedagogy of preparedness to one of helicopter teaching. I had come to a crossroads. I knew I could not move forward if that semester and many of the students in that course were representatives of how I would have to teach. I knew, at a visceral level, that I would not be preparing them to be effective practitioners. My belief in the nobility of teaching would not allow me to accept that as an option. Either I figured out how it occurred and how to avoid it recurring or I needed to re-evaluate my non-teaching options once I graduated.

    I revisited and examined my course documents and discerned where my intentions of addressing the needs of my students had evolved into removing the expectation that my students could be independent, self-directed, and engaged learners. In the four previous years, there were a small number of students that pushed back against having to take a literacy course to teach their discipline; however, in the fall of 2021 class, it was the opposite. There were only a few who acknowledged how it could improve their teaching and increase student learning. I confronted several of my long-held assumptions about preservice teachers, re-evaluated my practice, determined where to readjust my teaching practice and praxis pedagogy, and re-aligned it all with my pedagogical beliefs. As a new graduate applying for my first faculty position, it was imperative that I examined my curricular choices and determined if I could still develop courses that were both rigorous enough to prepare teacher education students to enter the field while still managing the unique characteristics of Gen Z preservice teachers.

    Methods

    As this study intended to evaluate my teaching practice and discern if I could make the changes necessary to remain in the field of teacher education, this is a personal history self-study. Samaras et al., state "personal history-the formative, contextualized experiences of our lives that influence how we think about and practice our teaching-provides a powerful mechanism for teachers wanting to discern how their lived lives impact their ability to teach or learn" (2004, p. 905). LaBoskey’s (2004) five methodological considerations for conducting self-study directed my choices: it must be self-initiated and self-focused with the intention of improving teacher education, it must apply qualitative methods, must be interactive, and it must be validated through the construction, testing, and sharing of teaching practices (Pithouse-Morgan, 2022).

    The data collected and analyzed included semester syllabi (8), student emails from the fall of 2021 (178), anonymous semester student evaluation of teaching summaries (8), department meeting notes (3), and graduate supervisor teaching observation feedback forms (8) collected from August of 2017-December of 2021. The qualitative procedures applied were content analysis, grounded theory thematic analysis, and constant comparative method (Charmaz & Belgrave, 2019).

    A critical friend was included in the study (Russell & Schuck, 2004). She examined the data gathered objectively as she did not know the students and could read and interpret the data without the interference of my interactions and unknown biases. Both of us separately read the data, identified patterns as they emerged, decided on themes, and then compared our findings. There were multiple times that I had to re-think how I was interpreting the data and recognize that my personal feelings were interfering with my analysis. For example, when I read one student’s email that was short and to the point, I interpreted it and coded it as disrespectful (their in-class behavior was disrespectful). However, when she read it (without the influence of classroom interactions), she coded it as formal and brief. Her questioning how I decided what my codes and themes were based on the data, and her argument that she did not see the same codes or themes, forced me to revisit my analysis and reflect more deeply on how I interpreted, coded, and developed my themes. The independent analysis and coding processes and subsequent discussions, debates, and revisions of the codes and themes into the final versions increased the likelihood of our findings being more authentic and valid. The final codes, outcomes, and themes are in Table 1.

    Findings

    Table 1

    Findings

    Coded Categories

    Outcome

    Theme

    Academic Entitlement/AE Dimensions

    An adversarial relationship between students and instructor, and student-student

    Students and I view our respective responsibilities to each other differently.

    Classroom Incivility:

    -Disrespect/Lack of participation

    Learning environment was unsafe and sharing personal insights or experiences would not be respected

    Students believe class discussions and activities are unnecessary and irrelevant.

    Class Terrorism:

    -Lack of attendance/attention

    -Demand justification deducted points

    Learning opportunities during class were limited due to student absences and lack of preparation

    Students do not see the relevance of the course in their teacher education development.

    Cyberbullying

    Increased sense of student hostility from a few students

    Students feel I need to meet their expectations, or they will complain to supervisors.

    Academic Contra Power Harassment

    -Complaining to Dept Chair or Dean

    Teaching practices questioned and embarrassment over false claims

    Students want to punish me because of high expectations.

    Consumerist Attitudes/Instructor as Servant

    -Expect courses to cater to preferences

    Undermined student-teacher relationships and lack of respect for the instructor’s knowledge or position

    Students believe they should decide if course content is relevant to them on their terms.

    Cyber-slacking, Cyberloafing/Multitasking/Extraneous Processing.

    Lack of interaction and lack of attention

    Students do not believe course content is important to their development as teachers.

    Helicopter classrooms

    -Students expect safe spaces to avoid conflicting views

    -Students did not exhibit emotional control

    Fear of holding students responsible for remaining civil during class discussions over controversial topics could lead to negative course evaluations and additional complaints to supervisors

    Students’ unrealistic expectations of course could be used against me and prevent me from getting a faculty position.

    As doctoral students progress over each program threshold, they are concurrently engaging in communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 2001), being enculturated into academia by their department and graduate student advisors (Lynch et al., 2018), and internalizing and forming their identities as teacher educators and scholars (Wenger, 2010; Wegner & Nückles, 2015). Moreover, Wilcox and Leger (2013) used Meyer and Land’s (2003, 2005) conceptualization of thresholds as transitions in postsecondary teaching as working through a series of threshold concepts. They state “A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.” (p.1). The conceptualized thresholds are a) transformative, b) troublesome, c) irreversible, d) integrative, e) bounded, f) re-constitutive of self, and g) discursive. These threshold concepts will guide the organization of this paper as I grappled with how my teaching practice devolved into becoming a helicopter teacher, my realization that it had occurred, confronted my fears of becoming an ineffective teacher educator and inert, re-oriented my praxis pedagogy and recommitted to being a teacher educator.

    Threshold As Transformative: It Leads to a Significant Shift or Transformation of Personal Identity

    According to Hordvik et al. (2020) “We encourage teacher educators to acknowledge the relatively uncontrollable, relational, and ambiguous environment of teacher education practice and learning, and in this way embrace orchestration as a way of conceptualizing their practice and learning.” (p.9). The fall of 2021 left me no choice but to acknowledge the relatively uncontrollable, relational, and ambiguous reality of teacher education practice. As a GTA and developing academic and teacher educator, I ran straight into the wall of unintentional changes in my practice and not for the betterment of either my teaching or my preservice teachers’ learning. My identity and self-efficacy as a teacher educator were challenged.

    Threshold As Troublesome: It Is Troubling As New Knowledge May Seem Counterintuitive/Wrong

    As a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, I was conditioned to continuously, critically evaluate, and examine my teaching practice and adjust my practice to deepen my students’ learning. In my MA.E, I segued to self-study, further cementing my belief in the power of self-study to function as a personalized professional development (Vanassche & Kelchtermans, 2016). Additionally, I conducted a self-study of my practice as a beginning teacher educator during my first three years as a literacy GTA. I was applying what I knew to be effective college teaching practices and felt comfortable in my maturation as a college instructor (Hu, 2020). That study indicated my teaching practice was developing and evolving and the students indicated I was meeting their learning goals. My pedagogies of care and of preparation were providing them with the skills needed to head confidently into their student teaching placements. My self-efficacy was high, and my teacher-educator identity was coalescing into a strong sense of purpose and confidence in my teaching abilities.

    However, in the fall of 2021, the two classes I taught shook me to my foundations and almost convinced me to leave teacher education altogether. I knew I could not continue to teach if that semester was an indicator of what it meant to be a professor. I questioned finishing my program, and for the first time since becoming an educator, I dreaded teaching. I could not move forward with any confidence. I was inert and I knew it.

    Threshold As Irreversible: It Cannot be Forgotten or Unlearned

    In my attempts to understand the chaos in my classes, I learned a new lexicon. I learned about academic entitlement (Kinney et al., 2022; Laverghetta, 2018), academic contra power harassment (Burke et al., 2020; King, 2019; Lampman et al., 2009), classroom terrorism (Turnipseed & Landay, 2018; Vural & Bacioglu, 2020), classroom incivility (Alexander‐Snow, 2004; Frey, 2009; May & Tenzek, 2018), cyberloafing (Reysen et al., 2021; Zhang et al., 2022) and nomophobia (McCoy, 2020) and how all of them can sabotage a classroom, hijack the instructor’s intended classroom climate, and wreak havoc on a graduate teaching assistant’s sense of purpose and beliefs in student learning abilities and teacher dispositions. I discovered that preservice teachers are not always focused on learning, they are not always committed to becoming effective educators, and they are not always committed to the teaching profession. I learned that some preservice teachers are purposefully unkind and that academic entitlement, addictions to technology, and allowances made during COVID-19 did more harm than good. I learned that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable reflections of an instructor’s teaching practice (Leach, 2019; Rollett et al., 2021). I was demoralized and experienced a sense of disequilibrium that I found shocking. My response was to immediately engage in a focused self-study of my practice in order to discover how I got to such a state and figure out how to change it.

    Threshold As Integrative: It Exposes Previously Hidden Interrelated Concepts Allowing for the Reintegration of Previous Knowledge

    As my critical friend and I reviewed the data, several patterns began emerging. Our analysis of the syllabi, course assignments, materials used, and course organization over five years revealed the critical junctures that changed how I taught my courses, re-designed my syllabus, and adjusted my teaching practice to meet the needs of my preservice teachers in response to their feedback. I recognized where my understanding of how my students learned and the scaffolding I believed they needed from me had crossed over from supportive to enabling. I was becoming a helicopter teacher. I identified those moments and re-evaluated my curricular choices. It became progressively clearer the more I adjusted my course and expectations to reflect student suggestions, the less ownership they took of their learning. I had adjusted my course and my teaching practices believing I was honoring their feedback and deepening their learning by focusing more on the key course goals. Instead, I removed the expectation or accountability that they would be self-directed learners.

    In my attempts to live my praxis pedagogy, and ensure I was addressing the needs of my students, I made it impossible for them to fail. We found that over time, instead of looking at the syllabus, the class website, the assignment directions, rubrics, and models, or coming to class prepared to engage in the content, many came to class unprepared. However, the fall of the 2021 class was my breaking point. There were a few that were invested in the class, but the majority were not. Most were on their tech and did not engage with the class on any level. They would email me before looking at their syllabus or course calendar. I had provided them with binders with hard copies of the syllabus, the course study guide, and assignments and rubrics. I kept trying to problem-solve and figure out what I was doing wrong. The more I tried to increase engagement, the less engaged they became. I had enabled them to become passive and then expected them to be attentive and active learners.

    Threshold As Bounded: It Denotes What Are Unique Characteristics of the Subject

    By the end of September, it was excruciatingly obvious that my attempts to connect with my students were ineffective, resulting in a meeting with my advisor and department chair. Both observed my class multiple times and provided explicit feedback. Both shared that I was doing most of the work because I feared my students had not completed the out-of-class readings required for in-class activities and discussions. I was advised to hold students accountable with quizzes and activities that assessed their understanding of assigned readings, and I was not to allow absent students to make up work without proof of illness. I was not to allow students to Zoom into our face-to-face class without a medical excuse. They shared that many other GTA’s and faculty were experiencing similar issues with high absenteeism, a lack of class preparation, increased negative student interactions with peers and faculty, and the same preoccupation with tech, even during lectures. I learned that many of our students were entering our classes with high levels of academic entitlement (Reysen et al., 2021) and several were experienced, classroom terrorists (Weger, 2018) and had driven several other instructors nearly to tears. Instead of providing my students with high expectations and the pedagogy of preparedness, as I believed I was, I diminished their sense of responsibility for their learning. I was doing more, and they were doing less. I knew that I could not continue to violate my praxis pedagogy. I questioned my decision to become a teacher educator.

    Threshold as Re-Constitutive of Self: It Shifts the Perspective Enabling Repositioning of Self

    Analyzing all the data made it obvious how and when my practice had changed. Then, I had an a-ha moment in the middle of October (Tidwell & Jónsdóttir, 2020). I had provided students with folders, hard copies of the syllabus, the interactive study guide, and the rubrics for each assignment, and then one of the students asked if I could type a list of all the assignments remaining for the semester and post it on our class site. They had completely stopped using any of the tools they were provided or materials I had given them. I had become a helicopter teacher. Something had to change.

    That evening, I purposefully determined to re-evaluate my teaching practice and re-align it with my pedagogy and praxis pedagogy and continue my program (Arnold & Mundy, 2020). I had to do the uncomfortable work of acknowledging that I was arrogant in my assumption that I could mature as a teacher educator independent of my community of practice in my department. My hubris prevented me from sharing negative experiences with my students with others sooner. If I had been transparent with my struggles, they could have provided me with much-needed balance, reassurance, and support. I re-examined the characteristics of praxis as pedagogy and confronted myself with what I believed and what I had been practicing (Kemmis et al., 2020). I questioned if I was” seeing teaching as a form of praxis because it aims towards the good for each person and the good for humankind” (p. 109). The data analysis made it salient that regardless of my intentions, my choices were not facilitating my students’ growth and development as teachers, and, more importantly, I was not modeling effective teaching practices, nor was I living out my praxis pedagogy.

    Threshold As Discursive: It Shifts Perspective and Provides Ways of Approaching a Concept

    I met with my department chair and graduate advisor and requested recommendations enabling me to regain my perspective and balance as a teacher educator. They observed my teaching and provided helpful insights and practical suggestions on how I could teach my classes and return the responsibility for learning back to my students. They advised me to change my teaching persona into a more formal and postsecondary approach and create more distance between my students and me. There was a time and place to be warm and informal, but this class was neither. I focused our class discussion on mastering course objectives and applying course readings to teaching simulations they would face and held students accountable for being current in their assignments. If they sent an email requesting information about topics covered in the syllabus, I redirected them to the syllabus and the explicit guidelines for missed classes, late work, and requests to change assignment due dates. I stopped allowing a handful of students to establish the classroom climate for the rest of the students. I refused to re-answer questions that were covered in either the assigned readings or the class discussions. I did not respond to emails after 8 pm. I stopped being a helicopter teacher and returned to practicing a pedagogy of preparedness. I focused on the students that were committed to being effective teachers and remembered why I was enthusiastic about literacy teacher education.

    Final Thoughts: My Experience As a Cautionary Tale

    As this semester started unraveling before me and all of my previous experiences, strategies, and methods as a teacher-educator were ineffective in creating the classroom climate and learning community that had always been a hallmark of my teaching, I turned inward instead of outward. I independently tried to address the disconnections between the students and me. I believed that if I was proactively changing my approach, I would eventually figure out how to salvage our semester. What I should have done instead, was to reach out to others for support and guidance. I could have asked another GTA or professor for guidance as to how much credence I should allow the course evaluations to have instead of continuing to decrease my expectations. I could have met with my advisor, or other professor, the first week of school when it was apparent the students in my classes were not taking the course seriously and would not disengage from technology and participate in class in any way. I could have asked if anyone else was experiencing the same issues and behaviors. Had I done so, I would have discovered that others were having similar issues with their students and I was not an isolated case. I could have been provided the tools to redirect the class to more productive ends earlier and had fewer negative interactions. When other graduate teaching assistants are navigating the journey from k-12 classroom teacher to postsecondary academic teacher educator, I hope they are wiser than I was and lean into the support and community of practice that surrounds them. I hope they do not reach the depths of discouragement that I did because I did not realize most faculty were facing the same frustrations and it was not just because I had become a helicopter teacher. That was a large part of the problem, but not the only reason. However, because I did take advantage of the support of my community of practice and did heed their suggestions, I was able to move forward again. I did not feel inert any longer. I regained my sense of self-efficacy as a teacher educator, I returned to my pedagogy of preparedness and praxis pedagogy, and I felt empowered to cross the threshold of graduate student over to an assistant professor of literacy teacher educator.

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    Margaret Mnayer

    University of Kansas

    Pamela Schmidt

    Iowa Education Association

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