Experience As a Clinical Faculty Associate Shifting Teacher and Teacher Educator Identity

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TeacherTeacher EducatorIdentitiesRolesShiftsUniversity-public School PartnershipsTeacher Preparation Program
This is a study of the identity development of Clinical Faculty Associates (CFAs) through the sharing and analyzing of our stories of our experiences moving from our roles as teachers to our roles as teacher educators. Through analysis of shared stories of experience, we identified four themes. We provide a narrative as an exemplar of each theme and then provide an analysis of the narrative provided to expand on and anchor the theme. Our findings indicate the importance of using CFAs as a mechanism for renewing schools and teacher education programs.

Orientation to the Study

The teacher education reform movement began in the mid-1980s. Two groups influenced this movement (Goodlad, 1994; Holmes Group, 1990). Both recommending tighter links between university and public schools. Many university lab schools had closed, so these groups recommended universities develop partnerships or professional development schools to strengthen preservice and in-service teachers. In some cases, university faculty moved to public schools providing coursework for pre-service teachers and professional development for teachers. In other cases, public school teachers took up responsibilities as teacher educators with mentoring provided by university faculty. The teachers who came from schools worked as Clinical Faculty Associates (CFAs) (or held similar titles) where they enacted roles as university supervisors. Reformers believed that through this enterprise, schools, and universities would be renewed where the practical knowledge of teachers would strengthen university programs and the theoretical knowledge of university experience would strengthen the practice of teachers, and both institutional partners and programs would be improved, and renewed (see Bullough & Rosenberg, 2018; Goodlad, 1994; Holmes Group, 1990; Levine, 1992).

Though the CFA model was adopted by many institutions, little research was done to determine its effectiveness as a renewal effort. We became interested in if and how CFAs shifted their identity across time from teachers to teacher educators in the ways suggested by Goodlad (1994) and Levine (1992) which lead to renewal of both institutions.

Context of the Study

For over 30 years, Brigham Young University (BYU) and five local school districts have participated in a university/public school partnership (see Bullough, & Rosenberg, 2018) committed to the renewal of schools linking the schools, the university, and the college of education together so that both parties are renewed (see Goodlad, 1994; Holmes Group, 1990; Levine, 1992). One mechanism to meet the commitment has been the use of Clinical Faculty Associates (CFAs), public school teachers who come to work in teacher educator roles for a period of two to three years and then return to the public schools. An underlying assumption is that this is a strategy for renewing schools and teacher education: CFAs bring new perspectives to universities and when they return to schools they have new understandings of teaching thus renewing schools. Also, their identities shift and change.

This was not a unique strategy for BYU. Beginning in 1980, many colleges of education engaged teachers in this way. However, unlike BYU, most colleges of education no longer do so. Our colleagues in England, Canada, and at multiple schools across the United States (personal communication, April 2021) report that while they had previously used CFAs they had since stopped the programs. They suggested the cost was one of the main reasons it was abandoned (Bullough & Rosenberg, 2018).

Our work was informed by two strands of research on teacher education research. The first strand focuses on the research conversation that led universities to partner with public schools to renew schools of education and public schools. The second strand focuses on findings from research that charted the identity shifts that occurred for new teacher educators who came to the university after gaining Ph.D.s. We discussed the first strand in the framing of the paper.

Williams, Ritter, and Bulloch (2012) review research that reports what we know about the second strand and documents the identity development of teacher educators who became teacher educators after acquiring Ph.D.s. They report three learnings that former teachers now teacher educators identified in their shift to the role of teacher educator: the impact of making meaning within a context of having multiple memberships, the impact of developing as teacher educators within a community of practice, and the development of a pedagogy of teacher education.

As teacher educators, building relationships and making meaning of new educational experiences is central to developing a teacher education identity (Williams et al., 2012). One of the studies discussed in Williams et. al.’s review (2012) reported the difficult transition new teacher educators undergo as they move from being considered experts in the classroom to being novices in higher education (Murray & Male, 2005) which is similar to the transition CFA’s experience. In this study, our focus was on the CFAs who would work at the university as teacher educators but then return to roles in public schools.

Aim of the Study

The purpose of this project was to explore whether and how experience as teacher educators shifted the identity formation of teachers who acted as CFAs. We sought to explore the learning from experiences revealed by CFAs as they took up teacher educator roles at the university and then as they prepared to return to schools. Indeed, our purpose in the project was to explore CFAs' narratives of experience to uncover how their identities as teachers broadened to include an understanding of teaching and teacher development beyond their own classrooms. In addition, this project allowed us to uncover whether the mechanism of renewal of schools and colleges of education occurred and in what ways teachers’ identities and understandings of teaching and teacher education were impacted by acting as CFAs and then returning to educator roles in public schools.


Because of our desire to understand the identity shifts CFAs experience, our research method of choice was Narrative S-STEP (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2014). We chose to use narratives to capture our experiences because as Clandinin and Connelley (2004) argue, stories teachers tell reveal their teacher identity. Our study included three CFAs (Mina, Shelby, and Miriam) and three university faculty members, and one independent scholar who acted as critical friends. Mina taught kindergarten and first grade for thirty-eight years in a local school district and was a CFA for the Early Childhood program. Shelby was also a CFA for the ECE program. She had been a teacher in second and third grades for five years in a partnership school district. Miriam taught first-, fourth-, and fifth grades for ten years and was a CFA in the Elementary Education Program. Miriam and Shelby held master’s degrees in Educational Leadership.

The faculty members were all teacher educators who work closely with the CFAs in their university assignments. Kathie was the ECE program coordinator. Cecilia is an ELED field placement coordinator, and Stefinee oversaw the Teaching English as a Second Language minor and engages in S-STEP research methodology. Eliza, the independent scholar, is the director of a childcare center.

Our data collection and analysis processes occurred simultaneously as we shared stories and inquired about them during the research process (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2009, 2015). We used dialogue as our process of coming to know. Data collection and data analysis were entwined as we told stories, examined them for the understandings communicated, and shared additional stories which we analyzed in relation to previous stories. As we analyzed stories, we identified themes that we revisited interrogating the stories more closely, adding detail, refining our understanding, and connecting them with insights that arose.

We met initially and we agreed to keep a shared online journal over the next two years as a repository of our data documenting meaningful events that captured shifts in identity and our understanding. The repository also contained our notes of meetings. During the first year, there were notes from the meetings and during the second year, we added transcripts of recorded meetings. We met regularly in person to study the S-STEP methodology sharing and examining the stories captured in our journal entries.

During the meetings, we engaged in meaning-making by articulating wonders, interpreting stories, and plumbing them for further details. Participants shared stories and added at the moment relevant additional experiences. In our dialogue, we connected and interrogated narratives seeking themes and uncovering the identity development revealed. We sometimes worked all together and sometimes worked in pairs or trios. Our meeting notes (both constructed as minutes and later as transcripts of recordings) allowed us to revisit ideas and stories across our experiences. Our process of identifying themes and connecting stories as evidence of them continued through the duration of the study and we added new journal entries related to the emerging themes discussing new insights and adding stories. Near the conclusion of the second year of study, we met to review themes we had identified and determine whether we felt these represented all of the themes in our data. We then created definitions of each theme and sorted the stories in the theme categories developed using a matrix, sorting the stories (events) according to which theme they most clearly represented. In this process, we sought to make certain there was sufficient evidence for each theme and that the stories fit the definitions of the category. As we moved to write our report on the study, we created more complete narratives (Saldaña, 2014). We selected the narratives that best captured each theme. In this process, we reached a consensus on the themes and the narratives that best captured them. The trustworthiness of our results and our interpretation was based on this process.


We identified the following themes: a) fitting in, b) the role of experience and learning in seeing, c) knowing mentoring, and d) understanding the complexity of schools, teachers, and teaching. The next sections first define each theme and then provide evidential narratives.

Fitting in As a Teacher Educator

Developing a sense of belonging while understanding our identity in a different educational setting was challenging. We labeled this theme as “fitting in” and the stories were about seeking security and support. During the second year, we identified potential future experiences where we would seek to fit in as we returned to public schools. Our identity as teacher and teacher educator has shifted. As changed individuals, even if we return to the same classroom or school we will again be engaging in the challenge of fitting in.

Our findings show a complex relationship between identity and “fitting in.” Many of our stories recounted uncomfortable experiences as we began our CFA experiences. As CFAs, we assigned and supervised teachers in multiple schools. While we were familiar with the school context and working in our classrooms with preservice teachers, we lacked a sense of the solid connections that teachers usually feel working in their own school. The assertion that “fitting in'' is a central theme for both incoming and outgoing CFAs is captured in Miriam’s story about her first district contract day during her first year as a CFA.

Every three years, just before the students return to class, our district has a celebration at a nearby university. They introduce a theme, bus each school’s faculty and staff to the event, and try to get everyone excited for the new school year. This is the first year that I haven’t been working at just one school. Because of the CFA assignment, I work with four different schools and I don’t know anyone at those schools. I felt left out and decided to drive to the event by myself. I wanted to be part of the celebration but wasn’t included. I entered the event center and saw all the school employees sitting in their assigned area with their matching t-shirts. As I quickly looked around, even the district employees had matching shirts. I saw the only group that I seemed to fit with this year and quickly took a seat with the bus drivers.

Because teaching is fundamentally relational, Miriam longed to fit it and felt an intense need to belong and stay connected with her previous colleagues as she attended a familiar beginning-of-the-year celebration. But now she did not fit in her role as teacher in a particular school and chose to sit with the bus drivers. Just changing her role from teacher to teacher educator impacted her. Miriam's experience demonstrates Williams et al., (2012) report that taking on a teacher educator role requires negotiation of identities across contexts. Other participants shared stories of feeling accepted and respected by the university faculty. When faculty reached out and helped develop relationships, it eased our sense of fitting in and smoothed the transition into our new educator roles.

It is evident from our stories that as we took up these new roles we were not sure if we would still fit in our earlier roles. The stories told indicate that we, as CFAs, continued to tell stories of seeking to “fit in” across their CFA experience. Another challenging identity shift will occur as we prepare to return to our districts after being CFAs. These stories we shared demonstrated that there were phases of “fitting in” on both sides of the experience.

Though the experience of moving to higher education is complex, CFAs experience even greater complexities as their move to teacher educator is temporary. They need to fit in for a season, learning the explicit and implicit cultural rules of the institution but also need to remember the explicit and implicit rules of the public school system so they can “fit in” upon their return.

The Role of Experience in Learning and Seeing

As respected teachers, we came with a wealth of teaching experience. At the university, we participated in professional development activities including attending courses, participating in study groups, presenting at conferences, and oftentimes enrolling in graduate programs. As we meshed our practical experience with our new learning, we came to see the “whys” behind our practice and our vision expanded and our understanding of the relationship between theory and practice gained clarity.

Two of us participated in a year-long university-public school partnership seminar exploring the purposes and responsibilities of public education. Shelby the following story of her experience:

Over the past two days, I had been engaged in dialogue with colleagues about the difficulties surrounding equitable access. Thoughts about barriers students face pressed upon my mind. I wondered: When I was teaching, did I teach children or lessons? Was I giving equitable opportunities to all students? Did I even understand their lived experiences that impact their learning? Did I teach things relevant to my students? Was I aware of my own biases? Was I connecting with my students in ways that helped them love learning? So many thoughts. I realized that as a teacher I had a greater responsibility than I’d ever imagined.

Shelby began to reflect on and question some of her former practices as a teacher. Her insight and response potentially renewed the thinking of the others in the associate's group grounding their more philosophical discussion of everyday teaching and teaching practices at the university connecting them to the practical experiences of the classroom.

Early in our experience as CFAs, as Shelby’s experience indicates, we looked back on our own teaching practices in relation to our new learning causing shifts in our previous teacher identity. However, later in our experience, we moved to thinking about our new learning in terms of supporting teacher candidates-- this shift to concern with the development of teachers and their students pushes us to act differently in our relationships with our colleagues and within our schools. Our stories revealed that as we learned new things when we returned to schools, teaching would not be the way it had been because we were now positioned differently. We saw through our experiences and interactions with mentor teachers and preservice teachers across multiple contexts that our identity as teachers had shifted and we were not different educators than before.

Williams et al. (2012) found that those who became permanent teacher educators developed a personal pedagogy of teacher education. For us as CFAs, it is different. Our new learning impacts not only how we enact our current role as teacher educators but will influence our pedagogy when we return to our districts and impact the teacher educators and preservice teachers we work with in the future. While both permanent teacher educators’ and CFAs’ university knowledge and experiences cause them to “question their previous assumptions,” we as CFAs not only “frame a distinct pedagogy of teacher education” but also a pedagogy of teaching that is richer and more developed than before.

Knowing Mentoring

This theme identifies several shifts in the ways we positioned ourselves as mentors across our experience. Initially, while watching preservice teachers, we recognized our strengths as teachers and our beliefs about teaching. These observations made our practice and understanding of it more available in our interactions with preservice teachers and teacher educators.

In addition, we shifted from seeing our purpose as coaching preservice teachers to becoming replicas of ourselves to supporting them as they discovered who they were as teachers. This shift deepened as we recognized that our role was not only as an assessor but as a developmental coach. Evaluation in mentoring became focused on personal learning rather than just assessment. Shelby’s story is relevant to this theme captured in her story, “She is Not Me,” illustrating this shift:

After watching Annie teach a successful lesson, we sat in a quiet office discussing her experience.

“I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job,” Annie began. “I am trying my hardest. I am planning and I still cannot seem to reach all of my students.”
I glanced at my laptop, noticing all the strengths of her lesson I’d noticed, and wondered why she was so concerned. Suddenly, I realized that I had been approaching my work with Annie from the wrong perspective. I’d wanted her to be like me and to do everything that I did to be successful. At this moment, I realized that Annie and I were different people. What worked for me would not work for her. Annie was meticulous in her planning, lived by a consistent daily schedule, and her classroom was more organized than mine. I knew setting a different type of goal would be more challenging for both of us.
“What is the hardest part about teaching?” I asked her. We talked about all the things that were challenging for her. She mentioned things I hadn’t anticipated. They centered around her wanting to be the perfect teacher, a struggle I had not experienced. I saw that her strengths made her the ideal teacher for her students, and I wanted her to come to the same realization. Instead of focusing on being the perfect teacher, we set goals focused on her emotional well-being. By allowing Annie to break away from the finality of a perfect evaluation score, we accomplished something more substantial.

Being able to navigate the change from assessing pre-service teachers according to the way we enacted teaching to coaching based on the role as a teacher educator is crucial in the CFA’s learning process. Similarly, William et al (2012) asserted that new teacher educators attempt to make meaning within the nexus of multi-membership. One of the ironies is that while we as teacher educators will leave the communities of practice that were vital to our learning, but in our CFA role, we will interact with multiple communities of practice and will become border crossers because we now have knowledge of teaching that crosses district and school boundaries and have a differing perspective of what it means to be and become a teacher. Like those becoming permanent, we experienced the tension of trying to hold onto our teacher identity. For us, it was even more imperative since we will return to our roles as public school teachers.

Complexity in Their Understanding of Schools, Teachers, and Teaching

We came to the university with our personal practical knowledge of teaching (Clandinin, 1985; Clandinin & Connelley, 1995) which is a fundamental part of our teacher identity, but it expands and shifts as our experiences as CFAs includes our role in preparing teachers becomes. Both the expanded teacher identity and newly-developed teacher educator identity remain with us as we move back into public schools. We leave the university with a deeper, layered, and more sophisticated knowledge of teaching and teacher education.

Our developed knowledge of the complexity of the neverending learning-to-teach process (Carter, 1990) is now a part of our identity. The complexities of our personal practical knowledge of teaching and the seeds of an emerging teacher educator identity are found in Mina’s story:

The school open house was set to begin in less than an hour and I got a text from the school administrator saying, “Help! Your intern is not ready!” The room was not ready, books were not set out on tables for students and parents to see. Nothing was labeled. There were no special preparations like a parent information packet or a welcome gift for the children. I wondered if the intern had an emergency or was caught in traffic. But I soon realized that she was suffering from severe anxiety and depression causing her to be emotionally paralyzed. As I struggled to help her get ready, I sighed wondering if this was a sign of the kind of year this intern, her grade-level team, school and district administrators, the university program coordinator, parents, children, and me as her university supervisor had ahead of us.
As the year unfolded, many meetings, observations, demonstrations, encouragement, and tears ensued. We were all on board to support her becoming a certified teacher. However, the tricky part was respecting the role of each individual. We had different responsibilities and we could not assume roles that were not ours. As a first-year university supervisor, I was overwhelmed. This intern was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. Due to legal restrictions, we were setting goals that we could address and skirting around serious issues that we could not address. Somehow she was able to finish the year with lots of help. Sadly, she failed her internship because she was unable to successfully pass the evaluation instruments.

In this narrative, Mina immediately identifies all the things that are not “ready” in the intern’s classroom. Her responses indicate her own personal practical knowledge of what was needed for back-to-school night. As a brand new CFA working with her very first intern, Mina went quickly to work but was left wondering what she and the administrator should have done. As a result of this experience, Mina questioned the actual balance between rescuing pre-service teachers and allowing them to learn from experience. Mina’s narrative captures the layers of her experience. She was concerned with the university and school relationship, the policies, practices, and traditions of the school, her personal interactions with the administrator and the intern, the issues of talents, skills, and difficulties an intern brings to the classroom, the parents’ desires and responsibilities for their children, and the need for children to have high-quality teachers. Mina stood in the middle as she saw the need to be a place of calm. As Mina stood in the center, her eyes were on her two main objectives, supporting this developing intern and supporting the intern’s young students and their families. Other stories like this one revealed the complexity of the contexts and relationships we negotiate and the knowledge we hold.


In this study, we explored how our teacher identities shifted as we moved from classroom teachers to becoming CFAs and then returned to our districts. We identified the following themes related to teacher identity: a) fitting in, b) the role of experience and learning in seeing c) knowing mentoring, and d) understanding the complexity of schools, teachers, and teaching. Understanding these elements of our shifting teacher identities impacts how we will enact our future roles in our school districts. As we leave the university, we know how to look at teaching through the eyes of the individual practitioner and work to build on their strengths and allow them to set goals they feel are most valuable in their classrooms. Finally, we have seen first-hand the complexities of schools, teachers, and teaching. We have contributed to the renewal of teaching and teacher education through this experience (Goodlad, 1994; Holmes Group, 1990).


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Kathie MacKay

Brigham Young University

Cecilia Pincock

Brigham Young University

Shelby Forsyth

Alpine School District

Miriam Richards

Alpine School District

Mina Money

Nebo School District

Stefinee E. Pinnegar

Brigham Young University

A St. George native, Dr. Pinnegar graduated from Dixie College (now DSU) and Southern Utah State (now SUU). She taught on the Navajo Reservation then completed an M.A. in English at BYU. She taught for 5 years in Crawfordsville, Indiana. She then completed a PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Arizona (1989). She was faculty at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, before coming to BYU. She helped develop and now directs the TELL program. She is Acting Dean of Invisible College for Research on Teaching, a research organization that meets yearly in conjunction with AERA. She is a specialty editor of Frontiers in Education's Teacher Education strand with Ramona Cutri. She is editor of the series Advancements in Research on Teaching published by Emerald Insight. She has received the Benjamin Cluff Jr. award for research and the Sponsored Research Award from ORCA at BYU. She is a founder of the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices research methdology. She has published in the Journal of Teacher Education, Ed Researcher, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice and has contributed to the handbook of narrative inquiry, two international handbooks of teacher education and two Self-Study of Teaching and Teacher Education Practices handbooks. She reviews for numerous journals and presents regularly at the American Educational Research Association, ISATT, and the Castle Conference sponsored by S-STTEP.

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