What is it exactly that makes a teacher a teacher? What does a teacher have to know? What do they have to be trained for? And why is it exactly that school, particularly high school, is structured the way it is? These questions travel through many educational contexts. For Professor Felicitas Acosta, a staff researcher at the Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento (UNGS), an Associate Professor at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), and an Associate Professor at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP) and San Martín (UNSAM), these questions are particularly relevant for the historical present of Argentina’s education system. In a recent conversation, professor Acosta helped us explore some of these main issues with secondary school teacher education in Argentina.
Rather than work within the complexities of teacher identity and teacher training, Professor Acosta argues that the Argentinian education system takes what she calls “a combined approach” to teacher training. That is, as a result of a secondary system where students take 9 to 11 pedagogical subjects, teacher preparation is designed from an amalgamation of other disciplines such as psychology and sociology. In secondary education, training teachers does not rest on education as a specific and independent discipline. Instead, there is a drastic focus on teaching teachers how to teach content (in other words, how to teach their specific subject). As a result, pedagogical training is marginalized as part of learning how to be a teacher. Within this model, teachers are trained for a system where students routinely struggle to finish secondary school. Among other causes, Professor Acosta attributes these struggles to this combined approach. Students who may not already possess the cultural capital to navigate and succeed in areas beyond content will struggle when teachers lack the pedagogical training to engage students in dynamic ways.
For her part, Professor Acosta sees international, structural, and historical roots for this issue. The historical roots extend to the 1930s as Argentina began its mass schooling project. As schooling expanded in Argentina, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, the increase in bodies in school buildings required greater and greater attention to how to organize those bodies. This increase is, at least in part, how Argentinian secondary schools arrived at the 9 to 11 pedagogical subjects in which students enroll. Yet, Dr. Acosta uses this historical lens as an “excavation of the present.” She shows how the current conditions for training teachers emerged from these historical issues. In terms of structural issues, Professor Acosta explains that Argentina’s education system design produces its own defects. The lack of particular pedagogical training and an emphasis on antiquated approaches in general demonstrates how the system produces its own defects. For example, Professor Acosta is forced to follow what she sees as an antiquated model in her own teacher training, simply so that her teachers do not fail in the already-existing system. Finally, Professor Acosta points to international influences that help structure Argentina’s education system the way it is now. She contends that Argentina, as with other countries, is greatly influenced and shaped by other education systems. All of these issues had a direct impact on teacher education.
Argentinian teacher education schools are structured into two categories. The majority of institutions are parts of universities. The universities do face standards and norms for training teachers. At the same time, many of the public universities have legal autonomy from the state. There are also a growing number of teacher training institutes. An original conception of these institutes, as considered by the Argentinian educator Pizzurno, saw institutes training teachers but attached to a lab school. In this vision, school would not be organized by subjects. Teachers in these institutes would be appointed. Teachers would not teach one but rather related subjects. The institutes do not, according to Professor Acosta, reflect Pizzurno’s vision.
As previously mentioned, in both the universities and the teacher training institutes, teachers are trained for content rather than pedagogy. Professor Acosta does not believe that pedagogy should be privileged above content. Rather, she asserts that “the organizational model has led [us] to believe that pedagogical knowledge is unimportant.” Combatting this issue is not as simple as training teachers differently. As previously mentioned, to only train teachers differently without changing anything else would be to train these teachers to fail as secondary teachers. Professor Acosta believes that the very structure of secondary school must be changed in order for teacher training to be changed.
Particularly within her university, Professor Acosta sees these issues as deeply problematic for her student teachers. Her university is fairly new and quite small (particularly in comparison with universities such as the University of Buenos Aires). The university was both created and located to help more students gain access to university. Most of her students are first generation university students, but most of the professors have been trained at places like the University of Buenos Aires. Initially, teachers were trained in a consecutive model, where they learned content and then pedagogy. The school is now moving toward a concurrent model, where both are taught simultaneously. Overall, in its 20 years of existence, the teacher training curriculum has changed 3 times.
All of this information is simply to say that, while the university is trying to make a number of changes they are still greatly restricted in how well they can prepare teachers. They are trying to “get the teachers to consider how the teaching job is built and constructed.” The overall goals are to improve an Argentinian system that is still greatly inequitable at the secondary level. Yet, Professor Acosta argues that her university and the system in general is highly constricted by the system’s design. Her university still bases 75% of its training on content, which immediately pushes pedagogical training to the side. The university, by necessity, still mirrors secondary schools. So, while Professor Acosta believes certain actions may be taken to improve teacher education within her university, they are ultimately bound to present day demands.