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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Teachers seconded as teacher educators: Transformations and tensions

Ciara O’Donnell, Education Consultant and Tutor at Maynooth University Ireland


In Ireland teacher continuing professional development is provided by national support services. These are staffed with teachers seconded annually from their schools for a maximum of five years. Government policy claims that the teachers’ professional learning will be enhanced by the secondment and that the school will benefit accordingly when the teacher returns (DoE, 2018).

My research investigated what eight teachers learned during secondment to one such service and its impact on their future careers. It explored this from the perspective of teachers previously seconded to the service who had since either returned to school or taken up other education positions.

Reality shock

Study participants referenced an initial euphoria in commencing secondment due to diverse schedules, robust induction and working with like-minded people. As the reality of the new role dawned, however, a fraught transition from teacher to teacher educator manifested as feelings of fraudulence and a sense of moving from a ‘once valued specialist’ at school to a ‘rank amateur’ in teacher education. The teaching of adults was reported to be a distinct challenge. Believing that teacher educators have a duty to ‘fix things’ for teachers, partcipants admitted to dictating rather than facilitating teacher learning. Although competent first-order practitioners with rich subject and pedagogical prowess, they grappled with the second order domain of ‘teaching teachers’ which requires skills such as working with adult learners.

‘As the reality of the new role dawned, a fraught transition from teacher to teacher educator manifested as feelings of fraudulence and a sense of moving from a “once valued specialist” at school to a “rank amateur” in teacher education.’

Towards reaching proficiency

Participants described their work facilitating workshops and communities of practice while also providing tailored support to schools. Expanded networks exposed them to the wider education landscape beyond their relatively sheltered classrooms and participants acquired deep subject and pedagogical knowledge together with communication and leadership skills. As front-line reform messengers, however, participants recalled hostility from audiences resistant to change, alongside tensions between publicly advocating policy ideals while privately empathising with the reality of school life. Nonetheless their access to the nation’s schools kept them attuned to teachers’ needs which they were then able to relay to policymakers, thereby influencing policy rather than merely mediating it.

Grasping the role of teacher educator was characterised by negotiating previous teacher/teacher educator identity tensions and mastering more facilitative approaches to teacher learning. All participants reported reaching this point during their third seconded year, supporting evidence that the teacher to teacher educator transition takes at least three years (Murray & Male, 2005). Ironically this coincided with concerns that their time in the support service was finite while also consious that their school or policymakers could terminate secondments at any time. Fresh tensions emerged between the transformative impact of secondment and reserved anticipation about returning to school now viewed by participants as a regressive career step. Weary of being at the mercy of secondment contracts and refusing to be pawns of fate, most of them sought and secured permanent positions in education settings such as universities. Such decisions, however, were taken reluctantly, with all expressing a preference to stay in the service if the role was permanent or at least longer term.

Coming ‘home’

Those returning to school noted a marked redundancy of their new skills, which challenges the policy assumption that accrued learning recycles back into eagerly awaiting schools. Although some applied new learning in classrooms, hurried curriculum coverage hindered pedagogical freedom. System reform and compliance demands curtailed opportunities to share learning with colleagues. Staff indifference to that learning was common with some urged by school leaders not to ‘flaunt their expertise’ at the expense of disturbing comfortable mindsets and habitual practice. Fearing being perceived as whistle-blowers on tired cultures, participants admitted to keeping their knowledge hidden while shedding their new identities in order to be reaccepted into the fold.


The stipulation of annual secondment approval further constrained by a five-year ceiling is at odds with the complexities of transitioning from teacher to teacher educator. Reaching proficiency as a teacher educator in this context appears paradoxically problematic in the absence of career pathways compatible with transformed identities and which optimise skills development. Extended secondment contracts and removal of rigid five-year limits would allow these teachers to be retained in the service at a time when their potential as teacher educators is ripe for harnessing as well as reducing tensions created by tenure uncertainty. Successful transfer of their skills on returning to school requires leadership and cultures receptive to their new identities and insights as well as broader system recognition of the time and space needed for effective knowledge sharing in schools.

This blog post is based on research to be presented at the BERA Annual Conference 2023 on Wednesday 13 September, 1.30–3.00pm, room MB 651.


Department of Education [DoE]. (2018). Secondment for teachers in primary and post-primary schools. Circular letter 0029.

Murray, J., & Male, T. (2005). Becoming a teacher educator: Evidence from the field. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 125–142.