Peter Grimmett, 2007

KEYNOTE 2007 – University or Saskatchewan
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

CATE Talk, May 27, 2007

Audio recording (mp3 13 Mb)

Peter P. Grimmett

Professor and Director

Institute for Studies in Teacher Education

Simon Fraser University



Beginning with Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, I relate the poet’s conception of gyres or time-spirals to teacher education. In Yeats’ understanding of the history of civilization, each gyre lasts for 20 centuries; in my understanding of teacher education each one lasts for 20 years. Common to both, however, is the phenomenon that when a gyre is coming to an end, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity, leading to the revelation of a new phase.

I explore three different gyres in teacher education. The first is from 1960-1980, a phase in which teacher education was largely regarded as training under the governance of government control. Things fell apart because training, direct instruction, and an emphasis on classroom management was seen to have little or no effect on producing the kind of citizens needed for a democratic society and the workforce requisite for sustaining economic viability; as a consequence, the centre of government control could not hold. The best supporters of the training model lost conviction and the worst passionate intensity of business and academic critics came through. The catalyst for the revelation of the emphasis on teacher learning and institutional governance that was to characterize phase 2 was A Nation At Risk.

The second phase is from 1980-2000, a phase in which teacher education research and policy was framed around “learning to teach.” Things began to fall apart toward the end of this phase because research and practice became totally consumed with a concerted focus on teacher’s beliefs, values, and their learning as professionals, to the neglect of careful attention to quality assurance and outcomes. The centre of institutional governance could not hold because universities were seen not as partners with the field but as independent institutions protecting their vested and prioritized interests. The best in universities were too busy with their own world of research and practice (much of it a case of survival in the academic world) to enter the public debate about the nature and purpose of teacher education. The worst displayed their passionate intensity in calling for the de-regulation of teacher education and the handing over of vital practice experiences to the field. The catalyst for the revelation of contrasting policies of professionalization and de-regulation was the unrelenting criticism of right-wing think tanks.

The third phase overlaps with the second. It began in 1990. It is a phase in which teacher education is framed by policy focused on outcomes and school-based experiences under professional governance. Things have begun falling apart because the competition between professionalization and de-regulation policies is making the governance of teacher education very difficult for universities and professional bodies alike. The delicate balance between professional control and institutional autonomy has not always been attended to with care. Consequently, the centre of professional self-regulation is not holding. University institutions have contested what they see as unwarranted intrusion into their programs and autonomy. The best in universities and professional bodies have tried to work toward collaboration but they are in the minority and have lost conviction. The worst in universities and professional bodies have gone about the contestation, which ultimately became a legal struggle, with a passionate intensity that ran deep. The catalyst for the revelation of a phase that is yet to come is the two British Columbia court cases and the recent Ontario College of Teachers’ accreditation review. A “best” foreshadowing of this new phase could be found in the ACDE Accord on Teacher Education; a “worst” possibility could entail the dissolution of professional bodies and the consignment of teacher education to schools, as has happened in England.


Grimmett, P. (2008). The professional governance of teacher education in Ontario and British Columbia: Culmination of three decades of research and policy in Canadian teacher education or harbinger of a different direction? In T. O’Donoghue & C. Whitehead (Eds.), Teacher Education in the English-Speaking World. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

O’Donoghue, T & Whitehead C (2008), Teacher Education in the English-Speaking World. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing