On 1st September, I joined Cass School of Education and Communities at UEL as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow. The fellowship is funded by the European Commission and aims to support experienced researchers undertaking mobility between countries. That’s a mouth full. What it basically means is an opportunity to build my research on the professionalism of teacher educators with leading scholars in this field over the next two years. I left a tenure-track position at Maastricht University to do this fellowship. Why, you might ask? Well, because this is probably one of the final opportunities to get my hands dirty myself and experience first-hand both the joys and despairs of doing qualitative research. Beyond that, doing empirical work in a different country also helps to see how much of my own understanding of teacher education, and my motivation and approaches for studying it, are shaped by the contexts in which I worked. I spent a big part of my academic life as a PhD and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium (my home country) before moving to Maastricht University. One might challenge if moving from a Belgian to a Dutch university really counts as ‘international’ experience. I would argue it does because it meant experiencing a very different research culture and making new connections. The prospect of being able to repeat this experience in the UK was very appealing.
The partnership with UEL goes back a long time as both UEL and the University of Leuven were involved in establishing the International Forum for Teacher Educator Development (InFo-TED). Therefore, having UEL as a host institution was an easy call to make. In the proposal, I wrote that “the peer mentorship from highly respected scholars at UEL combined with the excellent support of the Research and Finance offices will offer an excellent environment for this research”. Sure, this is part of the ‘usual talk’ in research proposals. However, six weeks into the fellowship, I truly appreciate the meaning of this phrase and know I wasn’t exaggerating.
I hope that this project will help to build awareness of the urgency of research focusing directly on the professional lives and knowledge of teacher educators. They are the linchpins in educational quality. That enormous responsibility needs to be met with adequate support for teacher educators’ professional development. This claim was made in the bid as well (and had nothing to do with ‘talking the usual talk’).