Persuading Pre-Professionals to be Participant Observers: Reflections on Teaching Anthropology and Education to Professional Teacher Candidates


  • Graham McDonough University of Victoria



This paper explains how I design and teach an Anthropology and Education course within a professional teacher education program. After establishing how some teacher candidates might initially imagine that this course is irrelevant to their professional education, I argue that anthropological knowledge and being able to think anthropologically enables teacher candidates to become better teachers. Specifically, I argue that becoming a participant observer of one’s own and others’ practices provides an easily accessible crossover between an anthropological method and mindset, on the one hand, and teacher actions like instruction, observation, assessment, and reflective practice (Schön 1982), on the other. To support this claim, I describe how I teach teacher candidates concepts and theory from anthropology that are applicable to the study of education, and can be used to inform their work on a video ethnography of a classroom (Hester 2012) that I assign to develop their practice of professional participant observation. I then describe how I prepare teacher candidates to consider the context of that video, especially as it offers an encounter with ideological diversity within the teaching profession and schools. The conclusion explains how I encourage the candidates to continue using the participant observer concept to inform their professional work post-graduation.