Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 16, No. 2, (April 2010), 259–276.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This paper reports on an exploratory study of beginning teachers’ experiences in one secondary multi-ethnic school in Flanders.
The research questions were:
(1) How does the ethnically and culturally diverse student population as a structural working condition influence the job experiences of beginning teachers in a multi-ethnic school?
(2) How is the influence of the ethnically and culturally diverse student population on beginning teachers’ job experiences mediated by organisational (structural and cultural) characteristics of the school, such as the mentoring facilities for beginning teachers?
Data were collected through questionnaires, document analysis and semi-structured interviews with both six beginning teachers and two mentors.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six beginning teachers. Two respondents had just started working as a teacher. They had had two months of experience. Two other teachers had only recently taken up teaching in the school, but had prior teaching experiences in other schools and in adult education. The two remaining teachers had already worked in the school for one or more years.
To obtain more information about the organisational conditions (structure and culture) of the school, such as the mentoring of beginning teachers, the authors also interviewed two staff members who were responsible for the mentoring of students and of new teachers. Both of them had been teaching in the school for more than 10 years.
The authors conclude that the presence of an ethnically and culturally diverse student population can increase the work pressure and workload of beginning teachers.
Firstly, cultural differences between teachers and students sometimes cause extra problems with classroom management.
Secondly, the beginning teachers’ workload increases because of language deficits of some allochthonous students. Teachers need to put in more efforts to achieve high-learning results with these students.
Thirdly, the cultural differences between students and teachers may add to the new teachers’ experience of praxis shock.
This research shows that the mediating role of the structural and cultural working conditions of the particular school, as well as the opinions, ideas and interpretations of the teachers themselves seem to be of crucial importance. Despite the extra work pressure and workload, however, the job experiences and job satisfaction of all teachers working in the school were positive.
A second conclusion to be drawn from the this case study is that (beginning) teachers’ experiences should not be studied in a decontextualised way. The experiences of (beginning) teachers can only be properly understood if they are contextualized in the particularities of the school they are working in. This implies a conceptual and methodological approach that explicitly takes into account the interplay between individual actions and interpretations on the one hand and the organisational conditions on the other.
The multi-cultural character of the school population is one of these characteristics that act both as challenging and rewarding. Furthermore, the study showed how structural and cultural characteristics of the working environment mediate beginning teachers’ job experiences.