Considering the First Year: Reflection as a Means to Address Beginning Teachers’ Concerns

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Aug. 01, 2011

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 17, No. 4, August 2011, 417–433
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article uses the research of McCann, Johannessen, and Ricca (2005) on beginning English teachers’ major concerns to frame the exploration of concerns faced by four beginning teachers.
This article seeks to expand on that research by examining the concerns faced by four beginning teachers and considering the implications of those concerns for teacher preparation.

This exploration focuses on two guiding questions:
(1) What issues of practice do beginning teachers identify in their first year of teaching?;
(2) How do the beginning teachers understand these issues of practice?

Participants and Method
Four first-year English teachers were participants in the research, graduates of the English education program of a large research-intensive university in the Midwestern United States in May 2007.

The participants were two White males in their mid-20s; a White married female in her late-20s and a White female in her mid-20s.

Data from the study consisted of teacher-created reflective writings and individual interviews with each teacher.
The data were analyzed using a qualitative content and ethnographic analysis framework.

Discussion
 

New teachers’ concerns
The research of McCann et al. (2005) identified six major concerns for beginning teachers.
The first concern was that of relationships, whether with students, parents, colleagues, or supervisors.
The second concern was that of workload/time management and the resulting fatigue from managing the workload.

Knowledge of subject/curriculum was the third concern, with beginning teachers questioning the focus of their instruction, the importance of certain subject matter over others, and the framework guiding their development of curriculum.

The beginning teachers also noted evaluation/grading, the fourth concern, as a difficult issue due to questions of objectivity, subjectivity, and value judgments.

The fifth concern was that of individual autonomy/control, leading to questions of independence in the way they approached issues of teaching and learning.

The sixth concern was that of physical/personal characteristics, more specifically explained as issues of appearance and identity.

Agreement with new teachers’ concerns
The beginning teachers experienced several concerns noted in previous research.
The four teachers also struggled with the workload of teaching and the time required to complete that workload.
Personal autonomy was a concern for the beginning English teachers, as they learned to manage a lack of control in their own classrooms.

All the beginning teachers expressed irritation with the intrusion of standardized testing and required assessments in their classrooms.
Lastly, concern for physical/personal characteristics was an issue for the beginning English teachers, in minor and major ways.

However, the four beginning teachers were less concerned with issues of subject/curriculum knowledge and evaluation/grading.

Looking beneath the surface
As important as these concerns are, deeper issues also influence teachers’ entry into the classroom.
Through analysis of the data provided by the beginning teachers, three such issues were identified: adjustment to the profession, acceptance of students, and management of emotion.

The issue of professional adjustment is subsumed in the formation of teacher identity. Beginning teachers may have difficulty understanding the school as an institution with specific working conditions and expectations of teachers’ actions and beliefs; adjusting to this unfamiliar professional context carries implications for the formation of their professional identity.
The four beginning teachers struggled with their entry into the classroom, in part, because teaching required them to operate in the formality of a profession.

Furthermore, each of the four teachers struggled with acceptance to some degree.

Finally, the beginning teachers revealed the management of emotion to be an important issue in their first year.

Conclusions

The author concludes that in addition to those identified by McCann et alס(2005). , the four beginning teachers in this study dealt with adjusting to the teaching profession, accepting their students, and managing their emotions.

The author argues that teacher educators must prepare beginning teachers for the existence of these concerns in the classroom, as well as the impact of these concerns on the beginning teacher.
The author suggests that examination of these concerns during university preparation through reflective practice is one way to better prepare beginning teachers for the concerns they will face in their first year of teaching.

Reference
McCann, T.M., Johannessen, L.R., & Ricca, B.P. (2005). Supporting beginning English teachers: Research and implications for teacher induction. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Updated: Feb. 10, 2014
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