Beliefs about Teaching: Persistent or Malleable? A Longitudinal Study of Prospective Student Teachers’ Beliefs

Sep. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 35, 2013, p 104-113.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explored the change in university students’ beliefs about the role of teachers.
The authors focused on the following research questions:
1) What metaphors do students use to express their beliefs about the teacher/teaching?
2) How do students’ beliefs about the teacher’s role (as measured with the teacher’s knowledge-base instrument) differ between the first and the third years of study?
3) What kind of relationship exists between the measurement of beliefs using metaphors and the teacher’s knowledge-base instrument in the first and third years of study?
4) Is there a difference in beliefs about the teacher’s role between students who chose to enter teacher education programmes and those who chose other educational paths?

The participants were 80 Estonian undergraduates, whose beliefs were investigated in the first and third years of their studies and followed up to the point at which the students either entered teacher education or chose other paths.
The study applied a mixed-methods approach.
To investigate the students’ beliefs about teaching, we asked them to provide a metaphor characterising a teacher.
Furthermore, the teacher’s knowledge-base instrument (Beijaard et al., 2000) was used to study students’ beliefs about teacher role, i.e. whether the teacher is primarily a subject matter expert, a didactics expert, or a pedagogue.


The most commonly-used metaphor type was the teacher as pedagogue, reflecting the idea of the teacher as a nurturer.
The beliefs that (a good) teacher is someone who expresses kind, caring understanding, possesses a charismatic persona and assists the students in achieving their goals.
The students showed tendencies in their preferences for forms of expertise in the teacher’s knowledge-base measure similar to the categorisation of their metaphors.

Another interesting trend is the relatively high emphasis on didactics on the knowledge-base measure by the users of self-referential and contextual metaphors in both years.
Didactics includes the idea of creating learning environments, and this feature may have appealed to the users of contextual metaphors.
Beliefs as measured on the knowledge-base instrument tended to remain unchanged. Metaphor categorisation may be more vulnerable to subjective interpretation.

When changes were identified in the use of metaphors, pedagogue metaphors tended to change towards a broadened view, i.e. hybrids.
Subject matter expert metaphors again tended to move towards didactics expert metaphors. The broadened views may be related to students’ personal experiences in the university teaching-learning environment and their developed beliefs about learning, which emphasise the importance of devising strategies and assisting pupils in developing reflection and meta-cognitive skills.
The beliefs of these students are more consistent with the views of the teacher’s role in the teacher education curriculum.

However, students who continued in teacher education exhibited stronger beliefs about the teacher as pedagogue and aligned less with the belief that the teacher’s role is to be a subject matter expert than peers who did not choose teacher education.

In terms of socialisation into the teaching profession, it has been suggested that practice teaching has a great influence, much more so than teacher education curricula.
The nature of beliefs is highly influential on how prospective teachers respond to their teacher education curriculum.
Thus, reflections on beliefs and prior experiences in educational frameworks may support teacher socialisation before undertaking teacher education.

The contribution of this study is that it sheds light on an issue much discussed in literature on teacher education, namely change and persistence in beliefs about teacher role.
Another contribution is that it sheds light on accessing beliefs, which is regarded as problematic owing to the often implicit nature of beliefs.
With an expansion in the use of metaphors among researchers interested in teacher beliefs this study contributes with increased understanding about how metaphors relate to other types of data about beliefs.


D. Beijaard, N. Verloop, J.D. Vermunt (2000). Teachers' perceptions of professional identity: an exploratory study from a personal knowledge perspective, Teaching and Teacher Education, 16 (2000), pp. 749–754.

Updated: Apr. 13, 2015