Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, No. 4, 428–444, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study investigates how Estonian teachers with more than 25 years of professional experience recall and describe their pre-service teaching practice experience.
The participants were 19 Estonian teachers with at least 25 years of professional experience. A semi-structured interview was chosen to capture the individual experiences of the teachers.
The authors can see a spiral pattern in these experiences in three different phases: before the teaching practice, during the school practice and after the school practice.
The first phase: before the teaching practice
The period before the school practice is characterised by the attitudes and visions that the student teachers harbour about the teaching profession. The skills and knowledge obtained during pre-service teacher training were highly valued in most cases and still were, even at the time of the interviews. Some teachers had adopted a critical attitude to present-day teacher education and appeared to be implicitly critical of the prevailing constructivist paradigm which, in addition to content knowledge, emphasises pedagogical and didactic aspects of teaching. However, among the interviewees, there were also teachers with quite different experiences.
The majority of the teachers felt that they were well prepared for their school practice, e.g. through having significant training in making lesson plans.
All the participants continued to work at school. Improving one’s abilities and professional skills to overcome obstacles and negative feelings may be indicative of strengthening self-efficacy beliefs. The student teachers recalled being expected to follow rather strict instructions in giving lessons. Even if they had their own ideas or thoughts about lesson plans, the school supervisor may not have allowed them to use these plans or to experiment. The activities were described as being controlled by the supervisor. This kind of recollection implies that the teachers experienced a lack of trust from their supervisors, who consequently failed to treat the student teachers as prospective colleagues and partners in a mutual endeavour.
The second and the third phases: the school practice
Through teaching practice, the student teachers entered another phase in their teacher training and professional development. Recollections of a sense of community that manifested itself through cooperation with colleagues, students and supervisors described the practice experiences at their best. The characteristics of cooperation occurred in a positive context and took different forms, such as discussion and formative assessment. In the cases where negative experience prevailed, the participants did not experience a sense of community, which is an important factor in strengthening self-efficacy.
In many ways, the teachers may have been relatively protected during their practice, and the lack of exposure to various groups may have had both positive and negative implications for the development of self-efficacy. The teachers would have encountered administrative and parental connections over the years of their career, but it remains an open question how well prepared and efficacious they felt about these after their initial teacher preparation. They discussed matters related to lessons, but there were few opportunities to experience a sense of community with other teachers in more profound ways. The most positive relationships occurred with peers or students.
The last phase: after practice
The last phase appeared after the school practice, when the student teachers reflected on their experiences. As our data indicated, the majority of the participants retrospectively regarded their school practice an influential experience. It is through reflection that the student teachers make sense of their experiences and connect these to theories they have learned, making their own practical or working theory..
This study indicates that supportive professional communication is essential for developing self-efficacy. The majority of the interviewees emphasised, either explicitly or implicitly, the importance of cooperation between student teachers and supervisors in the form of discussion and feedback. Both positive and negative experiences during their school practice contributed towards meaningful experiences becoming the catalyst of self-reflection.
Many participants seemed to have experienced at least one particular feature in common, such as low perception of a sense of community within the school. This was mostly experienced within selected groups of pupils and peers. Supervisors and mentors who guide student teachers through pre-service school practice should pay attention to involving the student teachers in the teacher community, as this promotes more collegial communication and, as we have seen, in turn, influences positively future teachers’ professional development and self-efficacy beliefs.