Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 21, No. 6, 660–680, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study explored investigated novice teachers’ sense of professional agency, and the perceived resources and obstacles affecting it.
The participants were 13 qualified primary-level class teachers who had worked from one to five years as class teachers in Finnish primary schools. Data from open-ended interviews with the novice teachers were analyzed using thematic analysis.
The finding revealed that novice teachers had a strong sense of agency in the classroom context, in terms of developing and introducing new pedagogical practices. They also had a strong sense of agency within their work community, based on their ability to put forward ideas for changes and to initiate or participate in shared activities at the school level. However, they had a fairly weak sense of agency in the social management of the classroom, and especially weak agency in coping with the children’s socio-emotional problems, or with obtaining multiprofessional support for the children.
Thsese findings showed that though novice teachers were not able to influence their teaching work as much as they would have wished, they perceived that they had a strong sense of identity agency in terms of possibilities to influence their professional identities. However, the findings also implied a strong perceived need to practice agency in the renegotiation of their professional ideals on the basis of their experiences in the everyday school environment. They felt it necessary to reshape their ideals or to graft their professional identity onto their previous identify, according to the circumstances they encountered in their teaching work.
Despite these negative features, positive aspects emerged strongly, in so far as the teachers perceived benefits from the lack of tight regulation or of constant demands for accountability within the school system.
The results also indicated that the school principal represented for the novice teachers the main constraint and also the main resource concerning their sense of professional agency. Novice teachers seemed to be very sensitive to the nature and quality of the school leadership, and to a considerable degree, the principal seemed to characterize the entire atmosphere of the school organization.
The novice teachers also noted the presence of a colleague with whom they could collaborate in everyday classroom situations as another important resource. In addition, collaboration in planning instructional methods and materials was seen as the most important resource for developing teaching practices.
The authors conclude that the findings imply that novice teachers need multiprofessional, collegial, and principal support for the practice of their professional agency within the school. The findings also emphasized the crucial role of the school principal.