Source: The Teacher Educator, 56:3, 250-269
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The issue investigated for this article is how a sample of preservice teachers (PSTs) made sense of how the coursework in their professional training program (PTP) supported their development in becoming teachers. Graduates of the program should be able to support their future students’ sociocultural, academic and social-emotional needs and wants while attending to the demands of policymakers’ standards-based accountability (SBA) reforms.
Case study methodology examines “a special something to be studied … something that we do not sufficiently understand and want to” (Stake, 1995, p. 133).
Thus, studying how these PSTs made sense of the ways in which the coursework in their PTP trained them in relation to how they are to instruct their future students illuminates ways in which TEs and their PTPs can better prepare their PSTs so that they have the confidence and self-efficacy to become and possibly remain teachers.
The teacher education program
The large, urban teacher education program at a public university in the Midwestern US that the PSTs in this study attended offers a cohort-based, three-semester PTP.
The program states that graduates will develop an understanding of how children develop and learn so that they can teach all students to succeed in and out of school while attending to their social-emotional skills.
The PSTs in this study were followed throughout their entire program.
The second author of this article, who had no authority over these PSTs, recruited participants for this study in their first semester of the PTP in their How to Teach Children (HTC) class without the instructor being present during the recruitment meeting.
Students were asked to participate in the study at the end of their first semester of their PTP after their professors submitted their final grades to the Office of the Registrar.
The participants (n=5) represented the range of students who typically participate in the PTP.
To understand how these PSTs made sense of the coursework in their PTP, they participated in four semi-structured interviews across the three semesters of their PTP with two members of the research team (who are the first two authors of this article).
The participants were interviewed at the end of the first semester, in the middle of the second and third semesters, and one month after graduation.
The primary source of data for this study was interviews.
As Stake (1995) noted, instrumental case studies strive “to obtain the descriptions and interpretations of others,” and the “main road” that leads to this goal is “the interview” (p. 64).
The questions were intended to provide insight into the PSTs’ sensemaking of how their coursework in their TEP supported their development in becoming teachers who support their future students’ sociocultural, academic and social-emotional needs and wants while attending to the demands of policymakers’ SBA reforms.
Specifically, they were asked about: their conceptions of teaching children, their experiences in their PTP classes, the connection between what they were learning in their coursework and their experiences in their field placements with their MTs, the role of the student, teacher, and family in the education process, how students learn best, their evaluation of their preparation for entering the classroom, examples of positive and negative experiences in the PTP, and their hopes for the future.
Syllabi from each of the classes the PSTs participated in were collected to confirm assignments and reading materials the participants referred to in their interviews, and memos were collected from the first two authors of this study documenting their initial thoughts, hunches, and insights after each interview (Emerson et al., 1995).
Results and discussion
For this case study, the authors set out to understand how a sample of PSTs made sense of how the coursework in their PTP supported their development in becoming teachers in high-stakes teaching contexts who center their practices on the needs and interests of their current and future students.
When examining their sensemaking about this issue, it became apparent, as the three themes demonstrate, that the PSTs questioned whether their TEs were supporting their development in becoming classroom teachers in a manner that reflected how their TEs expected them to teach their future students.
In stating this, the purpose of this article is not to critique or evaluate the TEs, a specific PTP, or particular coursework.
Rather, the themes that emerged in this instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) extend the ideas put forward by others in reforming the teacher education process (Barnes, 2018; Brown, Ku, & Barry, 2020a; Kartal, 2020) so that PSTs can engage in learning experiences that they one day will implement in their own classrooms.
For four of the five PSTs in this study, their experiences extend this conversation about improving the contexts of teacher education programs by demonstrating how the teacher education shovedown they experienced is not merely the amount of work these students were expected to do (Pfitzner-Eden, 2016) but also the lack of “connection” (Dewey, 1938; Onchwari, 2010) between what the program was teaching them to do in their future classrooms and what they were being asked to do by their TEs.
This disconnect made some of these PSTs question whether they wanted to be a teacher at all.
Furthermore, these PSTs felt there was an incoherence of instruction across their program.
What stands out in this study is that those negative experiences had a lasting impact on how these PSTs made sense of their PTP.
Rather than having to be “persuaded” to move beyond their “past experiences” as students in PreK- 12 education systems to learn how to become a teacher, these PSTs were hoping they could move beyond the experiences in much of their PTP.
By doing so, these PSTs hoped they possessed the instructional “repertoires” required to be successful teachers in their own classrooms (Schmidt & Datnow, 2005, p. 951).
Lastly, these PSTs were able to rework their adverse experiences in their PTP so that they saw them as necessary steps for success (White, 1989), which allowed them to conjure up excitement about entering and succeeding in the profession.
This finding points to a missed opportunity for TEs to help PSTs alter “their existing frameworks of understanding,” and as such, these PSTs may have missed “the unfamiliar and more fundamental transformations that are required” to succeed as classroom teachers (Schmidt & Datnow, 2005, p. 951).
While every PST will make sense of becoming a teacher in unpredictable ways, all three themes that emerged in the data illuminate several opportunities for TEs to rethink the teacher education process so they prepare PSTs to enter their profession in a manner that does not require PSTs to view their suffering as a rite of passage (White, 1989) to succeed in their PTP.
The findings of this study demonstrate the complexity in PSTs’ sensemaking of their PTP.
In this case study, not being taught how they were expected to teach their future students made PSTs question their training and development as teachers.
As such, interpreting the themes that emerged in their sensemaking of their PTP illuminates several opportunities for change among TEs and PTPs.
By providing a space that allows PSTs to engage in self-care, ensures continuity and connection across coursework, restructures the content, PCK, and assignments across the PTP, and fosters mentoring relationships among students prior to, while in, and after graduating the PTP, TEs and PTPs can prepare their PSTs through teaching practices that reflect how they hope the PSTs will teach their future students.
Barnes, M. E. (2018). Conflicting conceptions of care and teaching and pre-service teacher attrition. Teaching Education, 29(2), 178–193.
Brown, C. P., Ku, D., & Barry, D. P. (2020a). Making sense of instruction within the changed kindergarten: Perspectives from preservice early childhood educators and teacher educators. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education
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Kartal, G. (2020). Collaborative metaphor and anticipatory reflection in preservice teacher education: Is drama the answer? Teaching and Teacher Education, 88
Onchwari, J. (2010). Early childhood inservice and preservice teachers’ perceived levels of preparedness to handle stress in their students. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5), 391–400.
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