Change advocacy as coping strategy: how beginning teachers cope with emotionally challenging situations

From Section:
Beginning Teachers
Aug. 02, 2021
August 2021

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 27:6, 474-487

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

There is a need to further explore student teachers’ and beginning teachers’ experiences of and ways of coping with emotional challenges in teacher education and starting to teach, which has been the focus in the current study.
The authors have studied the transition into a teaching position by following the participants from the end of teacher education to their first teaching position.
The aim of this study was to investigate how teachers in their last year as student teachers and their first year as teachers make meaning of a change advocacy strategy to cope with challenging situations as teachers.
In line with the ambition of understanding how beginning teachers cope with experienced emotional challenges, their research questions are:
(1) how is the change advocacy strategy discussed by student teachers during teacher education, and
(2) how is a change advocacy strategy deployed starting to teach?

The authors adopted a constructivist grounded theory (GT) approach (Charmaz, 2014), because of their interest in social processes and participants’ meaning-making.
Constructivist GT was well suited for the current study because they were interested in exploring the participants’ perspectives (Charmaz, 2014), as well as how they resolve emergent problems, commonly described as an objective connected to GT (Glaser, 1978).

A qualitative interview study was performed, interviewing the participants twice over a period of two years—once at the beginning of their last year in teacher education and once after having worked a year as a teacher, after teacher induction.
The data set consists of 25 initial interviews, 20 follow-up interviews and 68 written self-reports.
Twenty-five participants were interviewed at the start of their last year in teacher education and were asked to submit two self-reports in order to answer the first research question.
To address the second research question, 20 of the participants were interviewed again after one year working as a teacher and submitted one self-report as beginning teachers.

Data collection
The first interview focused on emotionally challenging situations in teacher education, field training and their concerns about working as a teacher in the future.
In the second interview, expectations and concerns discussed in the initial interview and in self-reports were revisited.
This allowed the participants to reflect on themes from the previous interview and self-reports.
The interviews were recorded and transcribed.
Between the initial and follow-up interviews, three waves of written self-reports were submitted by each participant as they progressed from student teachers to beginning teachers.
25 participants submitted the first self-report, 24 participants the second, and 19 participants the third self-report.
The first self-report included different questions for all participants, for example: ‘During the interview, you discussed inadequacy as not being certain of the effect your teaching will have.
Is this something you discussed with other students or teachers at the university?’
The second self-report was collected at the end of the same term that the student teachers graduated and focused on anticipated challenges about starting to teach.
The third self-report asked about experiences having worked for six months, with focus on challenges.

Findings and discussion
When entering the school as a beginning teacher, teachers often have a lot of positive experiences, such as professional learning and mastering teaching skills (Voss et al., 2017), enjoyment (Aspfors & Bondas, 2013), positive relationships with students, and inspiring learning and teaching situations (Aspfors & Bondas, 2013).
At the same time, beginning teachers may encounter emotionally challenging situations that interfere with their values, ideals and beliefs about good schools, teachers and teaching (e.g. Çakmak et al., 2019; Harmsen et al., 2018; Jokikokko et al., 2017; Pillen et al., 2013).
Such challenges can, in turn, motivate them to engage in the direct-action strategy (Sharplin et al., 2011) of change advocacy (Lindqvist, 2019) as a way of dealing with their ‘reality shock’ (Caspersen & Raaen, 2014; Dicke et al., 2015) and maintaining their teacher ideals and standards.
These efforts indicate that beginning teachers are not passive recipients but active agents in their teacher socialisation process at school.
However, beginning teachers rarely seem able to drive change at schools (Ulvik & Langørgen, 2012) due to the change resistance of the school culture (cf., Rubinson, 2002; Spratt et al., 2006; Thornberg, 2014) and their legitimacy loss.
Thornberg (2014) found that the professional collision between external consultants and teachers in school produced and reinforced self-serving social representations about ingroup and outgroup.
Both teachers and consultants displayed ingroup favouritism and outgroup devaluation that protected their own ingroup and professional identity, very much in line with social identity theory (Hogg & Vaughan, 2018). These intergroup processes resulted in consultants’ legitimacy loss.
Although beginning teachers are not outgroup members in relation to the teaching profession, as the external consultants in Thornberg’s (2014) study are, they could be viewed as new members (‘rookies’ or novice teachers) rather than full members.
There is evidence of arising conflicts when beginning teachers try to bring about change (Lindqvist et al., 2019).
If schools want motivated teachers, who work according to their best ability in different stages of their careers (cf. Day, 2019), they should avoid paternalistic practices in mentoring of student teachers and in the professional socialisation of beginning teachers.
Implications from this study suggest that school leaders could acknowledge and let beginning teachers influence their school’s professional development in a more systematic way (also corroborated by Ulvik & Langørgen, 2012).
They could be valued as assets.
Change advocacy as a coping strategy could serve several purposes:
(1) engaging beginning teachers in a school development project related to teaching to facilitate innovation (Lee, 2013);
(2) overt use of avoidance strategies is problematic (Gustems Carnicer & Calderón, 2012) and a direct-action strategy such as change advocacy should be encouraged at all stages of a teacher’s career to promote resilience and commitment to teaching; and (3) encouraging schools to leave the deficit-model of finding the beginning teachers to be lacking skills and instead embrace expertise from high-achievers in teacher education as active agents in promoting school development.

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Updated: May. 15, 2022
Advocacy | Coping | First year teachers | Grounded theory | Student teachers