Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 36, (November, 2013), p. 198-209.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this article is to identify, examine and describe the pre-service teachers’ perceived gains of professional development during an international teaching practicum.
This article describes an international practicum was carried out in Maldives, where six pre-service teachers specializing in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) were placed in three Maldivian schools, and each school agreed to host two USM students for the international practicum.
The two male pre-service teachers were placed in an all-boys school, whereas the remaining four females were assigned to two all-female schools; two to each school.
Each of them was assigned a mentor teacher.
Qualitative data were collected from an open-ended questionnaire and reflective journals.
Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) of data could be used on written data obtained from the above two data collection methods.
It appears that the international teaching practicum stint has enhanced the pre-service teachers’ awareness of aspects of language and language teaching-learning, in which there are influences of culture and society of the host nation.
The six pre-service teachers are able to see themselves as professionals who have become more aware of their language development and their increased confidence level in using the English language during and after the international teaching practicum.
Furthermore, this observational learning has assisted the pre-service teachers to internalize new learning and experiences by:
(1) carefully identifying the ones that are meaningful and discarding ones that do not contribute to their professional development;
(2) associating and learning from the different kinds of students and contexts, especially the ones that are not familiar to them (i.e. the Maldivian context) and;
(3) negotiating between their experiences in Malaysia and Maldives and borrowing the best from both educational systems.
Teaching in the Maldivian schools was a new learning experience for all of them.
The pre-service teachers have gained understanding of new world views of education and culture from teaching English in Maldives.
They have garnered the understanding and the ability to adapt to new working cultures and the different approaches to teaching and learning that are used in the Maldivian school system.
From the perspective of interpersonal skills, the findings exemplify how a community of practice engages itself in the pursuit of knowledge through interaction between members of the community.
It is through the interaction and engagement in the community the pre service teachers create, share and evaluate tools, standards, generic learning designs and other aspects of learning to deepen knowledge on specific issues and skills.
The data indicate that close relationships and mutual understanding with the expert teachers and other teachers are integral to successful bonding of the pre-service teachers and host teachers and their quick self-adjustment to the working environment of the school.
This directly leads to their growth and development in terms of adapting to working cultures.
Teaching in Maldives has developed the pre-service teachers’ knowledge, skills and cultural competencies that include teaching contents to diverse learners, affirming diversity in classrooms, and knowing the cultures of school and its students and teachers.
In addition, engaging with Maldivian students created challenges for the Malaysian pre-service teachers in the classroom.
As personal growth is interrelated and intertwined with professional development, any growth would also mean meaningful and relevant professional development of the pre-service teachers.
With these new capabilities and personal growth, the pre-service teachers have developed into teachers who are able to make systematic judgments and evaluations of educational systems.
The international teaching practicum has useful implications for pre-service teachers’ professional development and teacher education.
First, it is vital that future English language teachers are provided an informal, on-going and comprehensive experience of professional development in communication using English.
In those professional development activities, practical and theoretical elements of public speaking and effective presentation skills should be based on constructivism, which basically encourages construction and reconstruction of ones’ knowledge in the language.
The second implication is that perhaps there should be two teaching practicum sessions during a pre-service teacher’s education programme.
According to the six teachers, their experiences in the local practicum (1st practicum) are beneficial and act as an impetus for them to do better in the international teaching practicum (the 2nd practicum).
The international practicum experiences have made the pre-service teachers to be more aware of the different working conditions and cultures, as well as diverse teaching and learning philosophies, cultures and practices.
In addition, the international experience has opened up more learning opportunities and has provided them the space for reinforcing effective practices that they have constructed during the first practicum.
Another implication is providers of teacher education programme, especially the teaching practicum component, should seriously consider infusing learning elements and tasks that emphasise the following practices and values:
(i) mutual respect for each other; (ii) learning from each other; (iii) understanding each others’ cultures, beliefs, philosophies and ideologies and; (iv) adapting to different educational perspectives and beliefs.