Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 35, Issue 3, p. 203–225, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study followed a cohort of new early childhood teachers from preparation into their first year of teaching, giving voice to their challenges and triumphs, and insight into the elements of their preparation program which they continued to value and build on in their classroom practice.
The authors set out to discover whether and how their graduates continued to draw on the reflective process that was such an integral component of their preparation program as they became new teachers.
This article represents the second phase of a larger study in which we explored the process and impact of teacher preparation in an urban integrated early childhood master’s program, offering both stand-alone and dual certification in early childhood and early childhood special education.
The participants were thirteen students who enrolled a teacher education program.
All of the participants (12 females and one male) ranged from 22 through 30 years of age. Participants were all certified in early childhood general and/or special education, and were working in a diverse set of classrooms, including public and private preschools, kindergartens, and primary grades, serving children in general and/or special education.
The participants were invited to engaged in individual interviews at or near the end of their first year as new teachers.
The findings revealed that participants’ perceptions on those elements of the program which best guided their decisions in practice, such as reflective thinking about their daily work and child observation and inquiry.
The graduates reported that the program did provide a strong foundation upon which to continue to build and strengthen their early childhood teaching practice. Those components which were most powerful included: flexible ways of seeing and understanding young children; skills that can be adapted and applied with diverse children across a variety of educational contexts; dispositions toward continuous learning and motivation to add to their own teaching “toolbox” over time; and the substantive and overarching value of reflection as an anchor and a touchstone for their teaching practice.
However, they felt unprepared for some of the tasks they faced upon entering the field. Many of the participants expressed a wish that their preparation experiences could have been more “real". As they transitioned to becoming teachers in schools that were less “developmentally appropriate” or child-centered, or less collaborative than those they had experienced in the program, some of the participants remarked on how difficult it was for them to bridge what they had learned with their current realities.
Furthermore, nearly all of our graduates commented on ways that they continue to be reflective practitioners, and some mentioned how this practice helps them to hold on to their own beliefs.
Developing the skills and dispositions toward reflective practice, an important goal of the teacher preparation program, appears to have continued to enrich the participants’ experiences as new teachers.Their capacity for reflection, demonstrated in their interview responses, continues to influence their decisions in everyday classroom practice, as they engage in thoughtful and intentional teaching and learning with their students.
Furthermore, the findings revealed the participants' desire to be advocates for young children, and also their frustration at working within a system that does not adequately support their social justice efforts . They shared examples from their practice which spoke to the “disconnect” that sometimes occurred between our program philosophy and what they encountered in the field as new teachers. Although they continued to focus on childcentered practices in their work to the extent possible, in some settings they felt that the structures for evaluating and teaching young children went against these beliefs.
Overall, although the participants expressed feeling less prepared in terms of specific curricula which aligned with their particular teaching settings, they seemed to feel most prepared in those skills that can be applied broadly across a wide variety of classrooms and educational contexts, such as observation, reflection, and differentiation.
These findings indicate that there may be more that teacher educators can do as early childhood teacher educators to better prepare their students to address the inequities of the field. By providing more supported opportunities for understanding and experiencing diverse environments, they may be able to offer their graduates a more realistic picture of the field, and a stronger base from which to advocate for young children and for themselves as new teachers.
The findings also have implications for early childhood teacher educators who are teaching in and responsible for designing preparation programs.
Although the students took away a good deal of valuable knowledge from their preparation program, many felt unprepared for the degree to which they were expected as new teachers to focus on academic instruction and to negotiate the testing climate, particularly in public schools. Others felt less prepared to take on issues of equity presented in their settings, or were challenged by the lack of support they experienced when entering the field.
Hence, early childhood teacher educators need to find better ways to incorporate into the programs opportunities for the students to learn more about negotiating current discourses of schooling which do not fit with the traditional early childhood notions about teaching and learning.