Source: Cambridge Journal of Education, Volume 47, Issue 4, 2017.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The concept of the Program for Excellence in Teaching (PET), formulated at colleges of education in Israel, was designed to train teachers who not only exhibit excellence but also have potential to influence the educational system and institute change therein.
This study, focusing on 21 students and beginning teachers who participated in the PET at a certain college of education in Israel, examines their professional expectations and the disparity between intentions and implementations that happens as the beginning teachers encounter the reality in schools.
During the 2011–2012 academic year, semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 11 PET students of education (one in the first year of studies, five in the second and five in the third) and 10 PET graduates in their first or second year of teaching.
The differences between PET participants and graduates clearly reveal a significant gap between the real and the ideal. This study assesses the dissonance between students’ and beginning teachers’ self-expectations in light of the PET context. Graduates were expected to become the vanguard of change in Israel’s educational system. In practice, however, once inducted into the educational system, PET participants who exhibited a desire to lead and exert an influence during their college years become conformist teachers concerned for their professional survival. The responses of graduates working as teachers reveal the disparity between the programme’s objectives and expectations and the complex realities of teaching. The disparity between the real (graduates) and the ideal (students) seems to be inherent in the training process and the realities of the Israeli educational system. In practice, once inducted into the teaching profession, graduates realise that they are far from fulfilling their professional vision and admit that the aspirations they developed during their training are unrealistic in their actual work environment.
The authors maintain that the graduates’ essentially positive attitude to the educational system plays a significant role in lowering their self-expectations. While the PET students we interviewed seek to expand their circles of influence beyond their classrooms, the graduates want to influence the microsphere and not the macrosphere in a manner that is more emotional than social. The programme does include various means of encouraging students to institute change. Apparently, such activities lack the ability to change long-established conceptions. Introducing PET students to pacesetting professionals and innovative educational initiatives does not suffice in this respect.
The disparity between PET objectives and their practical realisation is revealed when graduates join the educational system as teachers. The findings of this study show that most graduates undergo the socialisation process successfully, at a cost of lowering of self-expectations and contenting themselves with the confines of their classrooms. One way or the other, the PET’s spirit of revolution and change remains unrealised.
The other argument addressing this undesired outcome focuses on the isolation sensed by beginning teachers. PET graduates’ interviews clarify that isolation may have led them to suppress the desire to express their professional goals and vision. These findings correspond with the well-established notion that collaboration is a key element in teachers’ professional development especially among beginning teachers.
The authors propose three methods of overcoming the rift between college and classroom and encouraging PET participants to formulate an innovative, unique and feasible educational vision that will not be abandoned at the first stages of their induction as teachers.
The first recommendation concerns a change in emphases in the training of excellent teachers. After three years of training and familiarity with innovative and progressive trends in education, each PET graduate, guided by the staff, should have formulated a feasible vision with which to begin a career in education. This goal can be addressed through critical reflection, evoking the voices that develop as preservice teachers interpret and reinterpret their experiences, thus producing practical knowledge relevant to them. Such focused, well-detailed vision will guide them as teachers.
The latter two recommendations – one theoretical and the other practical – concern teacher induction. The first, which is relevant not only to excellent teachers, calls for adapting teacher induction programmes to the post-industrial age, while the second proposes formation of groups of PET graduates in their early years of teaching, enabling their integration into the system as a group and not as isolated individuals.
Teacher induction programmes need to adjust to the post-industrial era, altering the perception of beginning teachers and amending expectations regarding their professional integration. Teacher induction should emphasise development of innovation and initiative among beginning teachers at the expense of replicating existing practices.
Another recommendation suggests inducting excellent teachers as a group rather than as isolated individuals, along with continuation of PET support even after participants have completed their studies. PET graduates mentioned feelings of personal and professional isolation in the educational system. Enabling new teachers to pursue their dreams may not only prove beneficial to these individual teachers and their students but may also generate a bottom-up change in schools and society.