Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 19, No. 3, 243–259, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The aim of this study is to explore newly qualified teachers’ (NQTs) experiences of their relationships within the school community during their first years at work.
The study comprises data from an open-ended questionnaire survey and altogether 10 focus group meetings. The sample is purposive and includes 88 NQTs within primary schools in Finland.
The findings revealed three main relationships which illuminate tensions of paradoxes: (1) Caring about – nurturance or exclusion, (2) Reciprocity – expansive or restrictive and (3) Caring for – joy or exhaustion.
The first category Caring about emphasizes the importance of being cared for and acknowledged as a new teacher by others. In this lies a genuine concern about the well-being and needs of the other person and a willingness to help.
Nurturance principally involves the support, care and recognition given by others to NQTs, especially by principals and colleagues. In this lies the authenticity, the great meaning of small signs of consideration, interest and genuine concern and caring. The findings indicate that NQTs are nurtured in this particular way in the beginning.
The second category, Reciprocity, focuses on the reciprocal actions between persons involved within the school community. Such relationships are characterized by openness, attentive listening and receptivity as the carer needs to strive for an understanding of the expressed needs of the cared-for. At the same time, the cared-for need to recognize the efforts of the carer in order for the relation to be characterized as precisely caring. The caring relation is, as a result, an act of reciprocity, involving dialogue and exchange, which is essential in order to maintain the relation.
The findings from this study disclose experiences of a tension between expansive and restrictive reciprocal relationships. The results imply that of equal importance to help and support in the beginning, is the significance of an open and positive atmosphere with close and fruitful collaboration amongst the members of the school community.
The third category, Caring for, is the new teachers’ own caring for those surrounding them, especially their pupils. The ‘caring for’ dimension is subsequently more task-oriented than the previous categories since it also belongs to teachers’ duties to care for and look after their pupils. As a result, caring for includes two dimensions: a relational sense of caring, permeated by solicitude, and task-oriented caring. The findings of this study point to the tension between the true joy of being a caring teacher and the exhaustion and tiredness that it may at the same time cause over time. Hence, the results confirm international research and the tension between general satisfaction in the profession and the stressful nature of the work.
In order for teachers to communicate effectively with children and others, the forming of strong, reciprocal and trustful relationships is essential. Consequently, there needs to be more emphasis placed on creating space for new teachers to build sustainable, emotional bonds and understanding with their pupils, but also with their colleagues and pupils’ parents in the reform of schools.
This study raises some worthwhile implications for consideration.
First of all, teacher education needs to prepare the teachers with skills in handling relationships effectively, not only with children, but also with adults.
Secondly, the school community needs to take on responsibility for care of its newcomers. Furthermore, negative power relationships need to be counteracted and handled.
Last but not least, professional support in the form of mentoring is important.
The findings from this study reveal three main characteristics of relationships: ‘caring about’, ‘reciprocity’ and ‘caring for’. Furthermore, these distinctive relationships include tensions of paradoxes of both positive as well as negative experiences amongst NQTs.
For school communities, it is important to care about caring as it is not always the quantity of support, but the quality of it that may improve the NQTs’ situation. Further research is, however, needed in order to develop the conceptualization and the functions of caring within education.