Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(9)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The authors state that this paper presents findings related to challenges and emergence of professional identity.
It is part of a larger study on novice Emirati teachers.
The findings reported here by the authors align with two research questions: What challenges do novice teachers face in their first year of teaching, and what does management of these challenges reveal about teachers’ emerging professional identities?
Participants - In terms of the larger study, the sample population selected by the researchers were graduates of a Bachelor of Education degree; part of the first graduating cohort from a newly established educational teacher training institution; and employed as English medium teachers (EMTs) in Abu Dhabi Education Council’s (ADEC) Cycle 1 (grades 1- 5) schools and kindergartens during the time of the research.
The study took place towards the end of their first year of teaching.
Thirty participants completed a questionnaire; 13 also participated in a letter-box focus group discussion and semi-structured interviews.
All participants were UAE nationals.
Data Collection - The researchers note that the overarching study employed both quantitative and qualitative tools for data collection.
A questionnaire was constructed and used to determine variables such as academic program preparation, field experiences in schools, use of English and Arabic within class and school contexts, perceptions of roles and responsibilities as related to the delivery of the New School Model (NSM), and relationships within school communities.
The questionnaire consisted of Likert-scale items, multiple choice, and open questions.
It was emailed to the students as a web link to maintain participant confidentiality and anonymity.
Face-to-face semi-structured interviews and the letter-box focus group discussion were qualitative tools used to probe deeper into the questionnaire responses.
Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted with those participants who had, on their questionnaire form, indicated a willingness to be interviewed.
On site individual, semi-structured interviews were guided by an interview protocol developed from an analysis of questionnaire responses.
Participants who wished to engage further in the letter-box focus group discussion were contacted following the interviews.
The discussion was held at the teacher training campus.
As individual voices can be lost or not heard when conducting a focus group interview, the research team introduced the letter-box approach to assist in the recording of individual voices. Themes related to identity were formed as questions that were displayed around the room on A3 sheets of paper.
Below each question, a response box and note pads were made available for the participants to write and post their responses aligned with that question.
Participants were allowed 30 minutes to write their individual responses; this was followed immediately by a facilitated discussion with the participants based on the posted group questions. Participants were given the opportunity to share their responses and discuss them with each other in small groups.
No names were recorded, thus ensuring the approach was non-threatening but participative.
Findings and Discussion: The Emergence of Professional Identity
The authors report that the novice teachers in this study faced many contextual challenges.
The responsibilities that came with the job challenged their personal philosophies of who they were as teachers.
In common with other beginning teachers, the novice Emirati teachers experienced frustrations with uncertainty and messiness of school and classroom life.
They questioned their effectiveness to adapt the curriculum to meet the varied needs of students in their classes.
The researchers found the novice teachers’ insertion into school communities and expectation to work alongside Western EMTs made them query the degree of acceptance they felt as bilingual teachers.
The sometimes fractious power relationships between EMTs and Arabic teachers (AMTs) made them critique issues such as separatism exhibited by groups and their subsequent positioning as bridge builders in establishing harmonious working relationships. Despite some feeling like outsiders, afraid of not being able to fulfil expectations, they began to find their feet and adapt to what Palmer (2007) notes is a complexity perspective and teach from positions of ‘who they are’.
The authors note that data indicates they engaged in practice within the frame of self as meaning maker, and their professional identities that emerged made sense in terms of the beliefs they held.
Their narratives highlight their ability to reflect on challenges in ways best described as being adaptive, flexible, and responsive in practice.
For example, they identified the varied academic needs of students in their classes and were proactive in drawing on self-knowledge to plan and deliver the curriculum while being cognisant of differentiation. Another example of adaptation was their ability to teach in English while choosing to use Arabic to deconstruct key vocabulary and concepts.
The authors found that some of the novice Emirati teachers felt comfortable planning and integrating aspects of their cultural heritage in their teaching.
They included traditional stories and themes from Emirati culture into their practice.
Exposure to challenges in context made them aware of their identity as an Emirati, and, as their confidence grew, so did a sense of pride relating to their achievements.
The authors note that being part of a team is important to the novice teachers as they acknowledge their social, cultural, and linguistic ways of knowing can help them bridge the cultural and linguistic divide between groups.
At times, they felt that being the only Emirati EMT made them appear somewhat of a novelty, but this feeling was accepted with pride.
When asked how others in the school perceived their role as Emirati EMTs, the feeling expressed was that they were accepted despite occasional incidents of feeling alienated by their Western counterparts. The authors also found that the novice teachers are also able to cross the cultural and linguistic divide when communicating with parents.
The novice Emirati teachers are critical thinkers and not afraid to ask the hard questions of practice if this means providing exceptional service.
The authors conclude that most novice teachers are reflective practitioners.
Those in this study are also passionate and committed to contributing to school improvement in the UAE. Having undergone four years of teacher preparation in constructivist, student-centred methodologies, they enter the profession with preparedness to teach from positions of ‘who they are’.
The authors note that these novice Emirati teachers were entering their public schools identifying their own cultural and social heritage and desire to improve the education system of their country.
They show resilience as they adapt and respond to delivering the curriculum through the medium of English to address diverse student needs.
They display optimism, enthusiasm, and an ‘I/we can do it’ attitude.
The authors feel that schools which recognise the long-term benefits of this group and ensure structures of support exist stand to gain from the benefits they bring as change agents.
Nurturing the novice teacher means promoting transformational practice inclusive of the UAE’s rich cultural heritage and its use of both Arabic and English for teaching and learning.
The catalyst to direct these complex and meaningful systemic changes requires the fresh perspectives these novice Emirati teachers possess.
The authors suggest that Initial teacher institutions should consider teachers’ sense of identity in their mission to develop a generation of future teachers to serve their own Emirati communities with capabilities to improve education as change agents.
Palmer, P. (2007). The courage to teach (10th anniversary ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass