“Reality Shock” of Beginning Teachers? Changes in Teacher Candidates’ Emotional Exhaustion and Constructivist-Oriented Beliefs

May 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume: 71 issue: 3, page(s): 292-306

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present article is aimed at investigating changes in beginning teachers’ emotional exhaustion as well as in their constructivist beliefs about teaching during the mandatory induction program in Germany and their first years of teaching.
In a sample of beginning mathematics teachers, the authors used a longitudinal design to examine, first, how teachers’ constructivist beliefs and emotional exhaustion change on average with their first practical experiences.
Second, they asked which factors influence whether and how much emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs change.

The present study
The setting of this study was the mandatory induction program for beginning teachers in Germany.
In Germany, formal teacher education involves two phases (Cortina & Thames, 2013).
Phase 1 takes place at university, where students usually study two teaching subjects and attend general courses in psychology, pedagogy, or sociology.
Phase 2, the induction phase, involves a compulsory 1.5- to 2-year student-teaching phase.
During this phase, teacher candidates are allocated to placement schools where they gradually take on higher levels of teaching responsibilities.
During the induction phase, senior mentor teachers are assigned to the teacher candidates to provide support.
At the same time, the teacher candidates attend weekly courses, called seminars, on general principles and methods of teaching and on subject-specific methods of teaching at state-run teacher education institutes.
Using a longitudinal data set of German teacher candidates, the authors pursued the following research questions:
Research Question 1: How do beginning teachers’ emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs change over the induction phase?
The authors expected that beginning teachers’ emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs would change.
However, on the basis of the research literature, they identified different assumptions about the shape of the changes.
Hence, they asked whether and when the characteristic change patterns would occur, during the induction program (i.e., related to the practical experiences as part of the induction program) or after the induction program when beginning teachers are solely responsible.
Research Question 2: Which personal and social resources moderate the trajectories of constructivist beliefs and emotional exhaustion?
The authors investigated whether the personal resources and the support teacher candidates receive from significant others make a difference in the changes in teacher candidates’ emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs.
Hence, with their multifaceted approach, they extended previous research and investigated two important outcome variables (i.e., teacher candidates’ emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs).
They examined the average level of development in both outcome variables over 3 years— spanning not only the induction phase but also the postinduction phase to shed light on possible recovery effects.
Furthermore, they included personal and social resources to predict interindividual differences in the changes.


Study Design and Sample
The data used for the current analyses came from a project that was initiated to investigate the development of the professional competence of secondary school mathematics teacher candidates during the German induction phase (Kunter et al., 2013).
It was a longitudinal study with teacher candidates assessed 3 times over 3 years. Overall, 163 mathematics teacher candidates participated at all three points of measurement.

The authors assessed emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs at all three points of measurement.
They also measured the personal and social resources of the teacher candidates.
The degree of constructivist-oriented interaction with mentor teachers was assessed with eight items.

Findings and discussion
On average, the authors found evidence for some rather weak symptoms of the often-cited reality shock in their 3-year longitudinal study in a German sample of mathematics teacher candidates, but they also found substantial interindividual differences in the trajectories.

How Do Beginning Teachers’ Emotional Exhaustion and Constructivist Beliefs Change During the German Induction Phase?
In their sample, emotional exhaustion showed a statistically significant increase after teacher candidates started to teach independently during their induction phase, but it decreased with more experience.
Hence, on average, they found evidence for the existence of the reality shock with a reversal as teaching experience increased.
Thus, although emotional exhaustion increased during the first year of the induction phase, the teacher candidates, on average, recovered.
However, the effect sizes were small.
Constructivist beliefs decreased when teacher candidates started to teach independently but did not increase again with additional teaching experience, thus supporting the “reality shock without reversal” assumption. However the effect sizes were again very small.
These results support the assumption that the first independent teaching experience is a critical event for beginning teachers (Tynjälä & Heikkinen, 2011), even though the effects were small.
It is interesting that the results indicated that this critical event affected beginning teachers’ occupational well-being only temporarily.
On average, beginning teachers’ emotional exhaustion returned to its initial level after about only 2 years.
Hence, in line with stage theories (e.g., Fuller & Bown, 1975), as these beginning teachers gained more experience, their occupational well-being recovered.
However, a different pattern emerged for teachers’ constructivist beliefs.
On average, beginning teachers’ constructivist beliefs did not change substantially; they merely decreased slightly during the induction phase after these teachers began to teach, supporting the assumption that teachers’ beliefs are relatively hard to change (Skott, 2015).

Is the Reality Shock a General Phenomenon?
As discussed, the observed changes in emotional exhaustion and constructivist beliefs were, on average, rather small.
However, as an important extension of most past research, the results also showed interindividual differences in the trajectories:
Depending on personal and social characteristics, the symptoms of the reality shock were either weaker or stronger.
As a motivational personal resource, math enjoyment was found to buffer the reality shock in constructivist beliefs but not in emotional exhaustion—constructivist beliefs declined only for teacher candidates with low levels of math enjoyment.
Hence, teacher motivation was not only related to the levels of constructivist beliefs and emotional exhaustion, but it also moderated the changes in constructivist beliefs of beginning teachers.
Thus, enjoyment of the subject one teaches seems to be an important resource that helps teachers master the early professional challenges, and it might be fruitful to think about how to boost this enjoyment early in teacher education.
Furthermore, the social resources under investigation turned out to have the potential to prevent the increase in emotional exhaustion often found among teacher candidates.
The authors also found that a constructivist-oriented mentoring approach moderated the changes in emotional exhaustion, but it was not associated with the trajectories for constructivist beliefs.
School mentors can play an important role in the adaptation process of beginning teachers (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Their results indicate that it is not the existence of a mentor teacher per se that is beneficial but a specific quality of the mentor–mentee interaction.
Teacher candidates who reported that their mentor teacher embodied a highly constructivist mentoring approach did not show the typical increase in emotional exhaustion after they started to teach.
Altogether, they found evidence for the existence of interindividual differences in the intrapersonal change pattern.
The development of beginning teachers’ constructivist beliefs was affected by their math enjoyment as a personal resource, whereas the development of emotional exhaustion was affected by (some of the investigated) social resources.
However, overall, the effects were rather small, and a substantial proportion of the variance remained unexplained.
In conclusion, the authors feel that the results of their study may inform both teacher educators and researchers investigating teacher education.
First, in spite of the ubiquitous lamenting that there is a gap between theory and practice in teacher education (e.g., Korthagen, Loughran, & Russell, 2006), the study showed that, overall, teacher education—at least the German model with a lengthy induction program—seems to prepare teachers well for the transition into practice (e.g., as evidenced in our study by the only rather small increase in emotional exhaustion and the recovery from it).
In addition, their results on individual differences in the trajectories indicate that general statements about beginning teachers’ adaptation to practice should be taken with a grain of salt, given that they found substantial differences between teacher candidates.
Thus, finally, their findings on the resources that influence these trajectories may inspire both practitioners and researchers to think more about how these resources can be systematically fostered in different learning situations.

Cortina, K. S., & Thames, M. H. (2013). Teacher education in Germany. In M. Kunter, J. Baumert, W. Blum, U. Klusmann, S. Krauss, & M. Neubrand (Eds.), Cognitive activation in the mathematics classroom and professional competence of teachers. Results from the COACTIV project (pp. 49-62). New York, NY: Springer.
Fuller, F. F., & Bown, O. H. (1975). Becoming a teacher. In K. Ryan (Ed.), Teacher education: Seventy-fourth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (pp. 25-52). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201- 233.
Korthagen, F. A. J., Loughran, J., & Russell, T. (2006). Developing fundamental principles for teacher education programs and practices. Teaching and Teacher Education, 22, 1020-1041.
Kunter, M., Baumert, J., Blum, W., Klusmann, U., Krauss, S., & Neubrand, M. (2013). Cognitive activation in the mathematics classroom and professional competence of teachers. Results from the COACTIV project. New York, NY: Springer.
Skott, J. (2015). The promises, problems, and prospects of research on teachers’ beliefs. In H. Fives & M. G. Gill (Eds.), International handbook of research on teachers’ beliefs (pp. 13-30). New York, NY: Routledge.
Tynjälä, P., & Heikkinen, H. L. T. (2011). Beginning teachers’ transition from pre-service education to working life. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, 14, 11-33. 

Updated: Mar. 08, 2021