Novice teachers in a changing reality


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:4, 639-656

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study focuses on understanding Zoom conversations during a novice teachers’ workshop that took place during the Covid-19 crisis.
Thoughtfully chosen narratives emerged from the conversations which can serve as prototypical subjects that can embody the global in the local (Lincoln and Guba 1985).

This study is based on qualitative-narrative research.
Understanding the teacher’s world requires an inquiry approach that captures the complex nature of teaching (Moen 2006).

The participants, thirty-two novice teachers (22 females and 10 males), participated in two workshops facilitated by the two authors.
In Israel in the induction year it is mandatory to participate in a workshop which is chosen randomly.
At the beginning of the semester the participants gave the authors permission to publish the open conversation in the records of the meetings.
All the participants in their first year taught a variety of subjects to different age groups in school.

Data collection
Over the course of almost a full semester, the authors conducted two workshops via 90-minute weekly Zoom meetings.
The novice teachers engaged with their facilitators and peers, sharing teaching narrative experiences.
The workshops were based on participants’ narratives, which started with an open question provided by the researchers: ‘Tell us about a significant event you experienced as a novice teacher this week in your teaching’.
This strategy enables them to choose what, how and when to tell their narratives (Josselson 2013).
The narratives were the base upon which the authors built their findings.

Data analysis
Data analyses in narrative research is based on Grounded Theory (Strauss and Corbin 1994) and analytical, interpretive hermeneutic approach (Josselson 2006, 2011).

Findings and discussion
Findings explored novice teachers’ experiences in the Covid −19 crisis, and shed light on the professional challenges and opportunities in three aspects that supported the construction of novice teachers’ professional identity:

Technological aspects
temporal and spatial changes as the learning space moved from school to the virtual sphere and gave rise to various technological challenges and opportunities.
Participants’ narratives explore the fact that novice teachers were required to learn and work with unfamiliar technologies.
They were also forced to work on their own with little support from a professional community and technology support.
It is assumed that novice teachers, since they are younger, are technologically oriented, but research shows that they had difficulty integrating technology into their teaching experience (Banerjee and Waxman 2017).
Technological educational reforms have been implemented, accompanied by investment of financial and pedagogical resources but they have not always reaped the expected results.
Most attempts at technological educational reforms have been complicated by the fact that contradictory forces – conservative and innovative – are at work within the system (Eisenberg and Selivansky 2019).
Even though Israel is considered a high-tech powerhouse and a global leader in technological innovations and initiatives, most of the teachers, especially veteran ones, found the technological aspect of teaching to be difficult and opposed this move (Bazluki and Milman 2019; Zohar and Bushrian 2020).
With the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, a new professional educational reality was forced upon all the teachers, which accentuated the tension between these two conflicting forces (Schleicher 2020). Both the conservative and the innovative teachers were forced to revolutionise the use of technology in their learning and teaching practice.
This dramatic change emphasised the gap in technological aspects between the ideal and the reality in society in general, and in the educational system in particular (Eisenberg and Selivansky 2019).

Pedagogical aspects
the novice teachers’ narratives show that they were required to change their teaching methods and break through the normal spatial and temporal walls.
The transition to synchronic and a synchronic teaching method accentuated the challenges and opportunities facing them to adapt their individual and group teaching practices so as to provide an holistic solution to the learners’ needs.
In the virtual sphere, tensions about perception of the role, goals of teaching, teaching methods, selecting learning content and adapting it to the new situation were all heightened.
Novice teachers had, almost overnight, been asked to be involved in decision-making and problem-solving using new online pedagogical knowledge in unfamiliar space without pedagogical support from veteran teachers.

Educational System aspects
novice teachers’ narratives raised the question about the role of the educational system during the crisis.
At the beginning they were forced to initiate online teaching and they were concentrated in the technological and pedagogical aspects.
When the schools returned to an abnormal normal routine, the novice teachers were required to strictly adhere to new regulations to protect students and teachers’ health.
Narratives show that in this new reality, there was distrust of the system’s regulations, hesitation and a need to deal with parents’ fears and pressures.
While the need to follow the regulations becomes more important, at the same time opposition to following them increases and it is expected that the system provides an answer for every problem and challenge.
The tension between the individual needs and safe self being and the system regulations as a safety and value place, creates dilemmas that the teachers have to deal with.
At this juncture, they had to re-examine their position as teachers and educators.
In addition, the narratives show that in a crisis period the role of the system regulations is to protect the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education.
The school as a physical space is indispensable.
Traditional classroom organisation must give way to a variety of froms of doing school but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning must be preserved (UNESCO 2020).
The authors found that the dramatic changes in these three aspects: technological, pedagogical and educational system blurred the boundaries and gave rise to previously unknown dilemmas and tensions, between the two learning spheres – home and school – and between the personal and the professional aspects.
The conscious and unconscious coping with these dilemmas offered the novice teachers challenges and opportunities to examine perceptions, values, positions and beliefs as they reconstructed their professional identity (Lomi and Mbato 2020).
However, novice teachers, who have less experience and still lack professional strength and professional efficacy, have more difficulty coping with those dilemmas.
Moreover the first year of teaching is a reality shock which challenges the novice teachers (Voss and Kunter 2020), yet this specific year that is characterised by global uncertainty and a crisis in the educational world can be a crucial catalyst for their professional identity construction.
A crisis can alter the course of identity development and destabilise existing identity commitments.
The findings show that a professional identity construction process occurs in a new reality as novice teachers cope with the blurring of boundaries, dilemmas, tensions and conflicts.
This dual experience is a significant junction in their professional identity construction process.
It includes evoking questions that the novice teachers ask about themselves during this process, such as: ‘Who am I as a professional? What are my strengths and weaknesses?’
The Covid-19 crisis enabled them to re-examine how they perceive their professional role.
In general, the emphasis of most teachers is on teaching as functional leadership driven by achievements and learning outcomes.
However, during the Covid-19 crisis, they faced unfamiliar situations in which they had to re-evaluate the perception of their role.
They stressed how they managed to turn challenges into opportunities.
They learned to recognise the importance of flexibility in teaching goals, of creating alternatives and of positioning a new layer of their professional identity.

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Updated: Apr. 12, 2021