Relationships in early practicum experiences: positive and negative aspects and associations with practicum students’ characteristics and teaching efficacy


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 41:4, 338-358

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current study aims to explore practicum students’ perceptions of their relationship with their supervising teacher, as well as student-level sources of variation in the quality of these relationships to provide foundational information about these experiences which are integral to teacher preparation.
Given the nature of relationships, personal characteristics of practicum students (e.g., attachment, stress, and depression) may be associated with positive and negative aspects of relationships and were included in the current study.
How these relationship aspects are associated with practicum students’ reported teaching self-efficacy was also explored.
The following research questions are examined in the current study:
1) Are there positive and negative aspects of the practicum student-supervising teacher relationship, from the perspective of the student?
2) What practicum student personal characteristics (e.g., stress, depression, attachment) are associated with positive and negative aspects of the relationship? and
3) How do positive and negative aspects of relationships and social-emotional characteristics relate to practicum students’ sense of teaching self-efficacy?


Early childhood teacher preparation programs and practica
The current study includes 143 practicum students from three institutions of higher education.
Although not nationally representative, the programs included in this current study are indicative of the variation in early childhood teacher preparation programs in 4-year institutions of higher education.
The participating students are enrolled in a practicum course occurring one to three semesters prior to student teaching or graduation.

Data from undergraduate pre-service teachers from these three universities were combined into a single sample to provide information across the varied institutions of higher education.
Ninety-eight percent of the participants were classified as juniors or seniors at their institution.
The intent of the current study is to explore data across multiple varied institutions.

Practicum student – supervising teacher relationship - Participants completed a 13-item questionnaire regarding their relationship with their supervising teacher.

Practicum student – supervising teacher fit - The Fit Questionnaire (Van Schagen Johnson et al., 2017) is a seven-item questionnaire and indicates practicum students’ perceptions of how similar their values and practices were to their supervising teacher.

Attachment style - The Attachment Styles Questionnaire (Van Oudenhoven, Hofstra, & Bakker, 2003) was used to assess pre-service teachers’ general attachment style.

Depressive symptoms - Twelve items (Poulin, Hand, & Boudreau, 2005) from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) were used to assess practicum students’ current depressive symptoms.

Recent stress - Practicum students’ recent stress was assessed across three types of stressors: positive, environmental, and traumatic (Love et al., 2002; Mathematica, 1996).

Teaching self-efficacy - To assess teaching self-efficacy, the 24-item Ohio Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001) was adapted.

Procedures - All students enrolled in practicum courses completed questionnaires online via Qualtrics at the end of each semester as a part of course requirements.
Data included in the current study represents two academic semesters of data collection, spring and fall.

Results and discussion
The current study used an adapted measure of student-teacher relationships to assess the positive and negative aspects of the relationship between practicum students and supervising teachers.
Although students reported their relationships as generally positive, variation was detected in both positive and negative aspects of the relationship.
Fit was strongly correlated with negative and positive aspects of relationships, providing further insight into important components of relationships.
These reported relationships were associated with environmental stressors in students’ lives, but not with practicum student attachment or depressive symptoms.
Furthermore, practicum student teaching self-efficacy was associated with both positivity and negativity in reported relationships.
The findings from the current study show that although most practicum students report positive aspects of relationships, there are negative aspects including frustration in the relationship between practicum students and supervising teachers.
These findings are heartening given the time students spend with cooperating teachers and the role cooperating teachers play in the development of students and their teaching practices (Glenn, 2006; Leshem, 2012).
Furthermore, the construct of relationships and components of fit within the relationship are of note in the current findings.
Aspects considered under fit in the current study, such as similar goals and communication may be contributing to perceptions of relationships.
Understanding what is important to students and to supervising teachers in relationships may be important so that specific components of relationships can be addressed and explored as well as supported in preservice programs.
The absence of these components may contribute to negative perceptions of relationships.
Findings also suggest that a students’ emotional context might influence these relationships.
Of the three types of stressors that the authors examined, environmental stressors were the most robust predictor of relationship qualities.
That is, practicum students with more daily stressors reported less positivity and more negativity in their relationships with their supervising teacher.
The authors’ results indicate that increased everyday stressors may impede the positive relationships between practicum student and supervising teacher.
Therefore, facilitating practicum students’ development of capacity for stress management may be an important component in teacher preparation.
One possible strategy for helping practicum students cope is mindfulness training, which has been associated with teachers’ well-being as well as relationships with children in the classroom and overall classroom climate (Roeser et al., 2012).
Although adult attachment was not associated with the practicum student and supervising teacher relationships, the fearfulness in relationships aspect of adult attachment was associated with teaching self-efficacy. Practicum students who experienced relational fearfulness also perceived less teaching competence. Somewhat surprisingly, results in the current study indicate a positive relationship between teacher self-efficacy and both positive stress and environmental stress.
Replication with larger samples is needed to examine associations between levels and sources of experienced stress, and teachers’ evaluations of their ability to manage the challenges of teaching and of concurrent life experiences, as well as the effect of stress on relationships in the classroom.

Although this study has some limitations, it points to several practical implications for the field of early childhood teacher preparation.
First, assessing relationships between practicum students and supervising teachers provides information that could help in developing supports for students’ success.
Second, strategies for managing everyday stress may be important to include in teacher preparation programs as these stressors appear to be associated with positive and negative aspects of relationships.
Finally, a potential point of intervention for bolstering practicum students’ teaching self-efficacy includes supporting positive relationships between practicum students and supervising teachers in early practica, when practicum students’ confidence is building and being supported.
These insights may prove to enhance the students’ experience and development as a teacher, and their competency as new teachers entering the field.

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Van Schagen Johnson, A., La Paro, K., & Crosby, D. (2017). Early practicum experiences: Preservice early childhood students’ perceptions and sense of efficacy. Early Childhood Education Journal, 45(2), 229–236. 

Updated: May. 12, 2021


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