Towards a better understanding of psychological needs of student teachers during field experiences


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:5, 676-694

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper aims to add to the prevalently limited knowledge base about student teachers’ psychological needs in field experiences by presenting a theoretical framework, built on the central aspects of the theories of human motivation (Bess 1977; Deci and Ryan 2000; Maslow 1943) and incorporating psychological needs of both learner and teacher sides.
With a diary study, evidence is gathered and evaluated testing basic assumptions of the theoretical approach.

Research questions
In the present study the assumptions are tested that for student teachers in practical phases of teacher education there are four distinct need dimensions: Introduction, Relatedness, Self-affirmation, Self-actualisation. Each significantly related to certain indicators of success of practical learning.
For the purpose of gathering evidence regarding the hypothesised framework and based on the aforementioned findings, the following two explorative research questions are formulated:
(1) How does need fulfilment develop in the course of a field experience with regard to the four dimensions of the proposed framework?
(2) Does need fulfilment regarding the proposed framework relate to certain success indicators in practical learning?

Research method
To investigate the aforementioned research questions and to gain insights into the relevance and the fulfilment of the hypothesised needs, a diary study was carried out.
In total, 106 student teachers were surveyed in a longitudinal study measuring their need fulfilment at five intervals (days 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) in the course of a ten-day field experience.
A two-day interval was chosen to obtain sufficient information without burdening the participants with a daily request, which could have led to a lower quality of the collected data.
The study was conducted at the University of Erfurt, Germany.
Similar to most German universities and as regulated by federal law, Erfurt offers an academic pre-service teacher education programme under a consecutive bachelor’s–master’s degree system.
This study was conducted during an early, obligatory and self-organised internship in school, which was prepared and followed up through lectures and workshops at the university.
The major goals of this practical phase consist of an observation-based exploration of the central work tasks and the conditions of teachers, as well as an adoption of the perspective of in-service teachers.
Student teachers are required to write a ten-page closing report reflecting on their practical experiences.
This kind of orientational field experience is quite common in pre-service teacher education programmes throughout Germany.

In total, 106 student teachers participated in the study, reporting their data at all intervals.
The participants were at the end of the third or the fifth semester of their bachelor programme, leading to the Master of Education programme for primary education or secondary education at the University of Erfurt.
They visited different self-chosen schools all over the federal state of Thuringia for a two-week duration.

The participants were surveyed using a paper-and-pencil diary with concise instructions about when to record specific data.
The student teachers recorded their need fulfilment on four subscales, repeated at five intervals (at the start of days 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9).
They were then asked to complete an identical form at the end of the respective survey days.
The third section of the diary aimed at recording success indicators subsequent to the field experience.
Among them were the general indicators learner satisfaction and learning gain, as well as the specific indicators shift from student’s to teacher’s perspective and teacher self-efficacy.
The latter indicators were explicit goals of the investigated field experience.
Self-reports were collected during a follow-up workshop, which was held several days after the practical phase.
Additionally, the level of self-reflection was measured using the grades received by the student teachers in their closing report.
By the fourth week after the follow-up workshop, they had to submit a mandatory ten-page written report reflecting on practical experiences regarding their professional development.

Findings and discussion
To summarise, the presented findings support the proposed conceptualisation of needs.
The evidence confirms the structure of the theoretical conceptualisation, proving the four dimensions as distinct concepts.
The average need fulfilment amounts to high rates of the needs for introduction and relatedness and to medium rates of the needs for self-affirmation and self-actualisation.
This set of results demonstrates a more differentiated outcome than those provided by prior studies, which report overall moderate rates of fulfilment of basic needs (Evelein, Korthagen, and Brekelmans 2008; Korthagen and Evelein 2016).
Furthermore, the presented data support the assumption of the presence of lower-order and higher-order needs (Conley and Woosley 2000; Maslow 1943).
In tackling the two research questions, further supportive evidence is revealed.
A progressive development in need fulfilment is observed for all four dimensions (research question 1).
While average gains are visibly similar, starting points differ significantly.
As exemplified by further analysis, one reason for these differences involves the factors that vary more or less systematically among groups of pre-service teachers.
Several student teachers report a higher fulfilment of their need for introduction on day 1 because of their familiarity with their school prior to the investigated field experience.
They thus increase the average fulfilment rate systematically, which might result in differences among the four need concepts on day 1.
Generally, the average development paths appear plausible in the course of the investigated ten days.
This result is in contrast to prior findings (Evelein, Korthagen, and Brekelmans 2008) about a rather unsystematic variation in need fulfilment over time.
The presence of lower- and higher-order needs is further supported by the reported fulfilment gain rates.
The needs for introduction and relatedness show higher gain rates of fulfilment when compared with the needs for self-affirmation and self-actualisation.
However, gain rates do not seem so relevant for the success indicators in practical learning (research question 2).
Here, the overall need fulfilment more significantly relates to the following success indicators: learner satisfaction, learning gain, shift in perspective, teacher self-efficacy and self-reflection.
This finding highlights the importance of high fulfilment rates right from the start of the field experience.
Student teachers who start with low rates and advance to high gains in need fulfilment during their field experience appear to benefit only in terms of learner satisfaction.
This outcome seems plausible because higher satisfaction can be regarded as a result of the realised gains.
Notably, accumulated need fulfilment is positively related to the level of self-reflection exhibited by the student teachers in their written closing reports some weeks after the practical phase.
Therefore, the need-satisfied student teachers do not only report higher learning gains but also demonstrate higher achievements regarding the academic side of practical learning. These results considerably align with the findings of Poom-Valickis et al. (2017).
Altogether, the results support the presented theoretical framework.
It becomes clear that when focusing on basic and specific needs, the proposed concept might be superior in explanatory strength compared with the approaches that emphasise only the learner side of practical learning.
The results point to a more differentiated picture of need fulfilment and its development during the practical phases of teacher education.

Bess, J. L. 1977. “The Motivation to Teach.” The Journal of Higher Education 48 (3): 243–258.
Conley, S., and S. A. Woosley. 2000. “Teacher Role Stress, Higher Order Needs and Work Outcomes.” Journal of Educational Administration 38 (2): 179–201.
Deci, E. L., and R. M. Ryan. 2000. “The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behaviour.” Psychological Inquiry 11 (4): 227–268.
Evelein, F., F. Korthagen, and M. Brekelmans. 2008. “Fulfilment of the Basic Psychological Needs of Student Teachers during Their First Teaching Experiences.” Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (5): 1137–1148.
Korthagen, F. A. J., and F. G. Evelein. 2016. “Relations between Student Teachers’ Basic Needs Fulfillment and Their Teaching Behavior.” Teaching and Teacher Education 60: 234–244.
Maslow, A. 1943. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50 (4): 370–396.
Poom-Valickis, K., K. Rumma, D. Francesconi, and K. Joosu. 2017. “Relations between Student Teachers’ Basic Needs Fulfillment, Study Motivation, and Ability Beliefs.” Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Education and Educational Psychology, Portugal, October 11–14. 

Updated: May. 13, 2021