Pre-service teachers' reflections on teaching images in Saudi media

April, 2021

Source: Teacher Development, 25:2, 155-177

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to highlight Saudi pre-service teachers' (PSTs') reflections on self-selected media images about teaching and teachers perpetuated in Saudi media outlets and how these influence their professional identity and their perceptions of education.
This study was guided by one research question:
‘What is the nature and influence of Saudi female PSTs’ reflections on self-selected images of teachers and teaching found in Saudi Arabian media on their professional identity and perceptions of education?’


Participants and sample frame
Participants were enrolled in a postgraduate one-year program in a faculty of education in a public university in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
The teacher education program prepares people to teach in elementary and secondary schools.
Upon admission, students already have a bachelor’s degree in science (BSc) with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, biology, or nutrition.
The 30 (all female) participants for this qualitative study were selected using convenience sampling.
They were enrolled in a course taught by the author that focused on science teaching strategies and practices.

Data collection
Data were collected in 2017.
The author created a homework assignment that focused on how teachers and teaching are represented in Saudi media.
The PSTs were tasked with finding images that resonated with them, critically analyzing them, and handing in and sharing a two-page reflection.
Participants had two weeks to complete the graded assignment, collecting in total about 20 media images, most of which came from newspapers, but some were from Saudi cartoons, TV series, and short films and videos.
The mandatory assignment yielded 30 sets of reflections on self-selected, self-found images.
Eighteen (n = 18, 60%) PSTs responded to two emails to the entire class, one soliciting volunteers for a 45-minute semi-structured interview (n = 9) and another for an hour-long virtual focus group (n = 9).
The semi-structured interviews and focus group (conducted by the author) revolved around several issues including how media images are
(a) influencing perceptions of teachers and teaching;
(b) relevant to PSTs;
(c) shaping PSTs’ views on teaching and the profession; and (d) exaggerated compared to the PSTs’ sense of reality.

Data analysis
The author thematically analyzed the PSTs’ reflections (i.e., their papers submitted pursuant to the assignment) and the interview and focus group data.
Each assignment and transcript were repeatedly read to ensure that any identified themes were representative of the study participants’ comments.

Findings and discussion
The thematic analysis generated four themes:
(a) the negative stereotype;
(b) violence, often associated with male teachers and students;
(c) criticism of the Saudi education and administrative system; and
(d) loss of teachers’ authority.
Quotations from the participants’ written reflections and transcribed interviews and focus group were used to develop the themes (supported with select images), appreciating that there should be enough quotes to provide evidence that the claim of a theme is sound.
This inaugural study highlighted how images of teachers and education depicted in Saudi Arabian media influence female PSTs’ professional identity and their perceptions of education.
The sheer fact that study participants chose the images they did (i.e., negative, violent, deprecating, and irreverent) and commented on aligned issues in their reflections and during interviews speaks to how this exercise enabled them to articulate their professional identity.
They were able to poignantly express how these images influenced them and shape the way society considers the teaching profession.
These and similar images are at the center of Saudi social discourse of education and teaching.
Appreciating that satirical comments and cartoons are the norm in Saudi media outlets (Nazar 2019), negative, violent, deprecating, and irreverent popular culture cartoons about teaching and education must be challenged and replaced with more affirming images and messaging.
Findings reinforce the need to make PSTs vigilant about how the media’s portrayal of their profession informs their professional identity.
They need to acknowledge its influence, critically deal with it, and refuse to be intimidated by it.
They need to talk about it, especially during their formative years in teacher education programs.
PSTs cannot afford to be passive learners afraid or reluctant to express their reasoned opinions.
Their identity as professionals will be enriched with critical engagement with social media as it pertains to depictions of Saudi education.
Pre-service teachers are the future of Saudi education, meaning they must be socialized to their professional obligation to critically engage with this social discourse.
Their involvement will affect their own future as well as the entire KSA education system.
Findings further imply that the social discourse depicted in cartoons must be challenged by policy makers at the macro level and openly discussed in media itself, because not-so-innocent cartoons influence the way society perceives the education profession.
This negative discourse affects the Saudi economy as well, because it hinders attracting people to the education sector.
It will be unfortunate if the thematic perceptions discovered in this study remain part of the Saudi collective memory, because they will shape how people judge education and teachers, inform how closely they identify with teachers, and determine if they are inspired by the depicted role models (Schwartz 2014).
Saudi journalists must come to appreciate that mocking, ridiculing, and making fun of educators does a disservice to the nation.
More constructive discourse should be perpetuated.
Media campaigns could be developed that draw on studies like this one, focused on PSTs’ perceptions of Saudi media images of teachers and teaching.
In closing, people filter their exposure to popular culture artifacts (including cartoons) through interpretive frames (Goldstein 2011; Kirby 2015) that can be easily penetrated by savvy media cartoonists and agents.
Uncritical media consumers can readily be duped and influenced (Goldstein 2011; McGregor 2018), especially PSTs who are struggling with an evolving professional identity.
Findings corroborate Brownlee, Purdie, and Boulton-Lewis’s (2001) recommendation that teacher education programs must help Saudi PSTs reflect on their epistemological beliefs, with this study confirming the instructional effectiveness of critical analysis and reflection.
Findings further affirm the pedagogical imperative that Saudi teacher education programs sensitize PSTs to the benefits of critically deconstructing media images to stave off the chance of negative connotations of teachers so that teaching becomes part of the Saudi collective memory and future teachers’ professional identity.

Brownlee, J., N. Purdie, and G. Boulton-Lewis. 2001. “Changing Epistemological Beliefs in Pre-Service Teacher Education Students.” Teaching in Higher Education 6 (2): 247–268.
Goldstein, R. A. 2011. “Imaging the Frame: Media Representations of Teachers, Their Unions, NCLB, and Education Reform.” Educational Policy 25 (4): 543–576.
Nazar, S. 2019. “Media Scene in Saudi Arabia.” Media Studies Group Magazine, October 1.
Kirby, D. 2015. “The Influence of Teacher Media Images on Professional Teacher Identities.” PhD diss., University College London.
Schwartz, B. 2014. “American Journalism’s Conventions and Cultures, 1863–2013: Changing Representations of the Gettysburg Address.” In Journalism and Memory, edited by B. Zelizer and K. Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 211–226. Portsmouth, NH: Palgrave McMillan. 

Updated: Aug. 03, 2021