As most teachers and teacher educators would concur, the journey of
becoming a teacher is not always smooth. Beginning teachers bring their
personal experiences and beliefs with them into teacher education
programs (Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004; Clandinin &
Connelly, 1996; He & Levin, 2008; Levin & He, 2008; Lortie,
1975; Richardson, 2003). Consequently, their beliefs and prior
experiences filter what they encounter in the teacher education program,
which impacts the beliefs they develop that guide their classroom
practice (Chant, 2001; Chant, Hefner, & Bennett, 2004). With shifts
and changes in the social and professional context of 21st century
education (Clandinin, Downey, & Huber, 2009), however, beginning
teachers are especially challenged by conflicts between their personal
beliefs and the reality of teaching, in addition to the struggles
first-year teachers often encounter (Brown, 2006; Day, 1999; Veenman,
1984; Vonk, 1993).
While there is an established body of literature in teacher
education that examines teachers' concerns (Adams, 1982; Boccia,
1989; Conway & Clark, 2003; Fuller, 1969; Marso & Pigge, 1989,
1995; Pigge & Marso, 1987; Watske, 2007), studies exploring the
emergence of such concerns and beginning teachers' strategies to
survive during their first year of teaching is limited. Specifically,
more studies that focus on the professional development of secondary
teachers are needed.
In this study, we followed five secondary preservice teachers for
two years during their teacher education program and their first year of
teaching. Using interviews and their written narratives, we described:
(1) major concerns of our preservice teachers; and (2) strategies they
used to help them face their concerns. Identification of their concerns
and especially the strategies they used as they better understood their
students and their students' families and became more aware of
their identities as teachers also shed light on reforms in current
teacher education efforts.
In 1969, Frances Fuller identified a stage-related and
concerns-based model of teacher development. In this model, she
sequenced concerns of beginning teachers as related to themselves, their
tasks, and the impact they were having on their students. While
Fuller's model has been critiqued over the years, Conway and Clark
(2003) suggested that within teacher development, teachers not only
experience a "journey outward" as determined by Fuller, but
they also have a "journey inward" when considering the self
during the period of student teaching.
There are various theories and models of teacher development that
have emerged since Fuller's model (Berliner, 1988; Bullough &
Knowles, 1991; Hollingsworth, 1989; Huberman, 1989; Kagan 1992; Nias,
1989; Ryan 1992; Sprinthall & Thies-Sprinthall, 1980). However,
Grossman (1992) examined and acknowledged that some learning-to-teach
research models on teacher education are viewed through the context of
subject matter content instruction and others are explored from a moral
and ethical stance. As an alternate view on professional growth in
teaching, she recommended that we as teacher educators not immediately
accept prevailing practices and developmental models but "challenge
the lessons learned during prospective teachers' apprenticeships of
observation" (p. 176). Moreover, we should encourage our teacher
candidates "to ask worthwhile questions of their teaching, to
continue to learn from their practice, to adopt innovative models of
their teaching, and to face the ethical dimensions of classroom
teaching" (p. 176). By providing strategies for thinking about
teaching experiences beyond subject matter content and ethical and moral
issues, teacher educators offer additional, more meaningful, and lasting
preparation for professional life beyond the security of teacher
Furthermore, while many studies confirmed or built upon the
stage-based theories regarding teacher development, recent research has
also indicated that teacher professional identity development is more
complex and context-based than previously thought (Beijaard, Meijer,
& Verloop, 2004). Thus, in addition to large-scale survey studies on
teacher growth (Melnick & Meister, 2008; Watzke, 2007), case studies
are also a commonly used method in the examination of teacher
development (Levin, 2003).
Recognizing that teachers are not often followed longitudinally
over long periods of time but should be (Sleeter, 2004), Robert Bullough
and his colleagues (i.e., Bullough, 1989; Bullough & Baughman, 1997;
Bullough, Knowles, & Crow, 1991) authored several case studies
related to first year teachers' professional growth. In their
attempt to explain factors that influenced beginning teachers'
growth, Bullough, Knowles, and Crow (1991) determined that metaphors
helped to predict the success or difficulty of beginning teachers'
adjustment to teaching. In essence, the more positive the teachers'
metaphors, the greater the likelihood of a good adjustment to teaching
would be. On the other hand, the more negative the metaphors, the more
likely beginning teachers would have difficulty unless they changed
their points of view.
Earlier, Bullough (1989) conducted a longitudinal case study of one
teacher, Kerrie, and described her development during her first year of
teaching. In this study, teaching context was one factor that was
highlighted. Additionally, Bullough and Baughman (1997) chronicled the
professional development of the aforementioned teacher across eight
years. The study was important in that the authors shared not only
changes in Kerrie's life, but also changes in her professional
practice, her pedagogical thinking, and her teaching context, as well as
her participation in a longitudinal study.
More recently, Levin (2003) chronicled the results of a 15-year
study of how the pedagogical thinking of four elementary school teachers
developed over time. Her teacher participants provided an in-depth
understanding of how they think about their students' behaviors,
development, and learning as well as their own learning and teaching as
they intersect their personal and professional lives. Levin found these
factors started out being very global but gradually became more
sophisticated; also, "their thinking and actions become more
congruent" (p. 283) over time. In addition, their personal and
professional contexts continuously influenced the development of the
professional self. These teachers constantly sought to express a
"deep understanding of children's development" (p. 283),
and they requested assistance from other professionals as they
continually reflected on both their joys and difficulties in teaching.
Similar to the effort to depict the journey of elementary school
teacher development (Levin, 2003), in this study we explored the journey
of five secondary teachers for two years through their teacher education
program and their first year of teaching. In addition to examining
participants' developmental change in their concerns, we also
uncovered the strategies they used to face those challenges.
Two major research questions guided the data collection and
analysis in this study: (1) What, if any, are participants'
concerns and struggles as they develop from student teachers to
first-year teachers? and (2) What strategies did participants utilize to
face their concerns or struggles and sustain their passion for teaching?
Qualitative data were collected from five participants over the
course of two years during their field experiences in a secondary
teacher education program and their first year of teaching. The
participants in this study included two males and three females. All of
the participants were White; however, two of them proudly recognized
their Italian heritage in their autobiographies. The pedagogical content
subject areas included English, social studies, and history (see Table
1). At the time of the study, four of the five participants were 22-23
years of age; the fifth participant, age 28, had been a non-traditional
student during his preservice teacher years. Only one of the
participants was married.
As in many other teacher education programs, participants took
general education college courses during their first and second year and
started taking teacher education courses during their third year. In
addition to the teacher education courses, participants also
participated in two one-semester internships in 2006 (at least 80 hours)
and one-semester of full-time student teaching in spring 2007 (450 to
500 hours) before they graduated from the program. In other words, they
experienced three sequential semesters of student interaction through
internships and student teaching. Table 1 provides a general description
of participants' field experience settings and their final job
choice for their first-year teaching from fall 2007 to spring 2008.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data were collected through participants' autobiographies,
interviews, and focus group discussions. In spring 2006, participants
entered the School of Education and completed an autobiography project
in one of the required education courses, where they wrote about their
family backgrounds, learning experiences, and their visions for
teaching. During fall 2006, all participants had internships,
coordinated in conjunction with another required education course, in
high school classrooms. During their internships, participants were
required to conduct a biography project with one of their students whose
cultural background was different from their own. This assignment
required that they consult with the parents or other family members to
get biographical information about the student they worked with and
compare the student biography to their autobiography for similarities
and differences. This ABCs project (Autobiography, Biography, and
Cross-cultural Comparison) (Schmidt, 1999) provided participants with
opportunities to interact with diverse student populations and their
families beyond classroom settings. Participants' autobiographies,
their students' biographies, and participants' cross cultural
comparison assignments were used as data for this study. Interviews with
individual participants were then conducted at the end of the semester.
Participants were student teachers during the following spring 2007
semester, at the end of which a focus group discussion was convened to
discuss their needs and concerns. During their first year of teaching,
participants wrote about their beliefs about teaching in the format of
autobiography (fall 2007); and interviews were conducted with
participants, inviting them to share their experiences as first-year
teachers (spring 2008). Finally, a focus group was conducted with
participants, enabling them to reflect on their first-year teaching
experiences. Member checking was conducted by sending interview and
focus group transcripts back to each participant for their individual
feedback. All the qualitative data, including participants'
autobiographies, field experience reflections, individual interviews,
and focus group discussions were analyzed in this study.
Data were analyzed in both a vertical and a horizontal manner
(Miles & Huberman, 1994). First, each participant's
autobiography, interview, and focus group responses were analyzed
separately as five different cases. During the second phase of analyses,
constant comparative analysis was conducted to seek patterns and themes
across the five cases (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Two researchers
analyzed and coded the data independently, and memos were kept to track
emerged themes and patterns. Discrepancies in coding and analysis memos
were resolved through discussions between the researchers.
In this section, we describe participants' reported concerns
and challenges in a chronological order, first as student teachers and
then as first-year teachers. Then, a comparison is conducted to
synthesize participants' concerns. The strategies they used to face
the challenges are then summarized.
Student Teachers' Concerns and Challenges
During their internships and student teaching, all five
participants had the opportunity to interact with diverse student
populations in high school settings and to teach lessons to students at
different grade levels. Based on their autobiographies, individual
interviews, and a focus group discussion after their student teaching,
three major themes of concerns merged: (1) classroom management, (2)
student motivation, and (3) parent involvement.
While all five participants commented on their concerns related to
classroom management, there was a difference in the degree to which they
viewed it as a challenge. Ellen, for example, in her interview before
she student taught, stated explicitly that classroom management was one
of her major challenges. She commented: "Classroom management is an
area that I felt especially weak in, regardless of the training I had
received. This is where most of my struggles lie and the main source of
frustration" (Interview, fall 2006).
Mary, Karen, and Charles commented on their concerns with classroom
management in terms of establishing themselves as teachers that
"the students could respect and expect respect from" (Mary,
Autobiography, spring 2006). Reflecting on his role as an intern in the
classroom and comparing himself to other teachers, Charles, for example,
commented that he was not "a big strict disciplinarian"
(Interview, fall 2006). Instead, he wanted to "be somebody they
[students] can trust and come to and that ... they [students] will be
able to respect that" (Interview, fall 2006) . He did believe that
as he became the teacher in the classroom, rather than an intern or
student teacher, he would have the respect from his students:
"Although I know that I'm just the intern ... I think once I
start teaching then it [student respect] will be there anyway"
(Interview, fall 2006).
Bill also commented that he "may not be terribly well-prepared
when it comes to classroom management (none of us really are until we
actually get into the classroom)" (Autobiography, spring 2006).
However, he added that he had "a great deal of leadership
experiences" and that experience made him feel "comfortable
and confident when placed in front of a group of people"
(Autobiography, spring 2006).
In addition to classroom management, motivating students in content
areas they taught was another challenge that student teachers reported.
In their individual interviews and focus group discussions, all
participants emphasized that it was important for them to "make the
class interesting and engaging" (Bill, Interview, fall 2006), and
"make the classroom student-centered to make the students
responsible for their learning" (Karen, Focus Group, spring 2007).
Recognizing that students might not see the content relevant, Mary,
Karen, and Charles considered it teachers' responsibility to make
the real-life connections for their students and "for them
[students] to understand what happened in the past and be able to apply
that information to their current lives" (Karen, Interview, fall
2006), in order to "get them [students] ready for the real
world" (Charles, Focus Group, spring 2007) . Describing her
experience motivating her students and making her lessons more relevant,
Mary gave an example of teaching her third block U.S. history class
during student teaching:
I just kind of switched gears halfway through and had a little
conference with them and said: "Look, we've got to find
something that's going to work a lot better; and you tell me what
[you] want to do this semester, and I'll incorporate a lot of that
into my lessons." So we had a little sit-down talk for like fifteen
minutes and they told me exactly what they wanted. So each day I tried
to put something in there. (Focus Group, spring 2007)
To make their lessons more interesting to their students, all
participants recognized the importance of making connections with
students and respecting students' input and opinions.
While all participants reported having opportunities to work with
students in both small group and one-on-one settings to get to know them
through projects during the teacher education program (such as the ABCs
project), they recalled that they rarely had the opportunity to interact
directly with parents. Ellen, Karen and Bill all reported that they had
not personally interacted with parents. Their only interactions with
parents were through emails or letters. Based on the limited
interactions, Karen was concerned that "some of the parents just
don't have a general sense of what's going on in the
classroom" (Interview, fall 2006). Mary further commented on the
difficulty of getting in touch with the families, and said one of the
things she has learned is "they [school administrators] tell you,
you know, you need to call home and talk to parents and a lot of times
you can't. A lot of times you're just going to have to get in
your car and go" (Interview, fall 2006). Although all participants
were required to conduct community-based service-learning projects
during their teacher education curriculum and several of them even
conducted home visits, participants still considered it a challenge to
contact and involve parents in schools.
Though all participants successfully completed their internship and
student teaching requirements despite their common concerns and
struggles, they also stated their individual concerns for their
first-year of teaching. Charles and Mary both mentioned that they would
like to be more confident in front of their students. Being from another
state, Charles reported he felt he needed to be more familiar with the
curriculum. Mary, on the other hand, wanted to enhance her confidence in
dealing with the "hurtful things students would sometimes say"
(Autobiography, spring 2006). Ellen and Karen commented on their
struggles between their ideal goals for teaching and the reality of
teaching. Both of them admitted that they chose to be teachers because
they "want to change the world" (Ellen, Focus Group, spring
2007), or viewed themselves as "a person of influence" (Karen,
Focus Group, spring 2007).
However, in reality, Karen recognized that "it's okay to
mess up." As she commented:
You're going to mess up a lot. And you have to take it, roll
with the punches, and I would hope that I'm getting better at that.
We have a long way to go and we're going to have ups and downs.
Things are going to go well and things are going to go badly, but you
have to see yourself as somebody that's going to influence these
kids no matter what you do. (Focus Group, spring 2007)
Recognizing the gap between her ideal and the reality of teaching,
Ellen also reported that she was not happy with who she was as a teacher
and even questioned herself as to whether she really wanted to become a
teacher. Like Karen, Ellen also commented that "teachers can only
bring so much idealism inside the door with them" (Autobiography,
spring 2006). Different from other participants, Bill viewed teaching as
"about which act you should run on a particular day" and
"the person you are in the classroom isn't necessarily the
person you are outside of the classroom" (Focus Group, spring
2007). He reported that he was finally "happier at the end of the
day as I haven't been putting on as much of an act to hold them
[students]" (Focus Group, spring 2007). After student teaching, he
stated that he had not decided exactly what he wanted to do and just
felt like he put on different masks in front of different groups of
First-Year Teachers' Joys and Challenges
All participants successfully finished their first-year teaching in
spring 2008, with four of them being selected as Rookie Teacher of the
Year in their schools, and one emerging as Rookie Teacher of the Year
for the school district. After their first-year of teaching, all
participants reported they were more confident as teachers and
"much more comfortable in front of a classroom full of
students" (Charles, Focus Group, spring 2008). Compared to their
concerns during the teacher education program, classroom management
became less of a concern for our participants; but all participants
continued to strive to make the content relevant for their students in
an effort to enhance student motivation.
While all participants had positive impacts on their students in
terms of test scores, participants unanimously commented on the
restrictions that standardized testing places on teaching--restrictions
that prevent teachers from offering "things that they [students]
really get into and look into real-world applications and issues"
(Ellen, interview, spring 2008) and that allow students to "have
some say in their own education and actually become engaged in works
that they want to read" (Karen, Interview, spring 2008). Among the
five participants, Bill is the only one who taught a
communication-skills class, one that did not require a state-mandated
assessment. He really enjoyed it and commented that without the testing
pressure, he realized "how much I [he] could go outside the
box" (Focus Group, spring 2008). Even though he did not face
testing pressure as much as the other participants, he still commented:
"If there was one thing I could change it would be to focus on a
more realistic and a real-world approach to education instead of
focusing on padding numbers for somebody in an office somewhere"
(Focus Group, spring, 2008).
Since they were teaching at very different school settings, our
participants also faced unique challenges due to contextual factors.
Located at schools with high ethnic minority populations that were cited
in the media as having student behavioral problems, Karen and Charles
mentioned the desire for consistency of administrative support where
disciplinary issues were concerned. Charles reiterated:
There would be times that I would write up kids for cursing or
cutting [skipping class] or [what] they're not supposed to be
doing, and first--the write up that I would give sometimes, it would
take a week, two weeks, for it even to get read. And then, punishment
that they would be given would be little to nothing at all. So, I get to
the point where I'm just like, "OK, why do I even
bother...." I just wish that the administration would put their
money where their mouth is sometimes and actually follow through on
things that they say they're going to and not just expect us to
follow through on things and then do nothing. (Focus Group, spring 2008)
Contrasting her situation with that of her students, Karen was
especially frustrated when students are not held accountable for their
behavior in school as teachers typically are. She was concerned that
what happens to students in school can have consequences later in their
lives. She said:
If I'm not signed in by 8:15 am, you [administration] put a
note in my file. I am held accountable. But when a student is
consistently late or when they are walking right in front of you smoking
on campus, when all public schools are 'Tobacco-Free,' and
nothing gets done about it, it's kind of like, "How can you
hold me accountable when you're not holding students
accountable?" How many chances are you going to give a student when
the lesson should be that there are consequences for their actions? When
they go out into the real world and they have a job where they are
consistently late, they are going to be fired. And then they will look
at their employer and say, "Where's my second chance?"
They're not going to get one. By not holding them accountable,
we're not helping prepare a lot of these students for what really
happens in the real world. (Focus Group, spring 2008)
Mary agreed with Charles and Karen about feeling unsupported when
she admitted that the assistant principal assigned to her grade level
was "very unsupportive." She explained that "there would
be extreme situations in a classroom, and we would never see paperwork
about it. And that's the big thing that bothered me about my first
year-[it] is that I almost felt like we were kind of unsupported"
(Focus Group, spring 2008). She confessed, though, that her classroom
management initially suffered but went on to admit that "I'm
getting better at it" (Interview, spring 2008).
Related to school context, having more resources was cited by Bill.
He wanted his students to be more in tune with 21st century technology
that was located at the school. He wanted to integrate more technology
in his teaching. He would love to have a Smart Board, a projector, a
document camera, and a laptop lab "where they had computers
connected to the Internet. The kind of lessons I could design with a
technology focus could be really a lot of fun" (Interview, spring
Four of the five participants hoped for more parent involvement
where their child's academic success and behavior management were
concerned, especially with parents of students who were on the
borderline of not passing their courses or students who were having
behavioral difficulties that impeded their academic progress. Ellen
commented, "The parents whose children really don't need
intervention, you see them more so than you see the parents whose
children do need it. I never get in touch with the parents I need to
talk to" (Focus Group, spring 2008). In fact, all of the
participants wanted to get to know the students and their parents
better, even though they realized that "parents can be your
greatest ally or your biggest enemy" (Ellen, Interview, spring
2008). Furthermore, all of the participants wanted to gain better
control over the balance of their professional and personal lives. The
first year of teaching was "exhausting and yet kind of fun at the
same time" (Bill, Interview, spring 2008).
While they enjoyed their first-year of teaching, four of the
participants explicitly commented that it was "exhausting"
(Bill, Interview, spring 2008). Participants commented on how they
typically stayed late at school and still brought work, such as grading
and planning, to finish at home, which sometimes made them resent going
back to work some mornings (Charles, Focus Group, spring 2008). As Karen
put it: "You leave school late, and then you take stuff home, and
then you sit there and just resent the fact that you have to do it ... I
think that makes the whole thing [teaching] unenjoyable" (Focus
Group, spring 2008).
Reflecting on their first-year of teaching, while proud of what
they had accomplished, our participants did report new challenges,
including testing pressures, lack of administrative support, lack of
up-to-date resources, lack of parent involvement, and the difficulty of
balancing their teaching responsibilities and their personal lives. In
addition to discussing the challenges, we uncovered some of the
strategies our participants used to face challenges in their first-year
Strategies Used to Face Challenges
Following our participants from their teacher education program
through their first-year of teaching, we noted that when facing
challenges in their teaching, our participants developed various
strategies including: (1) learning from their students in order to
better motivate them in content area learning; (2) using assignments,
observations, and class discussions to better get to know students and
their families; (3) sustaining their passion for teaching through
focusing on positive experiences such as student accomplishments and
statements of appreciation from parents; and (4) adopting individual
ways to manage stress and frustration.
At the end of their first-year of teaching, participants reported
on the connections they saw between their students and themselves and
the efforts they made to create those connections. Charles, Bill, and
Karen commented on how they were able to relate to their students
because they are close in age and they "listen to the same music
and watch the same movies ... and in a sense identify with the things
they like to do" (Karen, Interview, spring 2008). Bill recognized
that as a teacher, he could relate to students at a "social
level" and that one way he earned respect from his students was
"by knowing and understanding--knowing and understanding what
Facebook and My Space are, for example" (Interview, spring 2008).
Charles admitted that sometimes his students were not familiar with
the movies and TV shows he wanted to use as examples. For instance, when
using Indiana Jones to explain "Epicurus," his students
"did not have a clue who that is." He started to ask his
students for examples and said that he was going to "listen to a
little bit of their music, their movies and . try to get into their
minds a little bit more so that I can connect to them a little bit
more" (Focus Group, spring 2008). Mary and Ellen mentioned their
personal relationships with students especially because they found many
students were "very much like" them (Mary, Interview, spring
2008) and "struggle with the same exact things" they had
experienced (Ellen, Interview, spring 2008). Interestingly, all five
participants also reported student motivation in content area learning
as the most exciting aspect during their first-year of teaching.
Ellen, for example, cited her students' growing interest in
grammar as the most exciting thing for her:
When the kids beg me to have more grammar on Friday [weekly grammar
exercises that precede daily instruction], because they know Grammar
Fridays. That was exciting. And we had a Grammar Olympics..
..they're going to write their research papers, and they don't
have atrocious grammar. That was incredibly exciting for me, because it
actually made me feel like I had accomplished something with those silly
games that people would make fun of me for. So, that was pretty exciting
for me. (Focus Group, spring 2008)
To better connect with their students' backgrounds and
understand students' families, all five participants in our study
tried to use different strategies in addition to talking with students
and/or other teachers, and having teacher-parent conferences. Bill,
Charles, and Karen used writing projects, such as introduction letters,
information sheets, and personal narratives, to encourage students to
share personal information with them. At the same time, they also shared
their own stories with their students through demonstration/modeling or
through feedback to students' writing. Ellen, Mary, and Bill also
stated that they learned about their students and their families through
observation of "how they acted in class and their interactions with
others in and out of the classroom" (Ellen, Interview, spring
2008), and through classroom discussions. As Bill mentioned, "You
really get to know a lot about these kids when you get them to talk
about a subject they feel passionate about" (Interview, spring,
2008). Through using different ways of communication, all participants
reported learning more about their students and their families.
Discussing his perspective on different degrees of parental
involvement, Charles commented:
Getting to know all the students, and getting to know all their
situations, you learn that, yes, there is a reason for a lot of it. ...
most of them do care. It's just they have other circumstances that
they have to deal with. So, it's not just our job, again, to teach
them. (Focus Group, spring 2008)
Facing various challenges in their first-year teaching, all
participants reported receiving recognition and support from their
students and parents with whom they worked. In addition to most of them
being selected as Rookie Teachers of the Year in their individual
schools, all participants reported they regained their energy from their
students even when they had "bad days." Ellen, for example, a
Rookie Teacher of the Year for her school district, described how her
students made her feel needed:
... to like walk in late or to walk in right before the bell rings,
and my period [students in that period] go, "Oh, God, you're
here. Thank God. We thought we had a sub." And, then, to look at
them and go, "You would have been so happy?" "No, we
really wouldn't have." That lets me know that I'm doing
something right--that I do need to come here. (Focus Group, spring 2008)
Although all participants commented that they wanted to get to know
parents better and establish relationships with more parents, they did
recognize that their established relationships with parents were
reassuring. Charles commented that one of the parents, who was also a
teacher herself, would thank him for what he did for the students and
told him how she knew "what it is like to be a first-year
teacher." "Her simple thank you helped at least to validate
what I was doing and kept me sane during the rough patches throughout
the year" (Interview, spring 2008). Similarly, Karen reported
getting thank you emails from parents and felt being appreciated:
"If you try hard enough, I think they recognize that. And they
would appreciate it even if you weren't in the end successful"
(Interview, spring 2008).
Ellen also commented on her relationships with some students'
families and how such relationships helped her working with students in
I struggled with Brandon [the student] at first; nothing was hard
for him. I became very close to his mother, who helped me find things
for him to do. By the end of the first semester, I was able to scaffold
for him and, in the process, built a great relationship with him.
(Interview, spring 2008)
Individually, they also developed different coping strategies to
unwind after having "a stressful day." Both Ellen and Karen
found sharing with other people was a way to cope with difficult
situations. Karen said she shared her frustration with "a small
group in my department," while Ellen "called on a few friends
of mine from college who are not teachers" (Focus Group, spring
2008). Bill, on the other hand, said going home and playing videogames
was his "system of unwinding" (Focus Group, spring 2008).
Discussion and Implications
During their student teaching experiences, participants were
concerned about classroom management, keeping students motivated in
learning the content, and parent involvement through knowledge of their
children's academic progress or nonprogress as well as of their
behavioral issues. After the first year of teaching, classroom
management became manageable, albeit, three of five of them would have
liked more administrative support in their decision making where
disciplinary procedures were concerned. Parent involvement remained as
one of the major challenges during first-year teaching, and new
challenges, including testing pressures, lack of administrative support,
lack of resources, and keeping the balance between teaching and their
personal lives, were emerged.
Given these findings, we observed that the teachers' shifting
concerns were not restricted to the traditionally defined domains such
as self, task, and students. Although our findings also indicated that
classroom discipline and student motivation were two major concerns of
our student teachers, which are consistent with Veenman's (1984)
findings, we also noted that instead of focusing on organization of
class work and daily routines, our participants expressed concern for
making connections with diverse student populations. In addition, after
their first year of teaching, they used various strategies to motivate
students in content areas, and viewed building relationships with
students and making content relevant for their students to be their
Through internships, student teaching, and required assignments
such as the ABC's project, participants had the opportunity to
interact with culturally and ethnically diverse student populations
during the teacher education program. It appeared that they developed an
open and welcoming attitude toward diversity of all kinds, not just
ethnic diversity (He & Cooper, 2009). As first-year teachers, they
fully understood their multiple roles as teachers and perceived teaching
as more than content delivery. While there is increasing focus on
content and content pedagogy courses in secondary teacher education
programs, it remains critical that teacher candidates are provided with
opportunities to interact with diverse student populations,
students' parents, and members of the community to better
understand their responsibilities beyond academic content instruction.
In building relationships with their students and learning from
their students, our participants also used positive connections they
could make given the proximity of their ages and their students'.
Bill, for example, related current music to his teaching of composition.
Such connections sometimes also transcended differences in cultural
preferences and made more visible the links between the cultural
identities of both students and teachers. Through these connections,
common ground was discovered, cultivated, and used as strategies to
engage students in learning content and relating it to their current
lives. These types of strategies, including ways to explore the
teachers' own backgrounds and assets through guided reflection or
assignments such as the ABC's project, taught them to make
connections with students and enhanced the teachers' awareness of
their own assumptions and preferences. Therefore, we believe such
strategies need to be highlighted through courses and field experiences
in the teacher education program. In other words, as teacher educators,
we need to move beyond the discussion of what constitutes student
diversity to explore the how and why in our teacher education programs
(Nieto, 2003). Teacher candidates need to be equipped with ways to
better understand others and to become more aware of their own
identities in an effort to better serve the needs of all students in
Based on our findings from listening to our participants across two
years, we also recognized the impact of the school context and
questioned how we could effectively prepare our teacher candidates for
different teaching contexts (Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004;
Bullough, 1989; Bullough & Knowles, 1991; Grossman, 1992). We
believe that the first step is for us, as teacher educators, to
experience diverse school settings ourselves and face some of the
challenges mentioned by our teachers. Perhaps teacher educators should
spend more prolonged time in school and community settings, especially
in urban settings in which poverty has a severe impact on students'
We also need to not only learn to empathize with some of our
teacher candidates' fear of diversity but also to explore with them
strategies they could use to respond to it. Further, we need to more
fully understand their fears of standardized testing as a chief
mechanism for system-wide, state, and national accountability, and
develop with them strategies to sustain their passion for teaching even
while facing assessment pressures. In other words, teacher educators
should observe and work, in some cases, in the same schools as do their
teacher candidates to experience diverse teaching contexts for the
purpose of better facilitating teachers' development in facing
challenges and concerns in those specific contexts (Darling-Hammond
& Snyder, 2000).
With all participants being successful in their first year
teaching, we also wondered if participation in the research itself
served as a venue for teachers to reflect on their practice and discuss
their concerns as first-year teachers. In their focus groups, they had
opportunities to learn from each other, and they found that they were
not alone in their journeys. The focus groups appeared to allow them to
create their own professional learning community, where they gained
strength and support from each other. Our teacher education programs
should encourage building of such communities among our graduates and
support such sharing and reflection in their first-year. This can be
done by following up our graduates for not only the purpose of program
effectiveness (Sleeter, 2004) but also to help form such professional
communities for our former teacher candidates. There are additional
potential benefits for following up with our graduates. By bringing our
graduates together, we can promote and support teacher retention and
also strengthen our own practice, for we can learn from former students,
our new colleagues. Maybe by turning the tables in education, our
graduates can teach us how to respond to future teacher candidates
better and respond to their needs in ways never done before.
Therefore, in order to better prepare secondary teachers, we
believe that as teacher educators we need to:
1. Continue engaging teacher candidates in the exploration of and
reflection on their own identities--both the personal self and the
professional self as related to diversity--through intentional, cohesive
assignments in teacher education programs;
2. Provide teacher candidates various opportunities in teacher
education programs to interact with and learn from diverse K-12 students
and their families, and encourage them to develop various strategies to
build relationships with the 21st-century students they teach and with
3. Provide teacher candidates with structured opportunities to
reflect upon the realities of today's college and university
students as these realities relate to the preparation of effective
teachers and transition to professional roles and responsibilities;
4. Be more involved in diverse school settings ourselves so that we
could be better aware of and more responsive to teacher candidates'
changing concerns and struggles as they work with the increasingly
diverse student population in the 21st century;
5. Engage teacher candidates in professional learning communities
where they can learn from and provide support for each other, not only
for the purpose of teacher retention but also to give our new colleagues
tools to create their own such communities after they leave our
6. Continue our efforts to conduct multi-year longitudinal studies
and purposefully collect program evaluation data through course
assignments, follow-up interviews, and focus group discussions with our
graduates, so that we could gain insights from our teacher candidates to
improve and refine our teacher education programs.
The findings of this study revealed the development of five
secondary preservice teachers over the course of two years, during their
teacher education program and their first year of teaching. Their
concerns at different points of their teacher education program and the
strategies they employed to face challenges are informative for teacher
educators. Additionally of significance, this study calls attention to
teacher educators' following their graduates into the classroom to
explore, document, and make public the explicit connection between what
is taught in teacher education programs and the reality of instructional
practice (Sleeter, 2004).While participants' expressed concerns
confirmed the value of field experiences and self-reflection in teacher
education programs, the case descriptions provided in this study also
focused our attention on specific areas for improvement in our own
pedagogy and teacher education programs.
However, to better prepare our teacher candidates for the reality
of today's classroom, as teacher educators, we need to familiarize
ourselves not only with the changing needs and characteristics of
today's college students, but also with the needs of the 21st
century K-12 students they will teach. Further, recognizing the new
reality of teaching, teacher education programs need to move beyond
introducing teacher candidates to diversity, accountability, and other
complex issues in schools, to more thorough discussions and analyses of
the realities of diversity as we, both teacher educators and teacher
candidates, experience it in particular school contexts.
Considering multicultural education, the central question is how do
we teach teacher candidates to be actively involved in shaping their
professional identities not only as experts in content knowledge, but
also as teachers who build relationships with their students and their
families for the purpose of enhancing student achievement and becoming
more culturally competent themselves. How do we engage them in ways of
teaching to the diverse needs of their students? Teachers tend to focus
their reflection on diversity in terms of how they could involve all
students in academic learning. However, little effort/reflection is
placed on the means and manner to educate for globalization and
utilizing diversity as an asset. Perhaps we as teacher educators should
educate ourselves and step out of our secure communities of practice to
explore the reality of teaching to globalization. If we do not, our
teacher candidates will not be the only ones left behind.
If we were to continue following up with our participants into
their second and third year of teaching, we would like to further
examine the impact of various contextual factors, such as urban versus
rural school settings, on our participants' professional
development as beginning teachers. Further, we are more curious to also
learn about strategies beginning teachers use to make sense of their
school context and community and how they integrate various resources to
become good teachers in their efforts to better serve the needs of the
diverse student population. Finally, we would like to collect additional
data from school administrators, parents, and K-12 students to obtain
their perspectives on the development of our teacher participants.
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Ye He and Jewell Cooper are professors in the Department of Teacher
Education and Higher Education of the School of Education at the
University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Description of Participants
Name Major Background
Bill English Growing up in a rural town
in the western region of his
state, Bill had a great high
school experience, which
is the main reason why he
decided to become an
English teacher. He is very
interested in Shakespeare and
wants his students to
"understand and appreciate
just how amazing William
(Autobiography, spring, 2006)
Ellen English Considered a "mountain girl,"
Ellen was eager to leave her
hometown to experience "city
life," though she desired to
return to the mountains to
instill a love of learning not
only English but also she
wanted students to be true to
Mary Social Mary grew up in the same city
Studies where she attended high school.
She is socio-politically engaged
and cared about what happened
to those less fortunate than she
is. (Interview, fall 2006).
Name Major Background
Karen History Growing up in the largest city
in the state, Karen is proud
of her Italian heritage and her
understandings of different
cultural groups. As a teacher,
she wants to "help students
realize the power of their
Charles English Born in the "Big Apple",
Charles enjoys working with
students from diverse
backgrounds and views his
responsibility to "get students
ready for dealing with different
people" (Interview, fall, 2006).
Name Internship- Internship/
Spring 2006 Student Teaching-
Bill Rural high school. Suburban school setting
Majority White with an ethnically diverse
population. population. School was
renown from football
Ellen Suburban high Suburban school setting
school. Ethnically with an ethnically diverse
diverse; however, population. School was
mostly White. renown for its football
Mary Urban high school. Ethnically diverse urban
Predominately setting. School was not
African American. well known for its
Name Internship- Internship/
Spring 2006 Student Teaching-
Karen Urban high school. Ethnically diverse urban
Predominately setting. Large
African American. international population.
Charles Rural high school. Ethnically diverse urban
Majority White high school. Title I status.
Bill Rural high school in the
mountains of the state.
Student population was
Large socioeconomic divide.
Ellen Rural high school in the
mountain region of the
state. Student population
was not very ethnically
Mary Ethnically diverse middle
school. Recent redistricting
caused the school to become
more culturally diverse
Karen Flagship high school
of the city. Redistricting
strengthened its ethnic
Charles Remained in the same
high school as he was
in for student teaching.