ERG SES E 06, International Contexts in Education
It is well established in the Western literature that the high attrition rate of new teachers often results from the difficult transition from being a student to being a teacher—commonly know as ‘praxis shock’(Kelchtermans & Ballet2002; Volkmann &Anderson, 1998). In response, many nations have placed greater emphasis on school-based contexts for learning to teach (European Commission, 2010; Hobson, Malderez ,& Tracey, 2009;. Some of the most enthusiastic proponents include ‘Teach for America’ in the U.S and ‘Teach First’ in the UK where virtually the whole program is school-based. Increasingly, however, researchers and practitioners point out that the high attrition rate of beginning teachers should not be framed solely as a contextual issue but also an identity issue (Burn, 2007; Hobson et al, 2009; McNally, Blake, Corbin, & Gray, 2008; Schaefer, 2013).
Currently, the literature on teacher identity implies that identity development in preservice teachers should not be taken for granted; on the contrary, it needs overt attention (Thomas &Beauchamp, 2007). Therefore in a climate where there is greater emphasis on a school-based learning to teach, a crucial question arises: Whether and how such experiences can contribute to the development of teachers’ professional identity? However, according to a recent review of the literature, it was still unclear how preservice teachers embark on building their professional identity and what and how school-based learning experiences contribute to that identity (Izadinia , 2013). Furthermore, most studies on preservice teacher identity originate in Western contexts (Izadinia, 2013, p.711). This exploratory study aims to contribute to the literature on this topic by examining preservice teachers’ identity construction within an Eastern school-based learning to teach context.
2. Theoretical Underpinnings
According to the socio-cultural theory, learning is not only a cognitive and social experience, but also an identity experience. Who we are, what we are able to do, and what we will be, are always challenged when we attend learning situations. In fact, identity is recognized as being closely dependent on the context and as the outcome of the learning process (Cole,1996; Rogoff, 1995; Wenger,1998).
Referring to the socio-cultural theory, the paper proposes that professional identity construction is a process of professional learning, which may occur during student teachers’ field practicum. Learning to participate in the social and cultural practices with regard to education is assumed to be crucial for (student) teachers to develop their professional identities. For this reason, school, as a community of practice, should play a role in shaping (student) teachers as participants who are able to (re)construct the meaning of “teacher as a role” and “self as a teacher” through reflection and social interaction. (Bullough, 1997; Kelchtermans, 1999).The role of school-based teacher education in the student teachers’ professional identity formation and the main influencing factors could be identified with the empirical evidence collected along their teaching practicum, which will offer the implication for understanding the process of pre-service teachers’ professional identity construction, and therefore how teacher educator can help with that.
By using this guiding theoretical framework, the paper proposes the following three main questions:
(1) How do Chinese student teachers initially perceive their identity as a teacher?
(2) How do Chinese student teachers’ perceive any changes in their identity over the course of a school-based learning to teach experience?
(3) What are the main factors influencing the development of and change in their professional identities?
4.1 Setting and participants The participants in this study, Amy, Ben, Cindy and David (all pseudonyms) were enrolled in the final year of their four-year Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) program at a provincial Normal University in southern China. The context was the eight-week practicum at the beginning of their final year. They were chosen from two placement schools in the same school district with consideration given to gender balance and subject taught. Amy and Ben were from School A, Cindy and David were from School B. Amy and Cindy specialized in Math and English, respectively, both of which are classified as examination subjects in Chinese secondary school curriculum; Ben and David majored in Music and General Technique, both of which are Classified as non-examination subjects. 4.2 Data collection and analysis To track participants’ identity development, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant over three phases of the practicum. During Phase I (week 1), participants were asked about their understandings of teaching and of the teacher’s role, their aspirations, and their expectations for teaching as a career. Their understandings are labeled as their “entry identity.” During phase II (weeks 4-5), participants were asked about their experiences during the practicum, for example, the highs and lows of their experiences, their reflections regarding their participation, the supports and hindrances encountered, etc. This phase provided insight into how and why their identity was evolving as teachers. For phase III (week 8), the focus of the interviews returned more directly to participants’ identities as teachers, which were labeled as “exit identity.” Analyses of the data were performed in a recursive, iterative manner. As interview transcripts were read and re-read, salient themes and tentative categories were constructed (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). To increase the reliability of the data analysis, the author and an independent researcher read through and coded the transcripts from one participant independently and identified the emergent themes related to the research questions. The two researchers then shared their interpretations. There was sufficient consistency between the researchers’ interpretations to ensure confidence in the subsequent analysis of the data by the researcher. For the purpose of the data analysis, each participant is referred as a single case. Other than the relationship constructed through this research itself, the researcher was total outsider to the B.Ed. program in question and had no relationship with participants or with the placement schools.
The data suggested that the school-based learning to teach had the potential in transforming pre-service teachers’ professional identities in terms of professional commitment and role perception, but may not lead to the desirable outcomes. Chinese pre-service teachers’ professional identities had an imbalanced orientation with a pedagogical focus but lacking an emphasis on subject matter expertise. Personal biographical factors like parental expectations and their own “apprentice of observation” (Lortie, 1975) played a major role in their professional identity formation, but guided reflection through mentoring support under a supportive and caring school environment was the trigger of the identity transformation. The findings highlight three general implications for teacher education in all jurisdictions. First, it is important to elicit and respond to preservice teachers’ entering identities as early as possible to maximize the contributions of the school-based experience. The findings demonstrate that entry identities shape preservice teachers’ awareness of some possibilities and limit their recognition of others. Therefore, identifying their entry identities early is important to address teacher’s role perception and commitment to teaching. Second, the differences among entry identities require both university and school-based supervisors to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” strategy and have implications for tailoring guidance and support to the unique and evolving identities of the preservice teachers. Third, it is important to strengthen partnerships between schools and initial teacher education providers to minimize the fragmentation between school-based and university-based learning to teach. Western research warns of the “washed out” effect that school-based learning to teach has on university attempts to develop critical and inquiring teachers (Zeichner &Tabachnik,1981). In large part, the effect is the result of the fragmentation between school and university learning to teach contexts. To this end, we need to strategically strengthen partnerships and a construct shared vision of the teaching and learning to teach (Alsup, 2006).
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