10 SES 09 F, Research on Teacher Induction and Early Career Teachers
Background / Study Objective / Research Question
The induction or initial year of practice, post-graduation, represents a challenging professional phase for beginning teachers. Equated to being ‘in the eye of the storm’ (Craig 2013), the challenges of transitioning from an initial teacher education programme to the actualities of classroom life can give rise, variously, to ‘reality shock’, ‘practice shock’, ‘praxis shock’, ‘transition shock’, ‘transfer shock’ or ‘cultural shock’ (e.g. Dicke 2015), resulting in worrying degrees of beginner attrition in particular national contexts (e.g. Lanas 2017). However, as ‘the coin has two sides’ (Ulvik et al. 2009, p.835), being a beginning teacher is not just about anxiety, stress and frustration. The induction year is also an important learning stage during which newly-graduated teachers expand their content-specific repertoire of teaching strategies, acquire important practical knowledge related to school norms and policies, mould their professional identities, furnish evidence of a developing micropolitical literacy, establish networks with fellow professionals (e.g. Fresko and Nasser-Abu Alhija 2015), even engage in forms of ‘principled resistance’ (Achinstein and Ogawa 2006). Perceived as constituting a transformative period, the induction or initial year of practice, post-graduation, is increasingly understood in terms of a developing capacity, on the parts of beginning teachers, to act in flexible, constructive and innovative ways, appropriate to the challenges of ever-changing circumstances.
Contrastingly, ‘reality shock’-type representations neutralise the agentive capabilities of beginning teachers by underestimating their capacity to act purposefully in professional work settings. In response, to help counterbalance the preponderant ‘problem-loaded’ view that beginning teachers are predominantly in survival mode, this study seeks the perceptions of nine beginning primary teachers in Ireland, in relation to their capabilities to act agentively throughout the course of their induction year, post-graduation. Therefore, the particularities of the induction phase in Ireland are singularly significant in this study.
Accordingly, the following overarching research question guides the present study:
Do beginning primary teachers perceive that they act agentively in professional work settings throughout the course of their induction year, post-graduation?
While a disproportionate focus on the ‘reality shock’-related nature of beginning practice results in the participative agency of beginners being underplayed, more recently, the agentive capabilities of beginning teachers have become an increasing focus of study e.g. Eteläpelto et al. 2015; Connolly et al. 2018. However, despite extensive interest in the topic, the concept of agency remains vague (Toom et al 2015, p.617). In the absence of any explicit definition of its core meaning, though multiple definitions abound (Hitlin and Elder 2007), in this study agency is understood as the capacity to initiate purposeful action (Eteläpelto et al. 2013).
Most theorists addressing the dynamics of agency and structure reasonably conclude that positing a strict dualism between agency and structure is erroneous (Hitlin and Elder 2007, p.172). Post-graduation, when individual beginning teachers join school communities their specificpreferences and predispositions do not disappear, although they may be moderated. Accordingly, agency is investigated in this study by analysing the kinds of agentive actions beginning teachers take within the contexts that mediate those actions. Such a perspective understands individuals as being embedded in and imbued by their sociocultural contexts; however, they are not perceived as passive carriers of their contextual conditions, but rather as capable of acting agentically, given the structural conditions encountered.
Thus, although the cultures of primary schooling in Ireland may be highly immersing and intensively defining, this study accentuates the participative agency of the nine beginning teacher research participants. Accordingly, the induction year is conceived of as a ‘space of authoring’ (Holland et al. 1998, p.169),wherein beginning teachers manifest a capacity for agentive adroitness.
Methodology Data Sources Employing a multiple-case study research design, the selection of research participants followed a replication, not a sampling logic (Yin 2009). When selecting nine participants from among a cohort of approximately thirty volunteers - six females and three males, ranging in age from 22 to 31 years - overriding considerations related to feasibility, manageability and the vagaries of the beginning teacher employment market. Data collection Undertaken within the ambit of the constructivist paradigm, a three-cycle, semi-structured, individual interview design facilitated continuing contact with each research participant throughout the induction year. While ensuring a certain structure to data collection, a semi-structured interview protocol allows the flexibility to adjust to the particularities and idiosyncrasies of individual respondents’ stories (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009). Anonymity arising from the use of pseudonyms means that no uniquely identifying information is attached to collected data. The iterative nature of the data collection process helped build trust in these assurances. Cognisance is taken of the methodological challenge represented by the actual difficulty of capturing the emergent phenomena that is agency. Utilising an individual interview design, we can, at best, access the beginning teacher as ‘person’ as they interpret their actions. However, we are unable to access the ‘self’, the core aspect of an individual, the wellspring of desires and intentions that is so often connected with notions of agency (Edwards 2015). A further methodological shortcoming relates to the distortion by social desirability, fuelled by impression management, characteristic of retrospective, recall-based self-reports such as individual interviews (Frenzel 2014). Data analysis While cognisant of the importance of the singularities of personal experience, and of the need to avoid the ‘fantasy of the average experience’ (Stronach 2010, p.197), nonetheless, tantamount to the analytic technique of ‘pattern-matching’ (Yin 2006, p.118), horizontal or cross-case analysis is used to identify common patterns and processes that recur across the nine cases. Operationally, a system based on the colour coding of interview transcripts was devised. Repeated readings of the data set progressively refined the data selection process. The iterative interview design meant that themes were repeating instead of extending at the conclusion of the study. In accounting for the representative nature of participants’ experiences, rather than numerically quantifying how many beginners shared particular issues highlighted, selected interview data are presented as representative of the experiences of a majority of participants. Data analysis was essentially a process of looking for relations in the data set.
Results / Outcomes To help offset an overrepresented conceptualisation of the induction phase as constituting a type of liminal vortex of affectively dominated, challenging events, which foreground the shortcomings of beginning teachers, this study presents evidence that attests to the agentive capabilities of beginning teachers. Firstly, even when it meant acknowledgement of their relative inexperience, beginners displayed considerable evidence of developing and, indeed, agentively practicing the micropolitical nous necessary to skilfully resolve issues in the workplace. Secondly, beginning teachers’ thinking and practice is understood to be more complicated than traditionally thought, with their modes of working becoming more varied and sophisticated over time. Throughout their beginning year, the participants in this study moved towards a position of increasing sophistication. In doing so, participants came to recognise teaching as a complex activity that, despite the challenges involved, they could practice skilfully. Implications Based on the view that it is better to build on what beginners do well rather than focus on their deficiencies, beginning teachers are not merely novices that have to uncritically adopt the norms, values and common practices of the school. Increasingly, beginners are also conceived of as capable of opening up possibilities for experienced teachers and schools to learn, for example, by asking critical questions or by introducing new pedagogical ideas and insights to the school. Quite how beginners’ agentive capabilities can be best addressed along the teacher education continuum is a focus of increasing attention. Issues examined include implications for the conceptualisation of mentoring, and the professional development of mentors, arising from the incorporation of agency work into mentoring practices. While “generational encounters” can have different effects, this relates specifically to the acknowledgement by mentors of beginners’ existing agentive capabilities, as a basis for their own developing expertise and as a resource to the school community.
References Achinstein, B. and Ogawa, R. (2006). (In) fidelity: What the resistance of new teachers reveals about professional principles and prescriptive educational policies. Harvard educational review, 76(1), 30-63. Connolly, M. et al. (2018). The accommodation of contested identities: The impact of participation in a practice-based masters programme on beginning teachers' professional identity and sense of agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 71, 241-250. Craig, C. J. (2013). Coming to know in the ‘eye of the storm’: A beginning teacher's introduction to different versions of teacher community. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29, 25-38. Dicke, T. et al. (2015). Reducing reality shock: The effects of classroom management skills training on beginning teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 48, 1-12. Edwards, A. (2015). Recognising and realising teachers’ professional agency. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 779-784. Eteläpelto, A. et al. (2013). What is agency? Conceptualizing professional agency at work. Educational Research Review, 10, 45-65. Eteläpelto, A. et al. (2015). How do novice teachers in Finland perceive their professional agency? Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 660-680. Frenzel, A. C. (2014) Teacher Emotions, In: Pekrun, R. and Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (Eds.), International handbook of emotions in education, London: Routledge, 494-519. Fresko, B. and Nasser-Abu Alhija, F. (2015). Induction seminars as professional learning communities for beginning teachers. Asia-Pacific journal of teacher education, 43(1), 36-48. Hitlin, S. and Elder Jr, G. H. (2007). Time, self, and the curiously abstract concept of agency. Sociological theory, 25(2), 170-191. Holland, D. et al. (1998), Identity and agency in cultural worlds, London: Harvard University Press. Kvale, S. and Brinkmann, S. (2009). Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing, 2nd ed., London: Sage. Lanas, M. (2017). Giving up the lottery ticket: Finnish beginning teacher turnover as a question of discursive boundaries. Teaching and Teacher Education, 68, 68-76. Stronach, I. (2010) The invention of teachers: How beginning teachers learn. In: McNally, J. and Blake, A. (Eds.) Improving Learning in a Professional Context - A research perspective on the new teacher in school, London: Routledge, 196-216. Toom, A. et al. (2015). Teachers’ professional agency in contradictory times. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 615-623. Ulvik, M. et al.(2009). Novice in secondary school–the coin has two sides. Teaching and teacher education, 25(6), 835-842. Yin, R.K. (2006). Case Study Methods. In: Green, J.L., Camilli, G. and Elmore, P.B. (Eds.) Complementary Methods in Education Research, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 111-122. Yin, R.K. (2009). Case Study Research, 4th ed., London: Sage.
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