Official professional standards in both Scotland and England which aim to nurture the development of new teachers pay too little attention to what 'becoming' a teacher is really like. New research finds that existing standards ignore the emotional, relationship and personal issues which are the real challenge for teachers starting out in their careers, focussing instead on the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Resulting from the study, researchers propose a new model which aims to improve existing standards by capturing the multi-dimensional experience of new teachers.
Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Strathclyde, Jim McNally, says: "Existing competence-based professional standards do not connect with the actual learning experience of beginners in the teaching profession and downplay the reality of what 'becoming' a teacher means. For example, you can't be a teacher unless children accept you as one and existing standards don't address that. "
The development of new teachers is now regulated by the achievement in Scotland of the Standard for Full Registration (SFR) and in England and Wales by Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). In this new study, researchers based at Stirling University and Manchester Metropolitan University conclude that these competence-based professional standards are a useful, yet incomplete, innovation.
"Professional standards are clearly vital in terms of public accountability," researcher Jim McNally points out. "The existing standards are a step forward but we believe they fail to capture the complexities, demands and difficulties of the first year of teaching.. Our new model encompasses a fuller appreciation of the learning process that statutory standards neglect through a more sophisticated recognition of early professional learning (EPL)."
In acknowledging the complexities of becoming a teacher, researchers identified seven dimensions of EPL:
- Emotional: range and intensity of feeling from anxiety/despair to delight /fulfilment that permeate new teachers' descriptions of their experiences
- Relational: social interactions, mainly with pupils and colleagues, which produce the relationships crucial and central to the new teachers' professional identity and role
- Structural: organisational aspects of the school and the educational system, including roles and procedures, that govern entry into the profession and also education within society
- Material: resources, rooms etc.
- Cognitive: explicit understandings applied in professional practice e.g. curriculum knowledge, assessment, differentiated teaching, including the professional standard itself
- Ethical: new teachers' expressed sense of commitment and care
- Temporal: recognises that the above dimensions change over the induction year.
Researchers spent three years tracking these seven dimensions among different groups of new teachers in their first year, discovering that the emotional and relational aspects proved more important than the cognitive in the first few months of induction, and that the multidimensional nature of early professional development is key to understanding how new teachers develop their identities in the profession. "We found that new teachers virtually have to reinvent themselves as 'teachers' and this can't be done by simply ticking a list of competencies," says McNally.
Based on the seven dimensions and with the aim of enhancing existing professional standards, researchers have developed five quantitative indicators: job satisfaction, children's views on their learning environment, interaction with colleagues, teaching ability as judged by an external expert; and the development of the new teacher's pupils over the year as judged by colleagues.
Each indicator was administered to 192 new teachers in 45 schools across 13 Local Authorities in Scotland and England. Findings provide useful insight into the most challenging issues facing new teachers. "We found that new teachers admit that managing children is challenging but not a source of dissatisfaction," McNally points out. "Rather, in Scotland, the greatest source of dissatisfaction is created by uncertainty as to whether a permanent job will be found at the end of the probationary year."
Findings further point to the crucial role played by support in general during a teacher's first year. Formal support arrangements do not, researchers discovered, always function effectively as mentoring relationships. Rather, the study shows that the formally allocated mentor is but one person in a naturally-occurring informal mentoring network. Some 41 per cent of the variation in new teachers' overall job satisfaction is attributable to working relationships with colleagues. And, on a practical level, teachers who have a plentiful availability of teaching materials are more likely to feel job satisfaction.
Analysing pupil comments indicates that new teachers who were the most successful in pupils' eyes were those who developed quality relationships with classes early in the school year, and who then built these relationships into a working classroom community.
The research report is titled 'Enhanced Competence-Based Learning in Early Professional Development' and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme carried out by James G. McNally, Nick Boreham, Peter Cope and Ian Stronach at The Institute of Education, University of Stirling and Manchester Metropolitan University.
Methodology: Researchers developed a qualitative research-based model of early professional learning (EPL), using teacher-researchers (TRs) in an integrated research team, and tested this model on 192 new teachers in 45 schools across 13 Local Authorities in Scotland and England. The model contained five indicators: job satisfaction, children's views on their learning environment, interaction with colleagues, teaching ability as judged by an external expert and development of the new teacher's pupils over the year as judged by colleagues. Interviews by the TRs were conducted at approximately monthly intervals and probed new teachers' experiences with the purpose of gaining a detailed picture of early learning – who and what was important, and why.
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