|New Qualified Teachers: Impact On/Interaction with the System (Trinidad & Tobago) (CIE, 2000, 29 p.)|
In the majority of cases, the newly qualified teachers in this study reported varying degrees of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the programme offered at the training college in terms of its relevance and usefulness for the primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago. For example, all teachers reported that the foundation subjects (psychology, sociology and philosophy) were very beneficial. In all instances participants expressed the view that they were now better able to understand their students than before their College experience. They also indicated that they were better equipped to deal not only with their colleagues on a professional basis, but more pertinently with many of the learning difficulties of their students. A newly trained teacher, expressing the views of most participants, reported that:
I feel my role has expanded. Even though I may have been a good friend to the students before, now I am able to see it in a different light. Where you might have dealt with a problem before, now after training, and dealing with the psychology aspect of everything, I feel it brings a new dimension into what I am doing. I am able to deal with students in a more individualistic level. I am getting through to them in that way.
Another teacher indicated a number of areas which helped her to deal with her students more effectively.
Ok the Ed classes, psychology and sociology of education those classes helped as well as my physical education... It helps you understand children, it helps you adjust how you think and behave towards the children.
In spite of their perception that not enough emphasis was given to methodology, teachers gave examples of what they had learnt which was helpful, and these were related to methods, teaching strategies, curriculum delivery and classroom management. Some teachers focused on specific teaching skills which they had added to their repertoire such as lesson planning, introducing a lesson, questioning, giving examples, developing concepts, and correction strategies. Others indicated that they still used resource materials, such as charts, which they had made at College in their classes.
Specific subject areas were cited where the work done in college influenced how they taught the subject. Several teachers mentioned the approach to reading and writing. Another indicated that she was helped in all areas, in science because the process approach that she was exposed to is what she needed to bring out the processes in the classroom. In social studies she has learnt that teaching the subject requires using maps and other apparatus instead of giving notes. Two teachers cited the area of measurement and evaluation, which helped them in assessing the students, as well as in constructing their tests.
With respect to the teaching methods learnt at the training college the newly qualified teachers varied somewhat in their assessment of the quality and applicability of those methods. On the one hand, most participants felt that their instructional practice had benefited in terms of their ability to prepare and deliver the curriculum. This aspect of the newly qualified teachers' professional competence was corroborated through the observational phase of data collection. Through the classroom observations it was clear that many areas including curriculum planning, delivery, and assessment were positively impacted by the training methods to which the newly qualified teachers were exposed. Similarly, the manner of their interaction both at the teacher-teacher and the teacher- student levels suggested some measure of internalisation of the skills, concepts, theories, and competencies learnt at the training college. For instance, a newly trained teacher stated that:
Before I left for training college I did not feel I was as effective in the classroom as I am now. I did not get any help in terms of teaching methods from looking at senior teachers teach and all that. I did not agree with what most of them were doing anyway. Then, going to training college I realised that there are methods and ways of doing things.
One constant theme was the difficulty in applying what they had been taught in College to the real life situation. The newly qualified teachers found that they had to modify what they had learnt in College to cope with the classroom reality. They found that there were constraints of time, resources and even of parents who did not understand what they were trying to do:
We don't have the resources to do the things that we are taught...So what you are taught there you cannot really apply all the things here unless you decide to go and get yourself in expense and that is a personal thing.
More than one teacher felt that children did not respond to the alternative methods suggested for classroom control and discipline in the College and went back to more traditional methods. Another felt that the College lecturers were too removed from the classroom situation:
I think some of those lecturers need to come and spend some time in a primary school classroom and see what it is really like and then try to apply what they are telling you and see if it is feasible. Because some of the things are not practical. And a lot of the things they teach you at college I am not sure if it helps you to be a more effective teacher.
The issue of College teachers' ability to demonstrate by their own practice, that the methods they advocated could work, was echoed by more than one teacher.
What I would like to see being done is the lecturers actually bringing in classes to the school and showing us exactly how to handle the situations and not just one day, over a period of time. Don't just preach it, show us what could be done.
The relevance of the subject matter content of the academic subjects was also questioned. It was felt that the in-depth treatment of some areas was more relevant to teaching in the secondary school and that the time spent on these topics could have been devoted instead to the professional component of their training.
Another teacher expressed the view that the College experience was somewhat disappointing because of the emphasis on subject matter content:
Going to College for me was like going back to school. It wasn't so much about learning how to teach children. It was about learning things that I feel didn't have...wasn't that relevant to what we teaching in the primary school. Now if it was secondary school you were training for I probably would see the relevance.
This feeling of the teachers that much of the academic content of their Teachers' College programme was not relevant may account for the fact that for some teachers it was a question of learning the content to pass exams and then having no further use for it:
And like I said the focus was on passing exams rather than becoming a better teacher. We may have been equipped with the tools but after being so frustrated and being relieved that you were over with College you tended to burn those tools and not use them.
Some teachers did not even master the content:
Science was one of the most difficult subjects in Training College for me. I never like [sic] science. Some of it I really did not even understand.
I just remember having this bulk of notes to learn and to go through and I am not sure how much of it I am actually applying right now.
The teachers were divided in their assessment of whether the knowledge and skills acquired at the College were helping them in their teaching in the classroom. Of the eight teachers, three were very positive that the knowledge acquired was helping them to teach more effectively, to relate better to their students and to feel more confident of themselves as teachers. They were also aware that they had changed in the way they dealt with problems bringing to bear the knowledge acquired at College to find solutions.
The other five, while acknowledging that some of what they had learnt was helpful, felt that overall their teaching had not changed significantly because of the Training College experience. One of these teachers felt that she was doing now exactly what she did before going to College. For her nothing has changed. She feels that she was already a teacher prior to entering College and that she feels the same way now. The most that she has gained from College is the bit of knowledge. This was also the view of another teacher who felt that prior to going to College he already knew what he was doing in the classroom but that College just put it in more theoretical terms. He also felt that what he had learnt at College was mainly subject matter knowledge, which was not relevant to what was taught at primary level.
In general, newly qualified teachers felt that the Teachers' College programme did not prepare them adequately for work in the school setting. They were aware of the incongruity between their College experiences, including teaching practice, and the classroom reality. In such a situation they focused on survival strategies and in many cases replaced the recommended strategies they had learnt with practical solutions that provided results. They became more concerned with classroom management and control and in some cases reverted to traditional methods of achieving this.
There was a sense among these new teachers that the classroom situation provided the most valuable knowledge about teaching and that the lessons of experience were privileged over the theoretical knowledge provided by the Teachers' College. This resonated with the prior beliefs of some of the teachers who seemed to feel that teachers were born not made and that good teachers improved their techniques by being in the classroom. For such teachers the College experience was not seen as changing their practice significantly.
Despite the perception of the newly qualified teachers that their teaching had not been significantly changed by the College experience, the evidence, both from the interviews and the classroom observations, seemed to indicate that through the professional training received by the newly qualified teachers, overwhelming benefits flowed to the schools. These benefits were demonstrated through the newly trained teachers' concern for proper lesson planning, proper and systematic development of the curriculum, concern for students' varying learning styles and, therefore, the need to focus on different forms of assessment. This level of consciousness appeared to have been kindled at the training college, even though some teachers did not fully implement all the necessary strategies. For example, many teachers did not take too kindly to having to prepare lesson plans on a daily basis. They were, nevertheless, very conscious of their obligations to plan their lessons even if those plans were not in a very detailed form. Also, all newly trained teachers were very much aware of the individual differences among students. They were conscious of the necessity to treat each student as an individual bearing in mind the notion of multiple intelligences and their obligations to develop each student to his/her full potential.
The findings are similar to findings of other research studies on pre-service teachers which suggest that beginning teachers learn to teach during their first year in the classroom and that their growth as teachers had little to do with the knowledge given them in their teacher education programme (Hollingsworth, 1993 #213 cited in (Wideen et al., 1998)).
The findings also suggest that teacher education programmes do little to change the prior beliefs of most teachers who feel that what is learnt while it seems feasible often does not work in the classroom. However there were teachers within the sample who felt that they had changed and so the challenge is to find out which aspects of the teacher education programme makes the most difference in the continuing development and the practice of the beginning teacher.