LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF BEGINNING TEACHERS: EMERGING THEMES
Michele J Koomen,
In this paper, we report on the research findings of a
longitudinal study of beginning science and mathematics teachers in
TRN researchers initially attempted to determine the extent to which beginning science and mathematics teachers’ beliefs and practices aligned with state and national standards using instruments developed primarily for the Salish Project1. The researchers modified these instruments in order to align them with the five major components of the Minnesota TTE (Transforming Teacher Education) Framework (Simpson and Wallace, 1995).
The 64 subjects in
the study were elementary and secondary teachers of science and mathematics in
their first through third year of teaching, plus a few pre-service
teachers. Most elementary teachers in
the study were assigned to self-contained classrooms and taught most or
all-academic subjects; most were not specialists in mathematics or science.
When feasible, researchers collected a complete set of data for each of three
years for each teacher in the study.
These teachers were largely selected by virtue of having attended one of
the eleven institutions in which the researchers held faculty
appointments. The schools of teachers in
the study included both public and private schools located in various rural and
urban settings throughout the state. The teachers received undergraduate
teacher education preparation from either public or private institutions in
The TRN research instruments for the study of science teachers are:
· Minnesota Science Teacher Observation Instrument (MNSTOI) which contains the following components:
§ A pre-observation questionnaire in which the teacher describes the objectives and plan for the lesson and students in the class
§ An observation form providing a series of specific prompts organized around the five characteristics of quality teacher preparation identified by the TTE Framework to guide the researcher
§ A post-observation questionnaire in which the teacher reflects on the success of the lesson and includes suggestions for further instruction.
The TRN research instruments for the study of mathematics teachers are:
· Mathematics Learning Environment (MLES (20); student and teacher forms
§ Mathematics Teacher Efficacy Beliefs Inventory (MTEBI)
§ Mathematics Teacher Interview Instrument: (MTII).
The intent of the observation prompts in the MNSTOI and MNMTOI is to ensure that every researcher examines teachers in as similar a manner as possible. The prompts were modified from the assessment guide developed for the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) portfolio project (Collins, 2002). An analogous set of instruments for study of mathematics teachers differs from those for the science teachers only in the substitution of a mathematics context for the science context, and they are not separately described below. All instruments used in the TRN Study have been previously described. (Davis, Simpson, Johnson & Wallace; 2002)
Every teacher completed the
teacher version of the CLES2 (20) survey, and his/her students completed the
student version of the same instrument prior to any observations or
interviews. The original CLES instrument
was developed in
researchers audiotaped an hour long interview with each teacher. The Minnesota Science Teacher Interview
Instrument (MNSTII) or Mathematics Teacher Interview Instrument (MNMTII) provided the basis for this
interview. These instruments were
modified from the Salish project’s Teacher Pedagogical Philosophy Inventory
(TPPI) to align with the TRN research questions and consequently the standards
for new teachers in
Analysis of Data
Individual researchers triangulated data for each teacher, for each year of the study from the student and teacher CLES2 (20) surveys, the teacher’s STEBI or MTEBI survey, two classroom observations using the MNSTOI or MNMTOI, and the MNSTII or MNMTII interview transcript. Researchers used these results to develop the narrative teacher profile, intended to serve as a snapshot of that teacher’s beliefs and practices for that year.
A common profile template developed by the TRN researchers followed the outline:
· knowing science or mathematics content
· knowing pedagogy
· knowing students
· establishing a learning environment
· developing as a teacher
· researcher comments
Consistent with the TRN
instruments used to collect the data, these categories reflect the organization
of the standards for teachers of science and mathematics in
· elementary (grades 3-6) science teacher profiles
· secondary (grades 7-12) science teacher profiles
· elementary (grades 3-6) mathematics teacher profiles
· secondary (grades 7-12) mathematics teacher profiles.
Some of the TRN researchers then undertook a second level of analysis that aimed to identify similarities and differences within subgroups, patterns that emerged, and any conspicuous absences. In addition, further directions for research were identified, as were any concerns pertaining to the data collection procedures and/or the creation of the profiles. These analysts produced draft reports that were each reviewed by two other TRN researchers and subsequently revised by the original analysts.
In January of 2003, after three years (1999-2002) of studying new science and math teachers in grades 3-12, the project had produced 100 teacher profiles and had completed three annual sets of comprehensive analyses of each of the four profile category (2 elementary math, 3 elementary science, 3 secondary science, 3 secondary math). With this set of 100 profiles researchers elected to do an overall analysis to look for general findings that would foster a description of the practice of new science and math teachers in Minnesota. In June of 2004, six researchers analyzed the 2002-2003 profiles. The themes emerging from the TRN analyses are discussed in the findings of the study.
Findings of the study
Prominent themes that emerged in this study are:
· Teachers need a strong content knowledge. Researchers observed inadequate science and math content knowledge in a number of classes. For example, an analysis of fourteen science elementary teachers observed in 1999-2000, showed that the majority of these teachers voiced their lack of confidence in teaching science, with the exception of three teachers who had earned a co-major in science and math together with their elementary education major, and a novice teacher who had an undergraduate degree in environmental science. During classroom observations two teachers in this group demonstrated misconceptions about the concepts they were trying to teach, and when given a choice, teachers chose to teach science lessons in an area where they felt comfortable. Teaching standards based curriculum presented challenges for some secondary math and science teachers, apparently because of this comfort zone issue. A similar analysis of a group of elementary math teachers revealed that teachers with a meager background in mathematics relied heavily on the text and displayed poor understanding of mathematics in front of the class. In contrast, a teacher with a math specialty licensure was confident of the material and able to choose appropriate materials and lessons. Overall, the math and science content preparation of many elementary teachers appears to be inadequate.
· Constraints in the learning environment existed. In some cases, classroom management problems interfered with effective lesson delivery. For instance, a teacher with a class containing several students with special needs found that many of the planned activities for that day were not possible to complete because of behavioral problems. Another constraint researchers observed was the inadequacy of some classrooms for hands-on science activities. A third constraint was introduced by assigning new teachers students and/or teaching loads that are more challenging than their more senior colleagues. In some districts it is the practice to give newer teachers classes of students that have already demonstrated poor academic achievement. These constraints reduced the flexibility in teaching methods of the subject matter content and teachers tended to revert to teacher and text centered instruction.
· Limited teacher mentoring was evident. Researchers saw little evidence of consistent high quality mentoring programs. Types and effectiveness of mentoring varied, though it was observed that new teachers appreciate an effective mentoring program if it is offered. There were several examples of informal mentoring noted, such as a teacher being guided by another more experienced teacher. Some teachers had no mentoring and felt isolated. In some cases a grade team met from time to time and discussed the curriculum. In a group of nine elementary science teachers investigated in 2000/2001, most had no mentors specifically assigned to them though some had found other teachers who could help them.
· Professional development participation was limited. Most professional development in which the teachers participated was delivered within the school and was not focused on pedagogy or content, but rather involved classroom management, reading programs, or new software training. Moreover, there was little general administrative or peer support in professional development outside the schools. Teachers were not encouraged to join professional associations such as Minnesota Science Teacher Association (MNSTA) or Minnesota Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM), and only one out of nine elementary science teachers interviewed in 2000/2001 had attended an MNSTA meeting. Three of the nine had experienced no professional development at all during the year. Exceptions were teachers who were planning higher degrees, who were more likely to seek opportunities to attend conferences or professional meetings.
· A disconnect exists between teacher education preparation and school culture. Many teachers begin their careers with pedagogical training that may not be consistent with the school’s practice. In college courses teachers may have learned about science or math standards and the pedagogy that is successful in standards-based teaching, but find that the school culture expects a different approach, or places a teacher in a situation in which it is difficult to implement standards-based approaches. Researchers observed that beginning teachers were primarily concerned with “surviving” their first years, and taught whatever the culture of the school dictated. New teachers struggled with classroom management particularly in student-centered environments. Some new teachers said that their college preparation had not prepared them for the kind of diverse learning styles they found in their classroom, for example a large percentage of ELL students, or several students with academic or behavioral disabilities. In reviewing six randomly selected profiles from the TRN Matrix, two out of the six teacher participants revealed in their interviews that issues of behavior limited their selection of activities that were more student centered.
In the fall of 2004, TRN contacted a subset of the original teacher participants to obtain some follow-up information regarding their current employment. We felt this was important because one of the original motivations for the study was curiosity and concern over the numbers of beginning teachers who were leaving the profession, and the data we had obtained to date did not address that question. Of the 26 teachers contacted in the follow up, 19 were still teaching, one of whom intended to quit that year. Two of those who were no longer teaching left as a result of job cuts. Three, including the one who intended to quit, went to graduate school, with mention of missing the intellectual rigor of being in school. Two “burned out”, from the school setting or classroom management issues. Only one left solely for financial reasons, although three of the remaining teachers, when asked why they remained in the profession, indicated that they were seriously considering leaving because of pay issues. Nearly all those remaining in teaching mention a love for teaching and/or students, several mention freedom/creativity, supportive colleagues and administrative staff, and a sense of contributing to the community as reasons for staying. Finally, nearly all the remaining teachers had experienced assignment changes over the course of their career.
six-year study by faculty from eleven
Initially this study attempted to shed some light on the reasons that new teachers frequently leave the profession, and some of these emerging themes suggest possible answers. The study also brought to light some facts that might be useful for college based teacher educators, school superintendents and school principals.
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