Teachers going on teaching practice for the first time are often surprised at the disparity between their preconceptions of teaching as a profession and what actually occurs in reality. A number of factors influence the perceptions that pre-service teachers have. Schwager & Carlson (1994) suggests that personal experiences and teacher’s college instructions are the two main factors that influence the development of pre-service teacher’s beliefs and knowledge about teaching. Obviously a beginning teacher begins to form impressions of the teaching profession even before deciding to pursue teaching as a career. Knowledge of former teachers, comments from family members about teaching and teachers and so many other life experiences settle within the subconscious of the beginning teacher and will continue to shape his/her views of teaching. Studies from theorists, such as Piaget, Bruner, Vygosky and others also have an impact on impressions of the teaching profession. Exposure to theoretical descriptors of what teaching is or should be would of course bears considerable weight on the beginning teacher.
However reality does not always fit into previous conceptions and for the beginning teacher, even the first day of field experience could be a revealing exercise.
First public opinion of the teaching profession is rarely good and trainee teachers are often misled by these views. Public opinion does not usually portray the school system as successful and efficient. Trainee teachers therefore develop the misconception that there is little achievement in academic successes and may enter their first day on the job in anticipation of not really making a positive impact. They soon come to realize that this public impression is not completely true. Prange (2004) points out that teachers are achieving great amounts of success on a daily basis, impacting positively on the lives of the children they teach and facilitating worthwhile experiences. Field experience testifies to this statement. Beginning teachers often recall the joy they felt knowing they have had the opportunity to help a student understand a particular principle. That in itself is success even if the public does not view it that way.
Often teachers are held at ransom because test results from national exams give the impression that no progress is being made at all in these institutions. Teachers are constantly blamed for poor test results and are accused of not doing their jobs effectively. Time in the classroom changes such opinions. Test scores fail to see what the teacher sees in the classroom on a daily basis, a child learning his ABC’s for the first time, a student finally being able to read, these are the many accomplishments. Field experience helps to allay the myth that once a child does not achieve a specific academic standard that no learning at all takes place.
Enthusiastic new teachers may come with great plans to deliver a specific aspect of the national curriculum as prescribed by the national officials. From classroom studies they often assume that the national standards laid down for the delivery of curricula content are what are being followed. Disappointingly a number of schools do not stick strictly to the curriculum as outlined. Teachers would ponder on aspects of the national standards that they anticipate covering but when contact is made with the class teachers it is often discovered that there is not a good correlation between what is stipulated to be taught and what is actually being taught at certain levels. Of course this problem is not necessary by fault of the in-service teachers. Jas Schwager & Carlson (1994) mentions many teachers come to realize that the curriculum does not often meet certain specific needs of the school population so adjustments have to be made. This does not significantly alter trainee teachers’ opinion of the profession as they come to realize that a teacher must be flexible and should be able to gauge the academic needs of its specific population and set standards to meet those needs.
Some trainee teachers are often of the opinion that there is considerable collaboration and communication between and among teachers and also that there is adequate professional support. Trainee teachers may thus anticipate consultative support in areas of lesson planning, classroom management, teaching style among other things. However, the reality there is little cross-communication between teachers. Schwager & Carlson (1994) points to the obvious absence of structured grade-level teams in a number of schools. Unfortunately ‘new teachers are often left to sink or swim with minimal help from more experienced colleagues’ (Lee, Walker & Bodycott, 2000).
Teaching as a profession is not usually a first choice for professions. In fact, the perception of teaching as a profession is very low. The qualifications required to become a teacher and the low financial remunerations for teachers attest to the low rank of teaching in the eyes of not only the public but also the education officials. As Mercer & Forsyth (1975) highlights the “academic qualifications of entrants to the teaching profession have deteriorated over the years.” Additionally the more qualified graduates are not being attracted to the profession either. Graduates are usually recruited from those possessing ordinary degrees while the honors students are drawn to more rewarding jobs. With these factors mitigating against the profession it is no wonder that new teachers preparing to enter the profession are not very keen on remaining within the profession beyond what is necessary to give them a head-start.
National standards usually prescribe that the aims of teaching should be “understanding, thematic and integrated instruction, cooperative learning, teaching complex thinking skills and processes, and active learning techniques using concrete materials and real-life problems are emphasized (Schwager & Carlson, 1994). Teachers are therefore encouraged to incorporate new technologies and strategies and be flexible in using various kinds of resource material. However the realities are that a significant number of schools do not have the necessary funding to provide these necessary resources. Officials may give the impression that schools are equipped with all that they need but the financial realities demonstrate otherwise.
Furthermore, where these are available, teachers may try to adopt new strategies and resources in the classroom to make lessons fascinating and fun for the learners. Trainee teachers may begin their stint by trying to incorporate as many of the learnt principles as they can into their practice. They come to believe that they are free to experiment with the strategies that they have learnt about and are eager to go before the class to make an excellent impression. They, however, soon become disappointed. On the one hand school administrators have often be discovered to be resistant to change and unwilling to accept strange methodology into their school curriculum. Trainee teachers are thus dissuaded from using certain teaching resources. Having learnt that the teacher ought to introduce a variety of authentic resources in the classroom and then being discouraged to practice what was learnt, trainee teachers often lose faith and become hesitant to attempt new methodologies in the future. In addition teacher training seems to usually assume that children will automatically become interested in whatever new material presented. Many trainee teachers see the role of the teacher as the superior authority figure having the authority to control whatever happens in the classroom suggesting that the teacher alone decides what and how to teach in the classroom (Saban, Koçbeker & Saban, 2006). However they soon discover that cooperation and discussion with students are essentially. It comes as a shock to many teachers that many students have absolutely no interest in the subject matter being delivered and therefore make no attempt to profit from supposedly interesting lessons. This also dissuades teachers from introducing new material into the classroom because the students themselves are not very responsive to the stimulus. While the teacher may try a variety of methods, if the result is constant rejection then he/she would be less likely to employ these or any such methods in the future.
Furthermore, teacher training doesn’t usually teach courses on interpersonal relations between the teacher and other members of staff. Teacher training is often restricted to interactions between the teacher and the students he/she teaches. Schwager & Carlson (1994) suggests that poor interaction with other staff as well as conflict and confrontations may “contribute to change in individual teachers’ attitudes, beliefs and practices.” While it is ideal that there is close cooperation among staff, that is usually not the case. Probably many teachers going on field experience may not have thought before about the implications of working on a staff with individuals often with either more experience or more qualifications as they. Their impression of the profession is further solidified in these interactions. Perceptions of school administrators, for example are usually that they are authoritative and their role is as a high-level supervisor, who they do not expect to receive much assistance from (Lee, Walker & Bodycott, 2000).
Public impression is also that the teaching profession is a fully integrated system where administrations in the departments/ministries of education work closely along with teachers and principals to formulate policies that are beneficial to the education system. Beginning teachers often find that the education system is disjointed with not much lateral communication between the officials and those who are actually working in the classroom. Policies and mandates are often handed down with no communication with teachers, hardly having their input on important legislative matters that affect the education sector.
Field experience hardly does anything to change this impression. From the first day on the job, teachers in training may come to realize that the profession is not worth hanging on to. The stresses of dealing with the students in the classroom, the intellectual demands of planning lessons, the lack of collaboration and support from other teachers, and a host of other issues usually arise and soon dissuades many pre-service teachers from continuing in the profession.
This, however, is not the full picture. While the public recognition is not present and the financial remunerations are not rewarding, not all experiences turn out bad. The teacher is not always left to fend for him/herself as Prange (2004) suggested. The camaraderie with staff members, the curricula support from the administrators, the rewarding achievements of the students, all contribute in the long run to sustained interest in the teaching profession. Above all, motivation to remain in the job can not be seen to come from external sources. Although all arguments go against the teaching profession, though all arrows point away from a permanent status as a teacher, the intrinsically motivating gains often override the setbacks and disadvantages. Some teachers actually return from their field work with renewed or additional zeal to pursue their chosen career because of the obvious joys of working as a teacher. While some will still see teaching as a second-choice profession (Mercer & Forsyth, 1975), it is still the number one choice for many who remain in the profession.
Lee, J. C. K., Walker, A. & Bodycott, P. (2000, Mar). Pre-service Primary Teachers’ Perceptions About Principals in Hong Kong: Implications for Teacher and Principal Education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 28(1), 15.
Mercer, G., Forsyth, D. J. C. (1975, Feb). Some Aspects of Recruitment to School Teaching Among University Graduates in Scotland, 1986-1955. British Journal of Educational Studies, 23(1), 20.
Prange, K. (2004, Spring). What Kind of Teachers Does the Schools Need? European Education, 36(1), 14.
Saban, A., Koçbeker, B. N.; Saban, A. (2006, May). An Investigation of the Concept of Teacher Among Prospective Teachers Through Metaphor Analysis. Educational Sciences: Theory ; Practice, 6(2), 14.
Schwager, M. T.; Carlson, J. S. (1994, August). Building Assessment Cultures: Teacher Perceptions and School Environments. Education and Urban Society, 26(4), 14.