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Concerns About Teaching Process: Student Teachers’ Perspective

March 5, 2008

By Cakmak, Melek

The aim of this study is to determine the student teachers’ concerns about the teaching process including the teaching profession, teaching methods, planning, instruction, evaluation and classroom management. A total of 156 student teachers from five departments in the Gazi faculty of education participated in the study. A questionnaire including an open-ended item was applied in order to establish the nature of the student teachers’ concerns. The responses from the student teachers to the questionnaire were shown in table form by using percentage and frequency. All the statistical analyzes were performed with SPSS whereas content analysis was employed for the open ended item. The study has revealed some specific points which should be taken into consideration by teacher educators and researchers. Introduction

There has been considerable research conducted on teachers’ concerns, stress and anxieties in the literature (e.g., Liu & Huang, 2005; Alfi et al., 2004; Christou, et al., 2004; Cheung.& Yip, 2004; Swennen et al., 2004; Capel, 2001; Hui, 2001; Storch & Tapper, 2000; Murray-Harvey et al., 2000; Meek & Behets, 1999; Kyriacou & Stephen, 1999; Jongmans et al., 1998; Forlin, 1998; Capei, 1997; Morton et al., 1997; Mccullough & Mintz, 1992; Staton-Spicer & Bassett, 1979). Some researchers have studied the primary or secondary students’ concerns, others have focused on teachers’ concerns (e.g. Christou, et al., 2004), some have dealt with the concerns from both sides (e.g., Cheung & Yip, 2004; Hui, 2001; Storch & Tapper, 2000), and others have studied student teachers’ concerns (e.g., Swennen et al., 2004). All the researchers have studied this field brought many different perspectives related to the concerns of the teachers and students, particularly during teaching-learning process.

Review of the related studies indicates that the concepts of stress, concern and anxiety are sometimes used interchangeably by the researchers. Rogers (1992), for instance, states that the reasons for stress include teaching, management, discipline, etc. Kyriacou (1997) argues teachers stress can be categorized and that such categories may include lower level of stress, time constraints, work overload and lack of materials, disadvantages related to working conditions. Rogers (1992) also emphasizes that stressful conditions also lead to feelings of anxiety and distress. Kyriacou (1997, p. 157) argues that in contrast to other occupations, teachers perceive their profession as one of the most stressful one. Kyriacou (1995) points out that when teachers feel stressed, the quality of their interactions with students can be affected. He further states that effective teaching depends on positive classroom atmosphere and that productive communication with students contributes to the positive classroom atmosphere.

Given that all the factors provide effective teaching are important in this broad context studies, dealing with the stress levels of the teachers and also student teachers is of great importance. As Fritz and Miller (2003) stated, teachers might experience concerns related to teaching during their teaching career, but these concerns might be more intense during the student teaching and the initial years. Therefore, in this paper, student teachers’ concerns regarding the teaching process is investigated. Hall (1979, cited in Liu & Huang, 2005, p.37) defined concerns as the motivations, perceptions, attitudes and feelings that teachers experience related to implementing an innovation. Concerns can also be defined as (Jongmans et al., 1998) “… concerns are a natural phenomenon in situations in which teachers are expected to tackle novel problems, to use new materials or new methods, etc.” (van den Berg & Vandenberghe, 1995, p. 20).

According to Forlin (1998) teachers’ concerns are frequently the result of changing roles and new responsibilities often determined by the continual introduction of different educational initiatives, policies, and practices. Clement et al., (1995, pp. 198-199; cited in Jongmans et al., 1998) have conceptually thought through the relationship between teachers’ professionalism and concerns. The research into the implementation of large-scale educational innovations have also shown that, besides teachers’ professionahsm, teachers’ concerns play a crucial role in the success of innovations (van den Berg & Vandenberghe, 1981, 1995; cited in Jongmans et al., 1998). The significance of identifying sources of student teacher stress lies in the evidence that stress affects teacher behavior and this, in turn, reduces classroom effectiveness, particularly in relation to reduced pupil achievement and increased levels of pupil anxiety (Murray-Harvey et al., 2000).

As Staton-Spicer and Bassett (1979) note that Fuller’s (1969) model provides the framework for examining the concerns of teachers. Fuller and Brown (1975) refined Fuller’s (1969) concerns theory by identifying three stages of concern through which teachers have to pass in their development: “self concern”, “task concerns” and “impact concerns” (Capel, 2001). In this classification of teachers’ concerns impact concerns refer to the teachers’ apprehension concerning student outcomes, self concerns relate to the teachers’ own worries about their ability to perform in the school environment and task concerns which is linked to concerns regarding the daily teaching duties, especially in relation to constraints such as the large number of students in the class and the lack of resources (Christou, et al., 2004). This research on teachers’ concerns depends heavily on the work of Fuller (1969) as Swennen et al., (2004) has stated. According to these researchers, Fuller and Brown (1975) drew a distinction between the development of concerns of teachers and those of student teachers. They distinguished four main stages of concerns for student teachers: Pre-teaching concerns are dominant in the first stage. A radical change takes place after their first teaching experience and idealized attitude regarding their pupils are replaced by concerns about their own survival. They begin to wonder how to manage class effectively at this stage. During the next stage student teachers develop concerns about the teaching situation, become concerned about methods and materials and start exploring new ideas and possibilities for their lessons.

For this present study the term of “student teachers’ concern” is used regarding their perceptions that teachers experience related to implementing the teaching process which is also emphasized in the definition of Hall (1979).

The related literature review shows that various aspects of the concerns for teachers have been examined. Cheung and Yip (2004), for example, have studied the concerns of chemistry (N=400) and biology teachers (N=412) experience as they engage in the process of implementation of a school-based assessment scheme for practical work. The study included teacher concerns in relation to innovation adoption and implementation as follows: evaluation, information, management, consequence and refocusing. The findings indicated that when they gained experience, the intensity of chemistry and biology teachers’ evaluation concerns remained low and unchanged. On the other hand, teachers’ consequence concerns did not increase with teaching experience and their refocusing concerns appeared to change.

In a similar study Liu and Huang (2005) have investigated the trend of K-12 teachers’ concerns regarding technology integration into the classroom by using the stages of concerns (SoC) questionnaire to assess teachers’ seven stages of concern: awareness, informational, personal, management, consequence, collaboration and refocusing (N=86). They have found that because of teachers’ recent extensive exposure to technology integration into the classroom, teachers’ concerns at the stages of informational, personal and refocusing are very intense.

Christou, et al., (2004) has aimed to identify the concerns of teachers regarding the implementation of a new mathematics curriculum and adopted new mathematics textbooks to examine the extent in which teachers’ concerns vary according to their involvement in the innovation and their overall teaching experiences. 655 teachers participated in their study. The findings of the study indicated that teaching experience is the most crucial factor in explaining the developmental nature of teaching concerns. The concerns of beginning teachers appeared to be self and task- oriented. This result suggests that experienced teachers exhibited less interest in the self-concern stage than beginning teachers indicating that highly experienced teachers had less information needs and more confidence in their abilities to deal with the innovation than beginning teachers. However, the difference between teachers with a few years of experience and experienced teachers were not significant. In contrast, experienced teachers reported greater interest in the consequences of the innovation for their students and had more ideas with regard to the adoption of the innovation in comparison to beginning teachers.

On the other hand, some researchers have focused on student teachers or preservice teachers and their concerns in their study. Staton-Spicer and Bassett (1979), for example, identified the communication concerns of preservice (i.e. prospective and student teachers) and in-service elementary school teachers (N=227). The researchers used an adaptation of the Teacher Concerns Statement (TCS) (Fuller & Case, 1970) in order to obtain the communication concerns of the participants. Findings mainly revealed that prospective, student and in-service teachers have concerns about their communication. The study results also showed that: (1) prospective teachers expressed more self concern tiian task or impact concerns, (2) student teachers expressed more task than impact concerns, (3) in-service teachers expressed more impact than self or task concerns, and (4) prospective teachers expressed more self concerns than student or in-service teachers, student teachers expressed more task concerns than prospective or in-service teachers, and in-service teachers expressed more impact concerns than prospective or student teachers. The findings of the study suggest that three groups’ concerns tend to differ which is a remarkable point especially for teacher educators. According to Swennen et al., (2004) student teachers’ concerns are influenced by a variety of factors shaping their classroom experiences. As stated earlier in this paper, several studies focus on this aspect. In their study, Kyriacou and Stephen (1999), for example, investigated student teachers’ concerns during a period of school placement for teaching practice. Not being regarded as a real teacher; dealing with disruptive behavior, becoming a disciplinarian, getting the teaching right, getting the planning right, teaching about sensitive issues, coping with a heavy workload, having too little preparatory teaching practice and being assessed were the main areas of concern of student teachers. In addition, three main categories of accomplishments were identified. These were taking responsibility, developing confidence and creating an orderly classroom. A similar research has been conducted by Swennen (2004) about student teachers’ concerns. With different approach Swennen (2004) has investigated student teachers’ concerns (N=37) about teaching on the basis of their mental images of teaching practice using three instruments to measure the concerns namely a card sorting instrument, drawings made by the student teachers and interviews. The concerns determined were grouped into four categories as follows: individual concern, concern about teaching, concern about students’ needs and general concerns. Among them, the most commonly observed category of concern was about students’ needs and the lowest one observed was the general concern.

Baum and Schwarz (2004) also noted that one of the concerns expressed by preservice teachers was related to the nature or quality of the relationship that they expected to have with families. From this point, they stated that students need to receive instruction and have opportunities to practice their skills in the area of conflict resolution and effective communication. According to them these skills do not receive enough attention during the early childhood teacher preparation programs. Baum and Schwarz (2004) indicate that even though teacher educators stress the importance of effective and appropriate communication and conflict resolution, they do not often teach students the skills needed to be successful in this area This result of their study seems quite an important issue and therefore should also be taken into account by teacher educators. In their study Murray-Harvey et al., (2000) investigated teacher education students’ concerns on their teaching practicum. In that study the strategies teacher education students used to cope with these concerns were also investigated. A survey technique was used for this aim. The critical importance of the student/supervising teacher relationship for student success in the practicum emerged both from the students’ reports and the strong link found between stress in the relationship and teachers’ poorer rating of the students’ performance.

Background of the Present Study

Literature review in this study shows that there has been considerable research into teachers’ concerns, stress and anxieties. However, very few studies have examined student teachers’ concerns related to the teaching process which suggests that there is a need to study this subject in more detail. The focus of the present study is student teachers’ concerns about the teaching process. Many researchers have conducted studies about preservice teachers or student teachers and their expectations, attitudes, stress and some other characteristics. Student teachers’ concerns towards the teaching process are also important because they will teach in the real classroom context. Even though a certain amount of stress may be considered a normal part of the process especially when adapting to unfamiliar environments, forming new relationships and coming to terms with a range of new and different expectations required from their role as a classroom teacher (Murray-Harvey et al., 2000) and the types of concerns can be investigated in order to train them in these issues.

In Turkey, pre-service teachers are trained through four-year undergraduate programs at the faculties of education. Pre-service teacher training is carried out by the faculties of education at university level. Pre-school teachers, classroom teachers, upper primary, subject area teachers are trained through four-year undergraduate programs that offer subject area and pedagogical courses concurrently (Yildirim and Ok, 2002, p.262). Teaching experience is one of the most important aspects in teacher training programs. In other words teaching experience is one of the necessary components for effective teaching including both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

The present study is conducted in order to determine student teachers’ concerns about the teaching process. Caires and Almeida (2005), for example, stated that through the exploration of the fears, doubts, needs, expectations and the achievements perceived, it might be possible to obtain a more complete picture of what happens during this process. Starting from this point, it can be said that student teachers’ concerns should also be investigated.

The Aim of the Research

The primary aim of the study is to determine the student teachers’ concerns about the teaching process including teaching profession, teaching methods, planning and instruction and evaluation, learning and development, and classroom management. The study will attempt to answer the following questions:

1. What are the types of concerns of student teachers about the teaching process?

2. Does the gender of student teachers affect their concern about the teaching process?

3. Do their fields of study affect their concern about the teaching process?

4. What are their concerns regarding the teaching process?

Method

Participants

The participants of the study include a total of 156 student teachers (108 female and 48 male student teachers) from five departments in Gazi faculty of education in Ankara, Turkey. The subjects were in their last year in the program. The fields of the students are given in Table 1.

Table 1 shows that 23 subjects from Chemistry teaching (14.7 %), 29 from secondary mathematics teaching (18.6%), 44 from primary education mathematics teaching (28.2%), 26 from Physics teaching (16.7%) and 34 subjects are from Chemistry (Post Graduate Certificate Education) (21.8%).

Development of the Data Collection Tool

The data of the study were collected during the spring semester of 2004-2005 academic years by the author. Questionnaire includes items regarding personal information, and 22 items regarding their concerns related to the teaching process. It also includes an open ended item regarding their concerns about the teaching process. First, previous studies were reviewed in order to develop the data collection tool and then potentially stressful conditions during the teaching process were determined. Secondly, 32 student teachers were asked to write down their concerns about the teaching process. Student teachers’ responses were analyzed and the major points were noted. This revealed the major points which student teachers perceived as concerns related to the teaching process. Based on these data, the survey questionnaire was developed and its reliability and validity were confirmed by the experts. The final draft of the questionnaire included twenty-two items reflecting the potential sources for concerns. As a third step, the questionnaire was administered to 208 student teachers as pilot study. The subjects were asked to answer the items using five-point Likert scale as follows: (1) do not have any concern (2) have a very little concern (3) have little concern (4) have much concern (5) have very much concern. The questionnaire consists of 22 items representing the concern areas of student teachers. After this pilot test of the questionnaire some small but necessary changes were made. The reliability analysis gave the Cronbach Alpha coefficient as 0.89 indicating a high level of reliability.

Data Analysis

The responses given to the first research question were listed in Table 2. The views are given by percentage (%) and frequency (f). Intervals in the scale are as follows: (1) 1.00-.1.80 (2) 1.81-2.60 (3) 2.61-3.40 (4) 3.41-4.20 and (5) 4.21-5.00. For the other research question statistical process was carried out. For example, t test was employed for second research question. All the statistical processes were carried out using SPSS.

The data have also been gathered by written responses to one open- ended question in the questionnaire regarding student teachers’ concerns about the teaching process. Answers given to the open- ended item were analyzed in a qualitative manner (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). It was found that all subjects answered this question. The most commonly stated views are given in the table. The students from Chemistry (Post Graduate Certificate Education) department merely stated three points of concern. Findings

Findings of this study are based on data gathered from five groups of students who provided information about their concerns on the teaching process. The findings obtained are discussed according to the related research question.

The first research question is: What are the types of concern of student teachers about the teaching process? Table 2 presents the descriptive statistic: mean (M) for the items and the number of students (N) who have answered all the items.

Table 2 gives the views of the student teachers about concern on teaching process. 22 items in the questionnaire include such topics as preparation to the course, motivation and attention, class management, communication with students, evaluation of student achievement. These are the most commonly discussed points in relation to concern in previous studies. Fletcher and Baret (2004) argue that novice teachers can gain valuable information through communication with theh colleagues. The problems experienced by novice teachers regarding the teaching process were studied in detail (i.e., Swennen et al., 2004; Morton et al., 1997).

Table 2 shows that the lowest stated concern is about developing effective individual communication with students in the classroom (M = 1.72). The most commonly stated concern is about undesired conduct in the classroom (M= 2.88). It is evident that the subjects do not have “much” or “very much” concern regarding any of the twenty-two items. When we look at Table 2 the samples have “tittle concern” regarding items five and nine while they have “very little” concern regarding to the items 14, 6-8, 10-14, 16-21. The subjects have “no concern” about items 15 and 22.

These findings are consistent with those found in the previous research. Classroom management is stated as one of the problems experienced by student teachers. For instance Reed (1989) found similar results and concluded that student teachers had problems mostly regarding classroom management.

Second research question: Does the gender of student teachers affect theh concern about the teaching process?: The results of the statistical analysis regarding the second research question are given in Table 3.

It was found that the general correlation between the concern items and the gender of the student teachers was low. However the foUowing items appear to be affected by tiie gender: 8 (undeshed behavior), 10(controUing the noise), 11 (arjproachingto the problematic students) and 12 (approaching to the talented students).

Third Research Question: Do study fields of the student teachers affect theh concern about the teaching process? The results of tiie statistical analysis concerning tiie thhd research question are given in Table 4.

As seen in Table 4, study fields of the subjects lead to differences in theh views about twenty-two concern items. Views of the subjects from Post Graduate Certificate Education program differ from those of the subjects from chemistry education, mathematics education and physics education. It may be a result of the fact that the chemistry students begin to take education courses after the completion of tiieir undergraduate period and deal witii the teaching process later tiian theh chemistry education counterparts.

Fourth research question: What are theh concerns regarding the teaching process? The foUowing table indicates the answers of the subjects to this question.

The views of the student teachers about the teaching process are given in Table 5. Table 5 shows that the first area of concern for tiie student teachers is about classroom management. It is consistent witii the findings of tiie survey questionnahe where classroom management was the most commonly stated point of concern. This finding of the study seems similar to the findings of the study carried out by Kyriacou and Stephen (1999). In theh study, maintaining good discipline in the classroom and dealing successfully with misbehaving pupils was found to be the greatest concern for the student teachers. On the other hand, the first year student teachers appeared to be most concerned about various teaching tasks such as ‘selecting and teaching content well’, ‘motivating pupus to learn’ and ‘adapting themselves to the needs of different pupils’ in the study conducted by Swennen (2004) which are in good accordance with the present study.

On the other hand, when the Table 5 reviewed in detail it is seen that the student teachers participated in the study reported some common concerns such as classroom management, maintenance of students’ attention throughout the course, motivating the students, providing courses according to the level of students, using limited teaching methods and communication with students. However the student teachers raised some new concerns such as efficient use of time, efficient lecturing and crowded classrooms.

Conclusion

There are certain points which should be hightighted based upon this study: The concerns or the fears of the student teachers may change when they face the actual classroom atmosphere. However the present study may be a good indication of the present situation. As Seferoglu (2004) states that the lack of sufficient professional training may leave teacher candidates helpless and insufficient in the classroom. Therefore training student teachers is of utmost importance. This is important point because as Morton et al., (1997) have stated that both instructional preparation and teaching experience can reduce students’ anxieties over time (Murray-Harvey et al., 2000).

In teacher training programs, all the concerns of the student teachers should be appropriately addressed to prepare them for the actual teaching atmosphere. This issue should be investigated further in detail.

Almost all student teachers commonly pointed out their concern about “classroom management”. Therefore, courses about classroom management provided in teacher training programs can be reviewed in terms of their content etc. In this process, student teachers’ views should also be considered.

As indicated by some researchers, concern for the student teachers must be taken into consideration. The topic can be further analyzed using larger sample. Future research can be conducted on specific relationships between concerns and causes as Hui (2001) pointed out. In addition, new research can be conducted related to student teachers’ concerns for different fields. In the light of the studies conducted by researchers investigating the student teachers’ concerns provides crucial points which should be considered by teacher educators and researchers who study this issue. The implications of this study’s findings can be considered with an aim to improve the quality of teacher education. It should be considered that the significance of identifying sources of student teacher stress lies in the fact that stress affects teacher behavior (Murray- Harvey et al., 2000).

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Melek Cakmak

Gazi University

Copyright Educational Research Quarterly Mar 2008

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