Examining the unexpected sophistication of preservice teachers’ beliefs about the relational dimensions of teaching

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<ul><li><p>nin</p><p>ity S</p><p>Teacher characteristics</p><p>chensiomiserudyofersta</p><p>positivchildent (devot</p><p>greavel placexper</p><p>Weinstein, 1989). In this literature, however, participants strongfocus on the relational aspects of teaching is often cause forconcern: ndings of these studies indicate that preservice teachersare simplistic and overly optimistic about the profession (Fajet et al.,</p><p>in addition to providing descriptions of effective teacher charac-teristics commonly identied in similar studies (e.g., caring, fair-ness, organization), participants in this study revealed surprisinglynuanced beliefs with regard to the role teacherstudent relation-ships play in instruction and classroom management. Usingexcerpts from interviews with six preservice teachers, I highlightevidence of unexpectedly sophisticated understandings about thecomplexities associated with being an effective teacher andconclude with implications for teacher education.</p><p>* Tel.: 1 512 292 1028; fax: 1 512 471 8460.</p><p>Contents lists availab</p><p>Teaching and Tea</p><p>.e</p><p>Teaching and Teacher Education 25 (2009) 902908E-mail address: mbauml@mail.utexas.edudisagree that the relational domain of teaching plays a signicantrole in their classrooms on a daily basis, or that their professionalknowledge base is informed in part by the relational interactionsthey engage in with their students. When asked to indicate char-acteristics of effective teachers, practicing teachers have beenshown to strongly value relational characteristics such as caring(Johnson,1997; Murphy, Delli, &amp; Edwards, 2004; Perry &amp; Rog,1992).</p><p>Studies of preservice teachers beliefs about effective teachersalso reveal an emphasis on relational characteristics (Book, Beyers,&amp; Freeman, 1983; Fajet, Bello, Leftwich, Mesler, &amp; Shaver, 2005;</p><p>relational domain of teaching more deeply, particularly amongpreservice teachers.</p><p>In this article, I draw on ndings from a recent qualitative studyof elementary (prekindergarten-Grade 4) preservice teachersbeliefs and position their attention to relational facets of teachingas an early indication of professional knowledge to be rened anddeveloped with the support of teacher educators. Framed by theirpre-student teaching internships, university coursework, and lifeexperiences, my participants dened professional characteristics ofeffective teachers during semi-structured interviews. Interestingly,1. Introduction</p><p>Establishing and maintainingteachers is a fundamental factor inphysical, and intellectual developm1997). The prevalence of scholarshipof teaching (e.g. Goldstein, 1999; HarZembylas, 2007) signies the centraprofessional lives of teachers. Few0742-051X/$ see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.02.015e relationships withrens social, emotional,Bredekamp &amp; Copple,ed to relational aspectss, 1998; Noddings, 1984;e of relationship in theienced teachers would</p><p>2005; Goldstein &amp; Lake, 2000; Johnston, 1994; Jones, Burts,Buchanan, &amp; Jambunathan, 2000; Weinstein, 1989; Whitbeck,2000). These researchers are rightly concerned when preserviceteachers attention to relational traits of teaching eclipses cogni-zance of the hallmark of effective teachingdstudent learning.Indeed, as Fajet et al. (2005) have pointed out, education studentswho favor relational aspects of teachingmay deem pedagogical andsubject matter knowledge unnecessary. However, given its saliencein the literature, it seems appropriate to explore attention to theKnowledge base for teachingExamining the unexpected sophisticatioabout the relational dimensions of teach</p><p>Michelle Bauml*</p><p>The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 1 Univers</p><p>a r t i c l e i n f o</p><p>Article history:Received 13 September 2008Received in revised form26 December 2008Accepted 24 February 2009</p><p>Keywords:Preservice teachersTeacher education</p><p>a b s t r a c t</p><p>Research on preservice teation to the relational dimesimplistic and overly optiteachers attention to teachndings of a qualitative stwere asked to describe prsurprisingly nuanced unde</p><p>journal homepage: wwwAll rights reserved.of preservice teachers beliefsg</p><p>tation D5700, Austin, TX 78712, USA</p><p>rs beliefs about professional teaching capabilities indicates strong atten-n; these studies have contributed to a portrayal of preservice teachers astic about the teaching profession. In this article, I position preservicestudent relationships as a form of professional knowledge. Drawing fromof U.S. elementary (prekindergarten-Grade 4) preservice teachers who</p><p>ssional characteristics of effective teachers, I suggest their beliefs revealndings about the complex nature of teaching.</p><p> 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.</p><p>le at ScienceDirect</p><p>cher Education</p><p>lsevier .com/locate/ tate</p></li><li><p>characteristics are rare (Murphy et al., 2004; Skamp,1995; Skamp &amp;</p><p>her Education 25 (2009) 902908 9032. Teacherstudent relationships in the literature</p><p>The pervasive role of the relational dimension of teaching isevident in the vast body of literature it supports. Numerous scholarshave written on the topic of caring in teaching (e.g. Deiro, 2003;Goldstein, 1998; Hargreaves, 1998; Isenbarger &amp; Zembylas, 2006;McBee, 2007; Noddings, 1995; OConnor, 2008). Others have sug-gested teacherstudent relationships are powerful inuencers ofstudent learning (Darby, 2005; Goldstein, 1999; van Manen, 1999).</p><p>In the literature, when experienced K-12 teachers are asked toidentify and/or rank characteristics of effective or excellentteachers, relational traits such as caring and warmth are amongthose consistently reported in the ndings (Johnson, 1997; Murphyet al., 2004; Perry &amp; Rog, 1992; Walls, Nardi, von Minden, &amp; Hoff-man, 2002). Such widespread attention to the relational dimensionof teaching among seasoned professionals is generally unquestio-neddteachers are expected to establish strong interpersonal rela-tionships with children to create and maintain learner-centeredclassroom environments (Noddings, 1984). Supporting this notionare studies suggesting teacherstudent relationships in earlyschooling affect student learning (Birch &amp; Ladd,1997) and readinessfor school (Palermo, Hanish, Martin, &amp; Fabes, 2007).</p><p>Researchers have also documented preservice teachersconceptions of effective teacher characteristics at the early child-hood/elementary level (Lin, Hazareesingh, Taylor, Gorrell, &amp; Carl-son, 2001; Skamp, 1995; Skamp &amp; Mueller, 2001; Yoder, Shaw,Siyakwazi, &amp; Yli-renko, 1993) and in studies of elementary andsecondary preservice teachers (Fajet et al., 2005; Minor, Onwueg-buzie, Witcher, &amp; James, 2002; Murphy et al., 2004; Strickland,Page, &amp; Page, 1987; Walls et al., 2002). Findings suggest preserviceteachers at all levels identify interpersonal and strongmanagementskills as primary descriptors of effective teachers. Althoughsubstantial attention to relational aspects of the profession isconsidered acceptable and appropriate for practicing teachers,among preservice teachers this same attention is typicallyconstrued as a limitation (Fajet et al., 2005; Weinstein, 1988, 1989).Indeed, preservice teachers are only beginning to formulate thewisdom of practice (Shulman, 1986) that would enable them toconceptualize the incredibly complex processes of effectiveteaching. Researchers who interpret preservice teachers expressedbeliefs as evidence of their lack of knowledge tend to characterizethem as oblivious to nuances of teaching and unable to conceive ofteaching as a deeply complex profession.</p><p>Other researchers have suggested preservice teachers are capableofmore sophisticated thinking about teaching than theyare typicallycredited. For example, in her response to Kagans (1992) recom-mendation that preservice teachers should focus heavily on securinginstructional andmanagerial routines in their preparation programsbecause ofwhere theyare developmentally, Grossman (1992) assertsher belief that preservice teachers are capableofwrestlingwithmoredifcult questions about the ethical and intellectual demands ofteaching over and above procedures. Additionally, citing a review ofthe literature (Wideen, Mayer-Smith, &amp; Moon, 1998), Hammernesset al. (2005) note preservice teachers beliefs and understandingsabout teaching and learning vary widely and are inclusive of beliefsthat are . more nuanceddand extend across a wider range ofpossibilitiesdthan many people had imagined (p. 369).</p><p>Despite a trend in the literature claiming prospective teachershold simplistic beliefs about teachingdespecially because rela-tional teacher traits are held in such high esteemdit is important toconsider the implications of methodological decisions that maymask deeper, more complex understandings obscured by heavyreliance on surveys and open-ended written questionnaires.Interviews with early grade preservice teachers who have eld</p><p>M. Bauml / Teaching and Teacexperiences to refer to as they consider effective teacherMueller, 2001; Weinstein, 1990). Findings that suggest simplisticnotions of teaching among preservice teachers may have beeninuenced by participants lack of eld experiences or by theabsence of probing for deeper understanding of participantsresponses via interviews. This study was designed to address thisissue by exploring preservice teachers beliefs in a way that allowsthe participants to justify and explain their thinkingdto tell uswhat they know descriptively from experience. Through an inter-pretivist lens, early childhood preservice teachers thinking abouteffective teacher characteristics is examined here from an experi-ential, qualitative perspective.</p><p>3. Method</p><p>In this study, I set out to explore preservice teachers conceptionsof what it means to be an effective teacher. I conducted semi-structured interviews with elementary preservice teachers who hadcompleted one semester of professional coursework and a eld-based internship to investigate preservice teachers contextualizedunderstanding of effective teacher characteristics in their ownterms, framed by their personal experiences as interns in the eld.This design gave the preservice teachers an opportunity to richlyarticulate their beliefs about effective teachers beyond what can beascertained via questionnaires or surveys, and it enabled me to askclarifying questions to further my understanding of their responses,particularly concerning the relational domain of teaching. Qualita-tive methods of data collection and analysis (Miles &amp; Huberman,1994) were used to explore how early childhood preservice teachersdene the professional characteristics of effective teachers.</p><p>3.1. Participants and context</p><p>Participants were full-time students in an undergraduate cohortof 24 preservice teachers pursuing an early childhood-Grade 4teaching certicate at one of the United States largest accreditedurban public universities. As is typical of degree-seekers in thisprogram, all seven volunteer participants had recently completedmethods courses in science, early childhood, and language arts aswell as a course in human learning and the rst of three semesters ofinternship (1.5 days per week for 13 weeks) in assigned pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classrooms. I served as the eldsupervisor for the cohort during their internships, observing lessonsand providing feedback on instruction and classroommanagement.</p><p>My decision to recruit volunteers from a cohort of preserviceteachers with whom I was working was deliberate. I evaluatedthese cohort members on their instructional practices during theireld experience, so I knew that I could probe and question froma place of established rapport with the participants. Recruitmentand interviews took place in between semesters, at a time when Iwas not directly involved in participants supervision to minimizeethical complexity and conict of interest to the degree possible.</p><p>The participants, all female, included 2122 year old seniorsexpecting to graduate in spring 2008 with a Bachelor of Sciencedegree in Applied Learning and Development and an early child-hood-Grade 4 teaching certicate. One participant, Maria,1 is Latinaand the other six are Caucasian, and all could be considered typicalteacher candidates at this university. Not surprisingly for a group ofcollege students intending to devote their professional lives toworking with young people, all seven participants had some type ofexperience working with young children before beginning theinternship (e.g. babysitter, camp counselor, swim instructor,1 All names are pseudonyms.</p></li><li><p>communicate with them effectively serve an important purpo-</p><p>her Ereligious education teacher). Additionally, before enrolling in thethree semester professional development sequence, all early child-hood/elementary education majors at this university tutor youngstudents in local schools as a prerequisite course requirement.</p><p>Most participants in this study were placed in schools sur-rounded by middle-class neighborhoods where, according to thestates Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) for 20062007,just over half the student populationwas white and the percentageof economically disadvantaged students fell between 23 and 35%(Texas Education Agency, n.d.a.). One participant, Leslie, completedher eld experience at a school in the same district where the20062007 AEIS report indicates students of color comprised 99%of the student body and 94% of students were classied aseconomically disadvantaged (Texas Education Agency, n.d.a.).</p><p>3.2. Data collection and analysis</p><p>Data for this study were collected during semi-structured audiotaped interviews. Each participant was interviewed for 4560 minthree times; once after each required 13 week internship inprekindergarten-Grade 5 classrooms. Participants were asked todescribe their conceptions of professional characteristics of effec-tive teachers, their observations of those characteristics in earlychildhood classrooms, and their personal engagement with thosecharacteristics. Data presented here were collected during the rstinterview following the rst internship.</p><p>Immediately following each interview, I spent between 20 and40 min recording my initial reactions to the interviews as well asquestions that arose as a result of the reective process. I continuedto record analytic memos throughout data collection, interviewtranscription, and data analysis. After transcribing the interviews, Igave each participant a copy for a rst level member check. Three ofthe seven participants responded by indicating that the transcriptslooked great, but no modications were suggested.</p><p>I relied on existing literature to generate a start list of codes asrecommended by Miles and Huberman (1994) that enabled me tobegin organizing teacher characteristics identied in the transcriptswhile remaining open to unforeseen themes (Jones et al., 2000).Specically, I referred to Weinsteins (1998) categories of inter-personal relationships, classroom management, and pedagogyfrom her study of early childhood, elementary, and secondarypreservice teachers responses on a Teacher Beliefs Survey aboutestablishing caring and order in their future classrooms. Becausethey...</p></li></ul>