The experience of being a preservice teacher: a study with four preservice teachers of physical education
It is expected that future teachers are able to apply the theory they learn in university-based coursework to teaching practices in the field (Tigchelaar & Korthagen, 2004). However, it is assumed that university coursework and school-based experiences have a complementary role in the professional development (Beeth & Adadan, 2006). To understand how the preservice teachers experience the impact of the real practice and context of teaching is critical in the construction of their professional identity and its inherent roles (Jurasaite-Harbison, 2005). Thus, the aim of this study was to identify and to compare the expected and perceived difficulties preservice teachers report during their practicum.
Four semi-structured interviews were applied to preservice teachers from University of Porto with open-ended questions, in the middle of their practicum year. Participants’ responses were taped and transcribed verbatim. From the thematic analysis of the data the following themes emerged: a) expectations; b) difficult issues; c) easy issues; and d) expectations vs reality. Data analysis showed that: a) the participants were aware of a very hard year, with a huge number of tasks; they expected that practicum would be a very important confrontation with school reality, and an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher; b) concerning the main difficulties, preservice teachers report the class control and the discipline; the high number and time-consuming of internship tasks, and the school bureaucracy; c) conversely, the integration within the physical education department, and the collaboration within practicum group appeared as key facilitators; d) the preservice teachers felt that school was a complex and demanding reality, in terms of organization, decision-making, and accountability. The sense of unpreparedness to deal successfully with situational problems was imputed to their previous preparation. Even though some common themes and similar ideas were apparent among participants, the particularities of each case must be considered, as for one what may be valued as a capital resource, for other may constitute a source of ambiguity and confusion.
The practicum is engaged in different characteristics on the whole of the process of the initial teacher training. In a common vision, it is expected that future teachers are able to apply the theory they learn during their initial training, the teaching practices in the field (Tigchelaar & Korthagen, 2004). These practices tend to reflect the vision of a model of education, teaching, learning and the role of teachers, which is behind the programs sought by supervising training institutions. Each training model is related to the principles and conceptual guidelines that establish the curricula of teacher training and experiential dynamics arising from the training field. Whereas a major concern in teacher education is the transformation of academic knowledge to professional knowledge, it is assumed that both the courses and the experiences gained by the preservice teachers in schools have a complementary role in the academic and professional development to become a teacher (Beetham & Adadan, 2006).
This is a key moment that will constrain their future professional practice. It is a moment that seeks to combine theory with practice, setting the practicum as research, enabling the preservice teacher to analyze, to think, to reflect and to discuss critically, from the previous acquired knowledge and the new lived experiences. Jurasaite-Harbison (2005) suggests that to understand how the preservice teachers experience the impact of the real practice is a critical issue in the construction of their professional identity and its inherent roles, as he/she drags with himself/herself the creation of expectations regarding the problematic and unforeseen situations that lead to a constant obligation for appropriate and immediate responses, allowing to realize some of his/her difficulties or facilities when confronted with reality.
The reflection along the practice in the practicum context can be understood as building active and ongoing reorganization by the preservice teacher. From this process he/she has the tool to think the teaching practice susceptible of attributes that allow the encouragement of behavior changes in dealing with knowing and scientific, pedagogical and educational knowledge. This knowledge compel to the theoretical inquiry, sensitivity, creativity and self-criticism to face the conflicting and ambiguous situations present in school contexts (Perrenoud, 1999). Therefore, the initial training of teachers should work in accordance with this construction. The preservice teachers should always look forward for new knowledge and should be in constant academic and professional development.
Understanding that reflective practice must be nurtured by the desire to perform preservice teachers’ own work more effectively and at the same time, the closest to an ethical (Perrenoud, 1999), it is necessary to reframe the education from their own development. Whereas development refers to a continuous search for knowledge of the preservice teachers it relates to in their work environment, sharing knowledge and know how to apply it in a setting of social interaction and communication from the culture of teaching and learning (Fosnot, 1996). To Perrenoud (1999), despite the existence of more focused work in teacher education, it still remains a misunderstanding between the spontaneous reflective practice and methodical and collective reflective practice. While the first arises from the need to reflect on personal experience as “an obstacle, a problem, a decision is taken, a failure or any real resistance to his/her thinking or his actions” (p.10), the second refers to a reflective practice that professionals use during the time that the objectives set are not met.
Therefore, in the educational context, reflective practice should be viewed individually and collectively. At the same time, “One might add that a professional reflective practice is never entirely alone. It relies on informal conversations, organized professionalism interactive moments, methodical feedback practice, briefing, work analysis, reflection regarding the quality, the assessment that is done. The reflective practice can be a lonely process, but it is also done within groups, it calls for outside experts, it is inserted within networks, i.e., it relies on training, providing the tools or the theoretical basis to better understand the processes involved and better understand themselves.” (p.11) It is noteworthy that these nuances about reflective practice must be capable of development ever since the initial training, within a context of switching and theory and practice articulation. Thus, it allows promoting a more natural and conscious learning, from an individual and collective standpoint. This practice it is not limited to resolutions of problems, it is a guide to all the needed attributes for balance between what is learned in terms of schemes and how these actions are accommodated to the situations in play (Fosnot, 1996).
Thus, reflective practice is part of the daily working time. It may arise as a routine in a permanent state of alert. Therefore, it needs organization and discipline. It needs methods to observe, to assimilate, to analyze and to reflect. After this understanding, it allows choosing the most favored new options. In this way, it is necessary to have in mind that the social contexts in which the training field falls are determinant for reflective practice, which is in a permanent change in the axes of the preservice teachers’ scientific arguments, their organization and their mentoring and teaching. All this, without alienating the subjective dimensions of social actors, which presupposes the importance of an integrated reflective reading in the daily practice of teachers through building capacity for the training route as a autonomous, critical and reflective teacher (Nóvoa, 1992; Ponte, 2000; Sá-Chaves, 1997). Therefore, taking into account the description and interpretation of preservice teachers from the reflection in practice (Tardif, 2006; Schön, 2000; Zeichen, 2008; Perrenoud, 2002) the aim of this study was to identify and to compare the expected and perceived difficulties preservice teachers report during their practicum.
Starting from these context considerations, we considered that each representation built by the preservice teacher influence the process of constructing the model of how to act as a teacher and references made by him/her for the definition of an effective teacher. This study also attempts to capture the balance between the expected and perceived experience in the practicum context. Finally, this study seeks to understand how preservice teachers held for new approaches to teaching and learning to teach.
Material and Methods
Four PE preservice teachers from the 2008/2009 academic year from Faculty of Sport, University of Porto participated in this study. This is an exploratory and interpretive work, thus the selection of the participants fell to the preservice teachers who have attained the highest rating in the final report. It is necessary to highlight that this classification is not representative of the practicum classification, since the preservice teachers had ratings that ranged between 14 and 19 values. For data collection it was used semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions. Interviews took place at the beginning of the second semester of their practicum year. Participants’ responses were taped and transcribed verbatim. This type of interview it allows a flexible driving while admitting to changing the order of the questions and to seek more information with the introduction of sub-questions (Gratton & Jones, 2004). Respondents answered questions thoroughly, using their own words and frames of reference, for the strategy of putting “minor issues” in an attempt to obtain more complete information.
The content of the interview was analyzed by 3 experts. In order to identify the issues that respond to all the problems under study it was also carried out a pilot study with two preservice teachers to check on comprehension, intelligibility and clarity of the questions. The interviews were conducted in September 2009 in calm and reserved ambient, and set a time of convenience of the interviewee. The interview was guided by a script that allowed their complementarily to clarify doubts or questions insights. It was provided to the respondent the attention and time to understand, without placing any constraint. Respondents gave their voluntary consent and anonymity was guaranteed. The transcription of the interviews was inserted in the qualitative data NVivo7 and subsequently submitted to a thematic analysis (Bardin, 1977). The thematic analysis of the data searched for emergent ideas in the major thematic areas covered in the semi-structured interview: a) expectations; b) difficult issues; c) easy issues; and d) expectations vs reality.
Results and discussion
The data analysis is structured in the arguments of the preservice teachers from the critical reflection and self-criticism, translated into knowledge competences, action, reflection and social behavior. These competences pass across areas of special performance by the practicum programs, including the search for definition of the global profile of preservice teacher in the field of teacher knowledge for the profession (professional development). In this sense, data pointed to some considerations that allowed an engagement to the ideas emerging in key areas covered in the interview:
1. The participants were aware of a very hard year, with a huge number of tasks; they expected that practicum would be a very important confrontation with school reality, and an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher;
“Then there is another level of difficulty, that is, perhaps, common to all preservice teachers, which is the great density and volume of tasks to perform, that make sometimes our day-to-day difficult (…) and it’s hard to answer everything with quality” (E3, Ref.7)
“I thought that a teacher was someone that gives lessons, but he is more than that; he is like a social model (…).” (E2, Ref.3)
“Initially, I had already mentioned, when I started the practicum, I didn’t knew what would happen. Actually, I had no idea it would be such a laborious year and I had to have some spirit of sacrifice. But my expectations were a bit empty, I didn’t not quite knew what I would find, what would happen in those early days stage”. (E4, Ref. 5)
2. The interviewees recount with much emphasis on too much bureaucracy in dealing with the tasks of organizing and managing the teaching and learning. Additionally, it must be highlighted the difficulties and the confrontation with the lived reality surrounding this context:
“I think the biggest difficulty is that awareness of the preservice teachers who have to do many tasks, and the best possible. And then, one have to organize ourselves, we have to develop personal strategies, managing day-to-day to do these tasks” (E3, Ref. 8)
“I know it is very bureaucratic, but in the final meeting we had, there was no appeal, there was nothing, but it is hard work, and has much to be said because it is not a simple (pause), to see grades from other teachers passing by and then the meeting ended” (E1, Ref. 13).
3. Conversely, the integration within the physical education department, as well as the collaboration within practicum group appeared as key facilitators; the preservice teachers felt that the school was a complex and demanding reality, in terms of organization, decisionmaking, and accountability.
“I noticed that the teacher group of physical education had a great opening to our own and even helped us.” (E3, Ref.3)
4. The participants emphasize the integration and the sense of cooperation that brings out within relationships among groups (preservice teachers and cooperating teachers). This was an argument that pervaded the four themes of study:
“Team work is not easy. When I am … when a person is, when I form a group and I choose the persons it is much easier. Why do they fit me, I will not choose a person with whom I do not have a relationship, and I don’t give along, the work doesn’t advances.” (E4, Ref. 19)
“The expectations of the group stage were not high, why? Because I didn´t knew none of my colleagues, I didn´t had any knowledge.”(E1, Ref. 5)
“As the most experienced teachers knew our potential difficulties regarding the necessity to shape, to adapt ourselves to the difficulties, they yielded their spaces (…) and I noticed, from the group of teachers of physical education, a great opening to our own inexperience, and even helped us.” (E3, Ref. 3)
5. The respondents emphasize the reflections concerning the confrontation of the preservice teachers with the complexity of the school structure in terms of its organization, its needs and responsibilities in dealing with teaching. The feeling of successfully dealing with the situational problems becomes allocated to their initial training, since for themselves the reality in school context significantly differs from the previously acquired knowledge of those new experiences acquired in the training field:
“Those situations like very little space to give a particular sport, and being accustomed to a larger space. Like those where our teaching practices always gave us the maximum space. We never had just a little and they never told us: you must have to be only there. This would sometimes be important, because what we (hesitation) work here… the faculty does not reflect what really happens”. (E 2, Ref. 6)
6. Even though some common themes and similar ideas are evident among the respondents, the particularities of each case must be considered, for the reason that what to one preservice teacher might be valued as a resource for academic and professional development, to another preservice teacher can be a source of ambiguity and confusion.
For the preservice teachers, the practicum appears as a fundamental component of the educational process that values the experience and reflection on experience (Schön, 2000). The respondents consider the pedagogical practice as a moment of constructing knowledge through reflection, analysis and questioning of that practice (Coll & Martín, 2004). To know more than what can be explained is a form of knowledge that relates to feelings and perceptions experienced in the context of daily teaching practice. For Schön (2000), it is not only articulated knowledge between the knowledge derived from practice and from scientific knowledge that are principles for the academic and professional training to promote the development of a preservice teacher.
Overcoming an education that is predominantly technical and scientific requires new processes of teaching and learning that include reflection as an essential tool for professional development. Among the respondents’ arguments, it is unanimous the importance of knowing in action and to reflect on it. To know how to judge and to have the skill to decide and to act spontaneously are actions which demonstrate the ability to understand the facts and phenomena that are representative of the practice. Therefore, to reflect on these skills led respondents to a condition of intentional descriptions of educational events that varied according to the reflective intentions and the available language to promote their reflexivity. The fact is that, whatever are the critical and reflective arguments that come from their experiences in the context of practicum, there is a process of awareness, evaluation, adaptation and regularity within the correction of errors and deviations, which turn them part of an intelligent action.
Alarcão, I & Tavares, J. Supervisão da prática pedagógica. (2003). (2 ed). Coimbra: Livraria Almedina. Bardin, Laurence. (1977). Análise de Conteúdo. Lisboa: Edições 70.
Beeth, M., & Adadan, E. (2006). The Influences of University-Based Coursework on Field Experience. Journal of Science Teacher Education,17:103-120.
Bosque Sendra, J. (1992): La enseñanza de los Sistemas de Información Geográfica. V Coloquio de Geografía cuantitativa. Actas y Comunicaciones. Servicio de publicaciones de la Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, pp. 47-58.
Chuvieco Salinero, E. (2002): Teledetección Ambiental. La observación de la Tierra desde el espacio. Ariel, Madrid, 592 pp.
Coll, C. & Martín, E. (2004). Aprender conteúdos e desenvolver capacidades. Porto Alegre: Artmed.
Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Construtivismo e educação: teoria, perspectiva e prática. Lisboa: Instituto Piaget.
Gratton, C., & Jones, I. (2004). Research methods for sport studies. London and New York: Routledge.
Jurasaite-Harbison, E. (2005). Reconstructing teacher’s professional identity in a research discourse: A professional development opportunity in an informal setting. Trames, 9(2):159-176.
Nóvoa, A. (1992). Formação de professores e profissão docente. In A. Nóvoa (Ed.), Os professores e a sua formação. Lisboa: Publicações Dom Quixote.
Ponte, J. P. da. (2000). A formação de professores e o processo de bolonha. Luís Sebastião. (Col.). Lisboa: Universidade de Lisboa.
Perrenoud, P. (1999). Formar professores em contextos sociais em mudança. Trad. Denice Barbara Catani. Revista Brasileira de Educação Set-Dez, n° 12, pp. 5-21.
Perrenoud, P. (2002). Espaces-temps de formation et organisation du travail.In Post, A. et al. Espaços de educação-tempos de formação. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gouberkian.
Sá-Chaves, I. (1997). A formação de professores numa perspectiva ecológica. Que fazer com esta circunstância? Um estudo de caso da Universidade de Aveiro. In I. Sá-Chaves (Ed.), Percursos de formação e desenvolvimento profissional. Porto: Porto Editora, Lda.
Schön, D. (1997). Formar professores como profissionais reflexivos. In: NÓVOA, A. (Org.). Os professores e a sua formação. 3. ed. Lisboa: Dom Quixote, 1997. p. 79-91.
_______. (2000) Educando o profissional reflexivo: um novo design para o ensino e a aprendizagem.Porto Alegre: Artmed.
Tardif, M. (2006). Saberes profissionais dos professores e conhecimentos universitários: elementos para uma epistemologia da prática profissional dos professores e suas consequências em relação à formação para o magistério. Revista Brasileira de Educação. nº 13, jan./abr., pp. 5-24.
Tigchelaar, A.,& Korthagen, F. (2004). Deepening the exchange of student teaching experiences: Implications for pedagogy of teacher education of recent insights into teacher behavior. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20: 665-679.
Zeichner, K. (2008).Uma análise crítica sobre a “reflexão” como conceito estruturante na formação docente. Revista Educação & Sociedade, Campinas, v. 29, n. 103, maio/ago. 2008 Disponível