‘These Are Not the Realities I Imagined’: An Inquiry into the Lost Hopes and Aspirations of Beginning Teachers

July 29, 2016

Source: Cambridge Journal of Education, 2016


Over the past 15 years, the Israel Ministry of Education has conducted a special teachers’ training programme, called the Program for Excellence in Teaching (PET). Its declared objective is to attract highly talented students – who fulfil rigorous admission criteria – to colleges of education and to train them in a special programme aimed at achieving excellence in teaching and educational leadership (Klavir & Goldenberg, 2014). The programme, which operates at all colleges of education in Israel, has trained thousands of graduates so far. Extensive resources have been invested in this programme and policy-makers expect its graduates to become leaders who institute change in Israel’s educational system. Research on the induction of beginning teachers (eg Cherubini, 2009) shows that teachers are expected to adapt to the professional climates of their places of employment. Some disparity was nevertheless noted between the college environment and the practice of teaching: grand professional dreams, high expectations and lofty ideals give way to school conventions. This trend is evident even among PET graduates, who were expected to constitute the vanguard of revision and change and thus refresh the Israeli educational system. To date, this has not been the case.

This study focuses on 21 students and beginning teachers who participated in the PET at a certain college of education in Israel. Analysis shows that the two groups examined – 11 students and 10 beginning teachers during their formal induction stage – differ from one another in approach and experiences. While students aspire to lead and influence the educational system, graduates mostly attempt to survive professionally, experiencing isolation and a need to adjust to their work environment. As their conception of the educational system is essentially positive, they are probably not motivated to introduce any intensive changes therein. In this respect, they do not live up to the expectations that they would spearhead significant change in the educational system. This study examines the disparity between intentions and implementations and offers various innovative recommendations for coping with the situation.

We propose three methods of overcoming the rift between college and classroom and encouraging PET participants to formulate an innovative, unique and feasible educational vision that will not be abandoned at the first stages of their induction as teachers. The first such proposal concerns the PET training process, while the other two address teacher induction following studies at colleges of education.

Our first recommendation concerns a change in emphases in the training of excellent teachers. While intensive acquaintance with novel educational enterprises may have some effect on students’ outlooks, the PET programme should also emphasise development of a personal vision and the measures leading to its fulfilment. After three years of training and familiarity with innovative and progressive trends in education, each PET graduate, guided by the staff, should have formulated a feasible (ie practical and personal) vision with which to begin a career in education. This goal can be addressed through critical reflection (Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000), evoking the voices that develop as preservice teachers interpret and reinterpret their experiences (Sutherland, Howard, & Markauskaite, 2010), thus producing practical knowledge relevant to them. Such focused, well-detailed vision will guide them as teachers. Even if it is amended over the years in response to changing realities, it will still provide innovative directions of thinking that influence the teachers’ developing professional identity.

The latter two recommendations – one theoretical and the other practical – concern teacher induction. The first, which is relevant not only to excellent teachers, calls for adapting teacher induction programmes to the post-industrial age, while the second proposes formation of groups of PET graduates in their early years of teaching, enabling their integration into the system as a group and not as isolated individuals.

Teacher induction programmes need to adjust to the post-industrial era, altering the perception of beginning teachers and amending expectations regarding their professional integration. In the post-industrial era, every human being is perceived as a free, autonomous entity with a personal load of knowledge, culture and outlook. Workplace induction no longer means ‘this is the way we do things around here’ (Crow, 2006). Crow (2004) argues that, in a post-industrial society, socialisation is an active process that should acknowledge the individual’s characteristics, experience and values. A traditionalist notion of effective socialisation typically assumes a certain degree of conformity, in which the new employee (teacher, in our case) is socialised to conform to a conception of the role that is accepted by the socialising agents. In a post-industrial society, however, where roles are dynamic and demands are fluid, conformity or role assumption alone is likely to be ineffective and even dysfunctional. By contrast, a more innovative and perhaps even rebellious attitude may be more effective for beginning teachers in a complex school environment. If we do not learn to be flexible and adapt the beginning teachers’ socialisation process to the demands of the present era, the system is liable to repress every unique, innovative and creative voice. To preserve beginning teachers’ fresh thinking, motivation and enthusiasm, we seek change in the educational policies of the Ministry of Education and the schools that hire these teachers. Teacher induction should emphasise development of innovation and initiative among beginning teachers at the expense of replicating existing practices. Having each teacher find his/her unique voice can empower teachers and schools alike.

Another recommendation suggests inducting excellent teachers as a group rather than as isolated individuals, along with continuation of PET support even after participants have completed their studies. PET graduates mentioned feelings of personal and professional isolation in the educational system. This state of mind usurps all dimensions of power, impeding integration and weakening teachers, who merely attempt to survive professionally rather than assuming leadership and making changes, as would be expected of a PET graduate. To address this situation, we believe that only action by PET graduates, as a peer group, would be capable of effecting significant change in beginning teachers’ sentiments, subsequently leading to substantive systemic changes as well. In other words, assigning a group of PET graduates to a given school and continuing to support the group from the outside is likely to promote the desired change in the educational system.

Considering the relatively limited scope of the PET (which takes up only 25% of regular teacher training at colleges) and given that content, didactic knowledge and most field experiences are addressed through regular teacher training, it is difficult to compare PET with other comprehensive teacher education programmes throughout the world that excel in their achievements (eg Finland – Sahlberg, 2010; USA – Darling-Hammond, 2012). However, we do believe that there is plenty of room to maximise the outcomes and influences of the PET, as well as other outstanding teacher education programmes. We realise that adoption of our recommendations for induction of beginning teachers is challenging and may have extensive implications concerning the educational system. Nevertheless, unless we begin to question and challenge the a priori, often covert and unrealised assumptions concerning the nature of teachers’ induction, new teachers will continue to be immersed in the prevailing culture at their schools, without the opportunity to try to realise their deep beliefs and desires. Enabling new teachers to pursue their dreams may not only prove beneficial to these individual teachers and their students but may also generate a bottom-up change in schools and society.

Updated: Aug. 24, 2016