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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

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Review of  From Trainee to Teacher


Reviewer: Chris Blankenship
Book Title: From Trainee to Teacher
Book Author: Thomas S. C. Farrell
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.3776

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Reviews Editor: Helen Artistar-Dry

SUMMARY

Thomas S.C. Farrell’s book, “From Trainee to Teacher” provides practical advice for novice ESL/EFL teachers as they transition from education programs into their first year of teaching. Farrell argues that teacher education programs, particularly those in ESL, are often not adequately preparing students for the realities that they will face in the classroom, leading to a high rate of attrition. Additionally, Farrell notes that there is a distinct lack of research on the experiences of novice ESL teachers, which limits teacher educators in making meaningful changes to ESL teacher education programs. To help address this research gap, he offers a case study of three novice ESL teachers brought together in a reflective group setting, providing an overview of the challenges that they faced in their first year of teaching and the adjustments that they made to overcome these challenges in order to gain a greater understanding of what novice teachers need in order to be successful in their work. In the course of this discussion, Farrell provides frequent “reflective breaks” in the chapters specifically addressed to novice teachers or those currently enrolled in teacher education programs, asking readers to reflect upon what they have just read as well as their own experiences.

The introductory chapter, “Teaching: A Profession That Eats Its Young,” introduces the problem of high rates of attrition among teachers, with as many as half of all new teachers leaving their jobs within five years (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003). While these figures are for all teachers, Farrell narrows his focus to ESL and provides an overview of the sparse research that has been conducted on the causes of this professional “revolving door.” From this research, he points out two key places where teachers receive training: teacher education programs and the schools where novice teachers start their careers. Farrell states the aim of this book, then, is to provide readers with a greater awareness of the needs of novice teachers; he also provides guidance on how to use the book: primarily as a companion text for novice ESL teachers.

The second chapter, “Forget all you learned at _____: The Role of Teacher Education,” sets the scene for the rest of the chapters of the book. Farrell begins with an anecdote about the advice that an experienced ESL teacher gives novice teachers who come to her school: “’Forget all you learned at ____’ [fill in the name of the teacher education institution] ‘because it will not work’” (p. 12-13). Using this advice as a starting point, he points out the paucity of in-depth research on the experiences of novice ESL teachers, which this book serves to address. The remainder of the chapter introduces the research itself, including the theoretical approach (reflective language teaching), the methodology (case-study), the participants (three female novice ESL teachers), the data collection (interviews, teaching journals, group discussions, and classroom observations), analysis (qualitative coding), and the overall guiding framework (a weekly reflective teaching group, based largely upon Farrell’s previous work).

The third chapter is entitled “From Trainee to Teacher: The Transition Shock” and addresses the stark and often unexpected differences between teacher education programs and work as teachers, focusing primarily on two areas: the classroom and interactions with colleagues. Returning to the teacher attrition numbers from Chapter 1, Farrell then addresses the research on who is to “blame” for this shock, the teacher education programs or the schools, concluding that it should be shared. To further contextualize this shock, he then argues that novice teachers are in the process of moving from learning to teach to teaching to learn. In this process, they are still developing several aspects of their practice. Farrell highlights three of these dimensions of practice, discourse skills, teaching skills, and professional knowledge, as particularly important for helping novice teachers overcome transition shock.

Chapters Four,Five, and Six “’The First Week Is Like You’re in a Swamp’: Developing Awareness,” “’Here’s the Book, Go Teach’: Managing the Classroom,” and “’It Was Very Dry’: Evaluating Lessons” respectively, make use of the case study data from the three novice teachers to describe and analyze the challenges posed by both the administration and students. With regard to administrative challenges, Farrell addresses the novice teachers’ lack of support by administration, including the lack of a staff meeting in the first semester, missing textbooks, lack of computer system access, lack of transparency and support from the coordinator (essentially, a supervisor), confusion regarding exam requirements, and low pay relative to the amount of time spent on the work. From the classroom itself, the novice teachers faced challenges such as students who questioned their methods, the difficulty of small group work, how student progress was reflected in grading, students who didn’t attempt assignments, students who dominated class discussions, problems integrating their own ideas with required textbook chapters, and tardiness/attendance. Throughout all of these experiences, Farrell analyzes the situations and describes how these challenges contribute to the novice teachers’ growing awareness as practicing educational professionals.

Chapters Seven and Eight, “’I Want to Be Me’: Role Identity Development” and “’You Put Your Personal Stamp on It’: Reflecting on Teaching Style” continue to use case study data but take a more inward, reflective turn. Using separate coding for each concept, Farrell analyzes the development of the novice teachers over the twelve week semester. For role identity, Farrell finds three main identities, each with sub-identities, coded in the group meeting transcripts: Teacher as Manager (sub-identities of Communication Controller, Arbitrator, Motivator, and Presenter), Teacher As “Acculturator” (sub-identities of Volunteer, Friend, and Care Provider), and Teacher as Professional (sub-identities of Novice, Follower, and Unique). He discusses each sub-identity in turn, providing examples from the data and describing the challenges the teachers faced with each one. Using similar methods, Farrell finds four main influences on style: personality traits, such as being a “planner;” teacher experience of what works best, such as using materials outside of the textbooks; preferred teaching approaches to particular skills; and established practices, such as the institutional requirement that lesson plans be prepared and delivered to teacher supervisors. According to Farrell, both role identity and teaching style reflect a teacher’s beliefs, values, and emotions. Awareness of these different facets of teaching can aid novice teachers in their transition into the profession as well as aid teacher educators in creating successful programs.

Chapter Nine, “’Remember All You Learned at _____’: Reflective Practice within Teacher Education,” provides advice to teacher educators on revising programs to help novice teachers navigate the transition shock, so that these teachers stay in the profession. Farrell suggests that this could be accomplished through the addition of a single supplementary course called “teaching in the first year.” Because teaching situations are so widely variable, the best way to prepare pre-service teachers is to increase awareness through reflective practice. Farrell recommends the reflective framework of Philosophy, Principles, Theory, Practice, and Beyond Practice, outlined here but fully developed in his 2015 Promoting Teacher Reflection in Second Language Education: A Framework for TESOL Professionals. “Philosophy” is based on the idea that observable behaviors have reasons, even when not articulated, and requires a teacher to gain self-knowledge by reflecting on their background. “Principles” explores the teacher’s assumptions, beliefs, and conceptions about teaching and learning. “Theory” involves articulating how teachers put what they have learned, both in their training and through experience, into practice, using tools like reports on critical incidents (unplanned, memorable events that introduce dissonance in the teacher’s beliefs and practices). “Practice,” opposed to the previous, “hidden” aspects of teaching, requires the teacher to consider the visible, observable aspects of the classroom, using reflection before (reflection for action), during (reflection in action), and after (reflection on action) lessons. “Beyond Practice” moves past the individual and “entails exploring and examining the moral, political, and social issues that impact a teacher’s practice both inside and outside the classroom” (p. 121) through discussions such as those in reflective teacher groups.

Building upon the training suggested in the previous chapter, the final chapter, “’I Liked Hearing Other Ideas’: Reflective Practice during the First Year'' argues for the implementation of novice teacher reflection groups during teachers’ first year of professional practice. Revisiting the research on teacher education programs, Farrell reiterates that induction programs and mentoring have been shown to reduce attrition, but the “sink or swim” mentality is still strongly embedded in the profession. Arguing that novice teacher reflection groups can mitigate this transition shock, Farrell provides a process for creating and facilitating these groups. These groups can provide support as well as a space for novice teachers to consider connections between theory and practice as they gain more practical experience in the classroom. The novice teachers in Farrell’s case study also noted less isolation and a greater feeling of belonging at the institution through the group. Even with these benefits, Farrell points out that this group was an anomaly, coordinated by him as a part of a research study. In other circumstances, he feels that administrative support for such groups would be essential for their formation and persistence. He also suggests a reduced workload for teachers in their first year to make time for such groups and the employment of an experienced group facilitator (preferably in a paid position, but at least a volunteer one). Farrell ends with the limitations of the study, admitting that the small size of the study, the particular context of the novice teachers, and the lack of disclosure of identifying information about the teachers makes the results ungeneralizable; however, he asserts that the case study corroborates existing research, making clear that “teacher education programs could better prepare their novice teachers for the anticipated challenges and struggles they will inevitably encounter in their first year” (p. 136).

EVALUATION

This slim volume offers an approachable, in-depth look into the experiences of novice ESL teachers as they attempt to navigate their first year of professional practice. As a textbook, it is highly successful, written in a style that language education students will find accessible and engaging. The reflective breaks, while perhaps a bit too frequent in the first chapters, certainly represent the reflective framework that Farrell argues for across the volume. These breaks are also appropriately self-evaluative, raising questions about the limitations of the methodology due to the anonymity of the participants and leading readers to be critical as well as reflective.

As a work of research for teacher educators and program administrators, this book is still successful, though it is not quite as successful as a textbook. The case-study data certainly provides helpful insights into the experience of novice teachers, and given the emphasis on the school where the case-study participants worked, may prove particularly illuminating for administrators at such schools. However, the reflective breaks are directed solely to pre-service and novice ESL teachers, which non-teacher audiences may find irrelevant or distracting. I also found myself wondering about the use of the data. While Farrell also collected data from teaching journals, interviews, and classroom observations, the vast majority of the data used in the analysis comes purely from the transcriptions of the group discussions. For example, I only noted one instance, in Chapter Nine, where a classroom observation of a teacher was used to support the analysis. Perhaps the data simply wasn’t as interesting or was withheld to help preserve the anonymity of the subjects, but, when considering the excellent use of the data otherwise, the omission was notable.

In summary, “From Trainee to Teacher” is a valuable contribution to the scholarship on language teacher education. Thomas Farrell makes a persuasive argument about the need for greater support for pre-service and novice teachers, and this volume provides an important part of that support through compelling stories from novice teachers, insightful analysis, and pragmatic advice on the utility of reflective practice.

REFERENCES

Farrell, T.S.C. (2015). Promoting Teaching Reflection in Second Language Education: A Framework For TESOL Professionals. New York: Routledge.

Ingersoll, R.M. & Smith, T.M. (2003). “The wrong solution to the teacher shortage.” Educational Leadership, 60, 8: 30-33.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Chris Blankenship is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Salt Lake Community College. He teaches courses in general linguistics, discourse analysis, and academic writing. His recent research includes work on writing program administration, academic labor, and writing assessment.

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