Reconciling the tensions of new teachers' socialisation into school culture: A review of the research
Brock University, Ontario, Canada
The study reviews the research from 1969 to 2005 describing pre-service candidates' transition from student teacher to professional educator during their socialisation into school culture. Despite the educational reforms in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia over the last three decades, this review argues that new teachers experience many of the same initial concerns that have been documented about beginning teachers for over 35 years. The paper also examines the core themes that emerged in each of the respective periods identified in the review, including: teachers' perceptions of self (1969 to mid 1980s); professional sustainability (mid 1980s to late 1990s); and emerging identity during the process of their socialisation into school culture (2000 to 2005). Based on this examination, the paper suggests that the tension between new teacher identity formation and socialisation into school culture can be reconciled by a post-industrial perspective of how individuals formulate concepts of self.
This analysis is both timely and significant because it explores the sensitive relationship between new teacher experiences in school organisational culture and their emerging identity. In many countries there is growing support for professional governing bodies to define graduate standards for teachers. In north America there has been a call to district school boards and teacher federations to provide more comprehensive induction programs for novice teachers in their first to third years in the role to curb the teacher retention statistics and keep promising new graduates in the profession.
Two colleagues with 30 years of collective experience in survey literature research assisted in the search and selection process.
Herbert Blumer (1969), in the same year, accounted for the meaning that beginning teachers attributed to the complex circumstances they encountered within the process of their socialisation into their respective school cultures (p.51). Blumer acknowledged that individuals construed meaning through their interaction with others. In this context, beginning teachers negotiated the varying perceptions of self. Blumer stated:
There are however, multiple selves, an inner or core self, and a situational self; much of what constitutes our selves is situational, varying with context, [but] we also have a well defended, relatively inflexible substantial self into which we incorporate the most highly prized aspects of our self-concept and the attitudes and values that are most salient to it (cited by Nias, 1989, p.26).Blumer's description represented an active process of adjustment and compromise to a defined role and pattern of behavior. In both Fuller and Blumer's work, thus, there were noteworthy implications that novice teachers are at risk of experiencing what can be an unsettling initiation and anxiety into established school cultures.
Newmann and Wehlage's (1983) research identified the impact of a school's professional culture specifically upon its newest members. They suggested:
The professional cultures into which new teachers are inducted are critically important because the early years not only confirm new teachers' choice of occupation in life, but also lay a base for future professional development (p.255; See also McDonald & Elias, 1983).This description implicated the vital role culture plays in validating a novice's career path and its foundational impact upon his or her professional and formative identity development. School culture was described as affirming the same sense of beginning teachers' self efficacy referred to in Fuller's work. These descriptions implied that the influence of school culture is influentially critical to beginning teachers' careers, particularly in their management of the tension that may potentially exist.
Research at the close of the decade and in the early 1990s continued to describe the interactional context of new teachers' identity with their professional socialisation and development (McGowen & Hart, 1990). Professional socialisation is described as a learning process whereby each individual acquires the knowledge and skills of their professional roles (McGowan & Hart). The description implies an onus on the beginning teacher to successfully carve his or her niche in the respective school culture to sustain a satisfactory level of security and respect (Bullough, Knowles, & Crow, 1992). This is a potentially strenuous and difficult order for the novice teacher since the socialisation process influences the extent to which new teachers manage the challenges of the classroom and cope with moments of frustration and self doubt (Wildman, Niles, Magliaro, & McLaughlin, 1989).
Putz's intensive literature review in 1992 categorises beginning teachers' concerns and acclimatisation to their school culture into four classifications: teaching, planning, relationship, and other concerns. Teaching concerns included teachers' protocols for controlling and managing students in the classroom (see also Bullough, 1989; Covert, Williams & Kennedy, 1991; Cruikshank & Callahan, 1983; Odell, 1996; Stern & Shepherd, 1986; Veenman, 1984; 1987; Vonk, 1983), student motivation and participation (see also Bullough, 1990; Veenman, 1987; Vonk), student evaluation and assessment (see also Covert et al; Grant & Zeichner, 1981; Veenman), and the teachers' ability to accommodate students' unique differences (see also Bullough; Covert et al; Veenman). The literature identifies teachers' planning concerns to include inadequate time to plan (Berg, Murphy, Nagel, & Malian, 1989; Grant & Zeichner), time management (Cruikshank & Callahan), organising the school day to include teaching and learning activities (Covert et al; Odell, Laughlin, & Ferrero, 1987; Stern & Shepherd; Vonk), and having equitable access to resource materials and curriculum consultants (Covert et al.; Grant & Zeichner; Odell et al; Stern & Shepherd). Most importantly in terms of teachers' relationships with colleagues and staff, Putz's synthesis describes beginning teachers' interactions as a complex and sensitive series of exchanges (Berg et al.; Covert et al.; Cruikshank & Callahan; Grant & Zeichner; Hitz & Roper, 1986; Pickard, 1989; Stern & Shepherd; Vonk), with emphasis, given these descriptions, on new teachers' ability to uphold a cohesive relationship with the school community (Berg et al.; Bullough; Covert et al.; Hitz & Roper; Veenman). These descriptions conceptualise novice teachers in a position of susceptibility. The neophyte teacher, as the language implies, must resolve the complexities of this socialisation into the school culture at the risk of being perceived as not belonging. The potential tension which may exist in these circumstances in self evident.
Dollage's (1992) work closely resembles the research cited in Putz's literature review. Dollage identifies the top two concerns of new teachers as founded upon classroom power and students' motivation to learn. Dollage attributed these impediments to what are described as highly inflexible and ingrained school organisational cultures.
That these neophyte teachers are not more reflective is probably the result of a combination of factors: the indeterminate, highly contextual and frenetically paced nature of classroom teaching; the limited value of theory in informing daily classroom practice; and insufficient time during and after a stressful school day for the new teacher to pause, deliberate, and plan carefully for the next day or next week. (Dollage, p.89)Dollage constructed a vision of beginning teachers' experiences as bordering on chaotic. His description depicted a furiously rushed and tension inducing professional role. The time to strategically plan for pedagogical practice is, for the beginning teacher, reduced in this account to an unrealistic commodity. Theoretical perspectives seem to have minimal relevance in a reality that is seemingly intolerant of professional reflection.
Beginning teachers were repeatedly described as proceeding through distinct phases of professional development (Freshour & Hollmann, 1990; Lacey, 1977; Lortie, 1975) implying that their successful transitions are dependent upon their proficiency in coping with the circumstances of being a new professional (Lacey; Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1985). Dollage (1992) too depicts the first years of teaching as determining new teachers' self constructed professional identities. Interestingly enough, Dollage suggested that these identities are based predominantly on new teachers' perceptions of how schools operate as bureaucratic entities and social organisations. This underscores the influential role that formal and informal modes of professional practice have on novice teachers in terms of construing the norms and values that are accepted by the school's organisational culture.
Huberman, Grounauer and Marti (1993) concluded that teachers' early careers are marked by phases of exploration and stabilisation. The new teacher, according to these authors, is initially involved in a personal investigation of the dynamics of their role in the context of a professional culture and then explores and experiments with these suppositions. If this exploration is positive, their professional selves begin to stabilise by approaching on a more systematic level the various technicalities that their roles entail. "The development of the profession is, therefore, a process rather than a successive series of punctual events ... in short, discontinuities" (Huberman et al, p.4). Although the career phases of teachers can be ordered into stages, it is not necessarily a structured and linear process for all individuals. Further, they concluded that new teachers, in periods of survival and discovery, contend with the uncertainties of the classroom, discrepancies between ideals and reality, and the frustrations of classroom management. As in the literature already discussed, the construction of this reality situates beginning teachers in survival mode. The experiences are framed in a discourse that suspends a novice's professional development pending their ability to successfully cope with the organisational realities of schooling and their place in all of it. The description of the experience depicts new teachers as having to struggle with the potential fragmentation of their professional acclimatisation into the culture of teaching.
Borich's work (1996), like some of the research already cited, described teacher development in terms of survival, mastery, and impact stages. The duration of each stage is determined by the individual's knowledge of teaching practice and the environment and culture of their school. Borich suggested that the likelihood of a teacher leaving the profession because of work related issues was significantly less if they reached the "impact" stage of their development. The term survival is dubiously distinguished since the initial experiences of beginning teachers are described as drawing upon their figurative primal instincts to endure the tension and stress of the new role and its responsibilities. The context is one wherein novices subsist the predicaments with very little connotation of the possibility of experiencing a positive sense of self efficacy, let alone thriving in the new role seeing as that is for a subsequent stage.
Teacher attrition (mid 1990s to late 1990s)
Carl (1996) discusses new teachers working in relative isolation and forced to "deal with problems of loneliness, time demands and day to day dealing with the kids that will drive many of them out of the profession" (p.6). The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (1996) recognised that new teachers are overwhelmed with fundamental problems such as class and behaviour management and as a result of the tension become even further isolated in their schools. Issues of teacher retention surfaced in the mid 1990s because of the number of novice teachers who left the profession. Greene (1997) attributed some of the corroding effects that force beginning teachers into career changes to the fact that teaching is the sole profession that routinely asks beginners to perform the same work according to the same standards as their experienced colleagues. Greene's descriptions suggested that new teachers' induction into school culture include inequitable professional expectations thereby burdening the most inexperienced members of the profession.
The frustrations experienced by novice teachers eventually began to be framed in the literature in terms of teacher burnout. Stress is identified as overwhelming and a contributing factor of new teachers' depleting energy levels and emotional capacities. Teachers most prone to factors of burnout, according to Terry (1997), are those who fail to maintain a positive attitude when confronted with heightened tension and become disenchanted when their respective school culture curtails their enthusiasm. Terry's research drew attention to the potential for new teachers to practice in a state of exhaustion and neglect. Glickman, Gordon and Ross-Gordon (1998) determined, as the decade drew to a close, that beginning teachers confront significant difficulties and experience increased tension when functioning in schools with inadequate resources, are assigned challenging teaching assignments, and especially noteworthy, are indoctrinated into school cultures that have a sink or swim mentality. The language is framed in images of isolation and suffocation. Inherent in these descriptions is the implication that impervious school cultures can figuratively drown beginning teacher idealism, suppress their enthusiasm, consume their emotional resiliencies, and inhibit their potential to cope with the challenges of the classroom. It is implied that the outcome of a new teachers' initial experiences is one of two conditions; namely, either surviving the initial stage of their professional development or perishing in trying to do so. Montgomery Halford's (1998) uses an image which dramatically underscored the latter of these conditions. She uses the metaphor of cannibalism to explain the attrition of beginning teachers due in large part to cultures that consume their most inexperienced members. Montgomery Halford's radical idiom employs a moral and emotional tangent to describe the teaching profession as eating its young.
Leadership (late 1990s)
Robinson's (1998) research shifted the focus of new teacher socialisation upon the organisational leaders of the school. He suggested it was the principal's responsibility to ensure the beginning teacher's successful integration into the school culture. Stombus and Chodzinski (1998), in the same year, called upon all those in charge of preparing teachers to facilitate consistent and ongoing assistance by addressing the concerns common to all beginning teachers: "Knowing what teachers need and expect from faculties and employers will help to provide induction experiences and will build on the foundation to create pathways for ongoing professional growth" (p. 13). The research literature refers to the collective responsibility that professional school cultures have on "developing constructive norms and practices over time, attending to the way in which new members are brought into school faculties" (Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999, p.754).
Barakett and Cleghorn's (2000) work cited the complexity of developing coping strategies given the array of circumstances encountered in new teachers' practice. Socialisation into the profession involves "a critical understanding of what is taught, why we teach what we do, how certain subjects are most effectively taught, and alternative ways of teaching" (Barakett & Cleghorn, p.56). Beginning teachers' firm self conceptions as teachers and their philosophy of teaching, as the literature describes, develops over their life experience including the hours spent observing teachers as students (Barakett & Cleghorn; Bullough et al, 1992). Professional identity formulates in the context of self conceptualisation (Brott & Kajs, 2001). Further, the terminology captures beginning teachers' developmental maturation during their training for the profession in the preservice education year (understood as a one year post graduate program of study) and describes its evolution as proceeding from novice to experienced practitioner within their respective school and organisational cultures. The frames of reference describe the evolution of professional identity as subject to the relatively same difficult initial experiences in the classroom for the novice teacher. Though the lexis may differ throughout the historical survey of the literature, the images of being transposed into an unanticipated professional experience and school culture remain consistent, as does the rendering of the new teacher to the tension and feelings of helplessness and isolation. Consider the following observation:
The first years of teaching can be overwhelming. Even experienced teachers in new assignments can be sorely tested. This 'reality shock' can take a terrible toll on teacher morale, make school authority recruitment more difficult and negatively impact student achievement. (Teacher Supply and Demand Committee in Alberta, 2001, p.5)Further, Russell and McPherson (2001) suggested that,
Teacher education programs do little to dismantle the common view that a full-blown teacher emerges from a pre-service program, rather than a novice or intern ready to begin teaching. This view is often held by candidates and employers alike, reflecting a fundamental failure to acknowledge the effects of experience and further professional development on professional growth. (p.4)Their research captures the discord between two distinct realities, the first, an individual's professional proficiencies as a new teacher and the second, the incongruent expectations from the field. The fragmentation between these two realities is described as the illusion of preservice teachers being fully prepared, only to be overwhelmed by their initial experiences as classroom teachers. Russell and McPherson concluded that the "unfortunate initiation into the teaching profession is one that is familiar to many new teachers creating a survival phase that is accepted in staff room folklore as 'the way we learn to teach'" (p.2). Beginning teachers' initial experience in the classroom combined with having to be acclimatised into a professional culture is framed as a daunting challenge to both their idealism and their self image. The description of the day to day responsibilities of student and curriculum demands combined with the challenges of becoming socialised into the professional culture of the workplace depicts beginning teachers as vulnerable. "Being overwhelmed by the requirements of a profession that one felt prepared to enter can generate self doubt, frustration, and anxiety as novice teachers scramble to understand the fundamental requirements of the role of teacher" (Russell & McPherson, p.3). The experiences of beginning teachers are once again framed in survival terminology and presented as a legitimate threat to their professional and emotional resilience.
In the same year Kardos, Moore-Johnson, Peske, Kauffman, and Liu (2001) stated that the new teacher's work life is centered upon his or her relationship with fellow teachers in terms of validating membership within the school's culture. "Whether the novice can count on these colleagues will depend largely on the prevailing norms and patterns of interaction that exist within the school" (p.251). Such a depiction underscores a relationship dependent enculturation into the profession. Daley (2002) reintroduces the importance of genuinely engaging a membership into what he terms an "occupational community" where social identity is said to be "central to the self image of the individuals within that community" (p.81). Novice teachers, however, are described as being immersed in a hierarchical organisation of schools which have a "pecking order" and that the profession's newest members must "pay their dues" in terms of "surviving the first few years [to facetiously earn] a badge of honor" before being accepted into the school's culture (Renard, 2003, p.63). The organisational hierarchy of schools is further embedded as tense and stressful environments where novice professionals inherit a dubious position of disadvantage.
Moir's (2003) work placed the onus on the school community to be more invitational. Moir stated that a school's culture "is a key factor in whether teachers, particularly beginning teachers, thrive" (p.1). School culture, according to Moir, has to be reflective and sensitive to the developmental needs and challenges of new teachers. In a similar vein, Tomlinson (2004) discussed culture in inclusive terms and suggested "cluster[ing] resources and binding the organisation together through its network of relationships" (p.150). Equally as significant, Tomlinson noted that not only is the effect of culture evident in the organisational symbols and by individual behavior, but also in the manner whereby it "embraces many subcultures" (p.150). The concept of culture, in this instance, is stratified into distinct layers creating a pseudo entity with a conceptual strength of its own. Described as the subculture in schools, it is said to be determined by peoples' functions and roles to "create a broader sense of identity [which] can be counterproductive if [it] limits cooperation, exacerbates conflict, or reinforces entrenched views and positions" (p.150).
Most recently, Zachary (2005) connected the language of school culture to organisational values and professional identity. Zachary stated that the task of "understanding cultural complexity is enormous" (p.17). Zachary, like Tomlinson, described culture as consisting of differentiated subcultures which share some assumptions and established practices. Yet to be truly aware of an organisation's culture, Zachary insisted, one needs to "understand the dynamics" of the "nested cultures" (p.118).
Further, it is pertinent to consider that teacher education students are introduced to educational theorists and teaching methodologies in the context of reflective practice. Preservice candidates have opportunities to employ their learning (albeit in somewhat artificial environments) by orchestrating a series of lessons in an associate teacher's classroom. The expectation is that through this combination of teaching and learning the students' professional development is sustained in a nurturing environment. Yet, time after time, new teachers' experiences are consistently described by a different reality. The recurrent descriptions of beginning teachers' initial circumstances imply quasi-Darwinian overtones given their struggle to address an array of professional expectations while simultaneously being forced to make sense of the moral and often ethical friction that threatens the fragile identities formulated during their time in teacher preparation programs. The various stages of a new teacher's experiences (as documented in the literature) provide a paradigm for tracking their development, but are themselves artificial representations which remain limited by the very language which scaffolds the experiences thereby reducing them to generalisations of patterned behavior characteristic of anxiety ridden professional transitions.
Given the scope of the literature under examination, therefore, teachers' socialisation into a teaching and school culture during what are described as difficult and tense initial experiences is not conducive to either their professional or personal development. This in itself implies an array of serious consequences. The literature attests to the fact that initial teaching experiences and school culture often challenges new teachers' idealism and self image. Belonging to a school's culture is regularly described to be both essential and strenuous, and in some instances, precarious to the novice teachers' notion of self. Established school cultures seem to have an embedded self recognition as an elitist membership not easily earned by newcomers into the profession. Belonging to this exclusive membership is contingent upon the cultural gatekeepers of the school who model what is acceptable to that culture. As far back as the late 1960s the literature construed that a novice's self conceptualisation is to some extent determined from the perspective of their relationship with colleagues within the organisation. New teachers are situated as passively active subjects of a much more aggressive conceptual force that drives their enculturation to the profession. How the novice first sinks or swims and second adapts to the respective culture, and it to them, significantly influences their professional and social stability.
A further implication which stems from the tension inherent in the literature rests in the fact that new teachers who feel pressured to conform to rigid school cultures committed to scripted curriculum practices are more inclined to abandon the pedagogical practices that resonate with students' emotional, creative, and intellectual development (Ginsburg, 2007). A school culture which prioritises standardised test scores as indicators of student achievement focuses upon a sense of competition between teachers, schools, districts, and students themselves, thereby significantly influencing the socialisation of new teachers (Achinstein, Ogawa, & Speiglman, 2004; McNeil, 2000). A school culture which values external measures as representative of student learning is marked by a distinct identity that translates into the reinforcement of certain behaviors over others (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Horenczyk & Tatar, 2002). With such a pervasive concentration on external accountability the anxiety of novice teachers' socialisation process into school culture is further complicated by this burden to assimilate their practice and conceptualise their paradigms to the school's occupational purposes (see, for example, Capel & Blair, 2007; Groulx, 2001). The new teachers' well being further effects both their sense of self efficacy as teachers (Huberman & Vandenberghe, 1999) and their job satisfaction (Hallinger, 2003; Hoy & Miskell, 1996).
The industrial type understandings which have perpetuated regarding classroom teachers (and particularly new teachers) as the silent majority subject to the recognition and decisions of the managerial elite (the superintendents) are "inconsistent with both human capitalism and emerging portraits of post-industrial schooling" (Murphy, 2000, p.57). School organisational culture, consistent with the characteristics of institutional bureaucracies, typify order, predictability, standardisation, and hierarchy (Fineman, Sims, & Gabriel, 2006; Provenzo, 2002). It may not be sufficient that school and board of education officials "simply extend the concerns of the managerial elite in a hierarchal system to everyone else" (Limerick et al., 1998, p.242). Instead, it may be more prudent to raise the consciousness of new teachers' sense of 'individualism' during their first year of professional practice (Cherubini, 2008). By fostering their sense of individualism, new teachers may be more proficient in negotiating the tension of their new roles and responsibilities and better position themselves to assume positive actions in their classrooms and schools. This requires, however, that school organisational cultures recognise and enhance "certain insights about thinking and behaving that enable people to experience greater control and choice" in tense circumstances (Lipshitz, Friedman, & Popper, 2007, p.79). This is accomplished by constructing the experiences of new teachers' socialisation into school culture in discourses which foster self affirmation! The literature which has framed the work and socialisation of new teachers essentially disregards a legitimate affirmation of their professional capacities. The naming of these experiences referenced in industrial understandings of induction and culture seemingly ignores new teachers' participation as autonomous, mature, proactive, collaborative individuals (reflective of post-industrial paradigms) and renders them in a survivalist mode forced to deal with the suffocation of unrealistic, unanticipated, and inequitably imposed expectations.
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|Authors: Professor Lorenzo Cherubini EdD holds a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Aboriginal Development Grant for his work with prospective and new Aboriginal teachers in Ontario. His specialty is in beginning teacher development and policy analysis with a research focus on post-industrial influences on organisational leadership concepts and school culture. Email: Lorenzo.Cherubini@Brocku.ca
Please cite as: Cherubini, L. (2009). Reconciling the tensions of new teachers' socialisation into school culture: A review of the research. Issues In Educational Research, 19(2), 83-99. http://www.iier.org.au/iier19/cherubini.html