A Bronfenbrenner Ecological Perspective on the Transition to Teaching for Alternative Certification

Article excerpt

This paper presents an ecologically informed approach to conceptualizing and studying the transition to formal teaching of alternative certification candidates. This perspective acknowledges that transitions play an important role in later teaching success; theorizes that a full understanding of teacher competence must examine the influence of the relationships among candidate characteristics and peer, mentor, instructor, and school site contexts. This approach recommends that future policy, practice, and research be based on the following three premises. First, the transition to teaching must be conceptualized in terms of relationships between candidates and their surrounding contexts, especially mentors. Second, that Vygotsky's sociocultural theory takes a closer look at social relationships that foster development (Crain, 2000). Third, the examination of this transition period must address how contexts and relationships develop, and how change and stability in these relationships form key aspects of candidates' transition to teaching.

Key words: Bronfenbrenner, Ecological, Alternative Certification, transition to teaching


Who are alternative certification teaching candidates? In short, these teachers are second career professionals that satisfy critical shortage areas or hard to fill positions who participate in effective, abbreviated paths to the classroom for persons outside of the education profession (Feistritzer, 1998). Like any educator, these alternatively certified teachers must become state credentialed through mandatory tests in their content areas, general knowledge, and professional teaching pedagogy as well as complete a state approved certification program.

Sociocultural influences for alternative certification teaching candidates range from the broad-based, global inputs of culture to the fraternal relationship with peers undergoing the same intense experiences. A view that captures the complexity of this sociocultural world was developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). The graphic portrays Bronfenbrenner's ecological model for understanding sociocultural influences (see Appendix A for an example of Bronfenbrenner's ecological model).

The alternative certification teacher candidate is placed in the center of the model as the candidate's most direct interactions are with the microsystem--the classroom setting in which the ACP candidate operates. These contexts include the candidate's peers within an alternative certification program. The candidate is not viewed as a passive recipient of experiences in these settings, but as someone who helps to construct the environment. The mesosystem involves relations between microsystems or connections between contexts. It is important to observe the candidate's behavior in multiple settings--such as peer, mentor, instructor, and school site contexts--to provide a more complete picture of the candidate's social development. The exosystem is involved when experiences in another social setting--in which the candidate does not have an active role--influences what the candidate experiences in an immediate context. The most abstract level in Bronfenbrenner's analysis of sociocultural influences is the macrosystem--the attitudes and ideologies of the culture. School culture runs deep and there is much for the alternative certification teacher candidate to learn about the hidden curriculum of teaching and learning.

Ecological Systems Theory

Uric Bronfenbrenner (1995), an American psychologist, is responsible for an ecological systems theory that views development within a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment. Ecological systems theory highlights four nested structures that include but extend beyond the classroom setting.

The Microsystem: Classroom Practices

At the innermost level of the environment is the microsystem, which refers to activities and interaction patterns in the candidate's immediate surroundings. …