Beginning Teacher Concerns in an Accountability-Based Testing Environment

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper, part of a larger case study of beginning teachers and mentors, describes the concerns of four teachers throughout their stages of development in first-year teaching. They and their mentors were interviewed at three intervals in the school year to obtain perceptions of beginning teacher concerns. Beginning teachers also kept journals of their concerns in first-year teaching. Data revealed that in an accountability-based testing environment, instructional pacing was reported as a top, pervasive concern of beginning teachers. These case studies reveal that participants were reporting beginning teacher concerns, but not necessarily in the predictable areas, such as classroom discipline, student motivation, or individual student differences. The data suggest that typical problems were overshadowed by concerns and preoccupations with district instructional pacing, test pressure, and test preparation.


Research on beginning teacher stage theory provided the theoretical framework for this study. Beginning teacher stage theory is linked to the seminal work of Fuller (1969) and Fuller and Bown (1975), who applied a developmental perspective and developed a three-part heuristic to study how individuals become teachers. They proposed that teachers experience three "stages" as they move through the first years of their career. Early concerns--referred to as "survival concerns"--relate to classroom control, mastery of content, and evaluations by supervisors. Next, teachers confront the teaching situation itself: inadequate resources, teaching assignments, and conflicting expectations. Finally, teachers are able to shift to students, wondering about meeting socioemotional needs and ensuring that students learn what is required to advance to the next grade level.

Kevin Ryan's (1986) stages are the most widely known on this topic. First-year teachers begin with the fantasy stage--in which new teachers' concerns focus on imagining a class out of control, with students who will not cooperate nor engage in activities. They soon move to the survival stage--in which their concerns revolve around getting through each day smoothly with enough activities. According to Ryan, most teachers make it through the survival stage by February, although some may still be in the survival stage for the entire year or more. By early spring, most enjoy the beginnings of the consolidation stage--in which they start to feel comfortable with their role as a teacher who experiments with theories and strategies learned in preservice and/or induction stages.

Cheney, Krajewski, and Combs (1992) raised a number of concerns about Ryan's (1986) stages. Their work was an important contribution, because it analyzed qualitative data from beginning teachers and their mentors. During the order/time filling microphase, which lasts for the first few to several weeks of school, new teachers requested assistance from mentors in organizing materials, rather than spending time on modifiying or selecting those materials based on student need. First-year teachers continued to voice concern regarding the selection, sequence, and completion of appropriate paperwork.

In the timing, planning and management microphase, first-year teachers expressed concern with assessing students through the use of standardized instruments, establishing behavioral management programs, finding programming for students who complete work early, and communicating with parents and colleagues.

In the experimentation microphase, they began using more difficult techniques that required greater management skills, such as a system of learning centers, heterogeneous grouping, peer tutoring, or cooperative learning. Their approaches were not always successful initially, and teachers still failed to anticipate the problems that might arise. Mentors needed to be sensitive and responsive to their proteges' changing needs, and move the relationship in the direction of more collaboration and less dependence. …