Given the focus on developing highly-qualified teachers to improve education (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003), teacher education programs face increasing responsibility to prepare new teachers who can effectively enhance learning in all students. Standards and assessment criteria developed by national organizations in the United States address the qualifications of beginning as well as experienced teachers and all emphasize student learning. The aim is that beginning teachers will not just manage classroom activities but assess and promote student understanding. However, the extent to which novice teachers can focus on instructional outcomes before mastering classroom management is a matter of debate. Whereas some researchers propose that beginning teachers need years to move from concerns about management to concerns about student learning, others contend that a shift can occur during teacher preparation (Conway & Clark, 2003).
This study explores this issue by examining preservice teachers' descriptions of effective and ineffective teaching experiences near the end of their preparation program. Using written documents collected over five years, the study specifically investigates the extent to which preservice teachers (1) focused on instruction or classroom management, (2) identified student understanding in their descriptions, and (3) considered factors related to student learning in their reasoning about their actions.
The conceptual framework for this study draws from two bodies of literature: the teacher development process and reflective practice. Teacher development research has highlighted beginning teachers' focus on management concerns and how these concerns shift over time to instructional impacts. Research on reflective practice suggests that critical reflection helps prepare beginning teachers for both classroom management and instruction. This study draws upon these two research literatures to examine the extent to which preservice teachers who are engaged in reflective practice consider instructional impacts by the end of teacher preparation.
Researchers contend that the process of learning to teach and to make professional judgments is developmental. Beginning with Fuller's stages of teachers' concerns (1969) and extending for decades, various theories have been proposed and examined to document teacher professional development (Berliner, 1994; Black & Ammon, 1992; Conway & Clark, 2003; Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Hall & Loucks, 1978; Mevarech, 1995). Although some researchers propose fixed, sequential stages, others suggest a more flexible stage approach to teacher development that takes contextual and personal factors into account (Richardson & Placier, 2001). A central premise of these developmental models is that teachers must deal with management concerns before they can focus on instruction and its impact on student learning.
Although classroom management and instruction are intertwined, Doyle's (1986) work provides distinctions between the two. Often equated with student behavior and discipline, classroom management refers to the process of establishing and maintaining an environment in which instruction and learning can occur. Doyle suggests that the focus of classroom management is "the problem of order and not the problem of learning" (p. 396); order can exist in a classroom without engagement by students in learning tasks. Classroom management focuses on "the actions and strategies teachers use to solve the problem of order in classrooms" (p. 397).
Changes in class sizes, school organization, and student needs have placed increased emphasis on effective classroom management, and researchers have examined and proposed a wide range of classroom management strategies and programs over several decades (see reviews by Doyle, 1986; Jones, 1996). Given that beginning teachers continue to identify classroom management as a prominent concern and an area in which they seek more preparation (Meister & Melnick, 2003; Melnick & Meister, 2008), teacher education programs need to prepare candidates to manage the classroom effectively while also shifting their focus to student learning. …