Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Administrative Supports and Curricular Challenges: New Teachers Enacting and Sustaining Inquiry in Schools

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Administrative Supports and Curricular Challenges: New Teachers Enacting and Sustaining Inquiry in Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction

Within the literature on newly-graduated teachers' experiences of beginning to teach (e.g., Grossman & Thompson, 2008; Scherff, 2008), studies show that conditions in schools are often challenging for new teachers and that many leave the profession after only a few years (Scherff, 2008). The kinds of challenges new teachers face include dealing with classroom management issues, curriculum planning and implementation, conducting assessments, and workload issues (Kyriacou & Kunc, 2007; Roehrig, Pressley, & Talotta, 2002); however, mentoring is starting to emerge as a significant support for new teachers in helping them navigate these early challenges (Roehrig, Bohn, Turner, & Pressley, 2008; Schmidt, 2008). Clearly, mentoring has proven helpful in some cases; however, not all new teachers benefit from mentoring (Roehrig et al., 2008) and the kind of mentoring they receive might be critical if what new teachers are intending is to shape practices different from those they predominantly see around them in schools. In fact, there are relatively few studies that specifically document beginning teachers' experiences of trying to teach through inquiry, and we do not know enough about the kinds of conditions in school that might enable new teachers to thrive as they learn to shape such practices nor about the kinds of curriculum resources needed to sustain such work. This article provides an analysis of one beginning teacher's experience of trying to enact and sustain inquiry-based teaching in a school setting.

Theoretical Framework--A Phronetic Approach to Teaching

Despite the extensive efforts of pre-service teacher education (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005), technical modes of teaching--which valorize prediction, measurement, and control in the classroom--still dominate K-12 education in North America. In the area of mathematics instruction, for example, research conducted in the United States by Jacobs, Hiebert, Givvin, Hollingsworth, Garnier, & Wearne (2006) and others (e.g., Hiebert & Stigler, 2000) has shown that current teaching approaches are more like the kind of traditional teaching reported for most of the past century (Cuban, 1993) than the kind of teaching promoted by mathematics educators and mathematics education leadership organisations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (e.g., NCTM, 2000). Dunne (2005) notes that a technical perspective on teaching

   seeks to extract from [practice] a rational core that can be made
   transparent and replicable ... [so that] what is essential in the
   knowledge and skill can be abstracted for encapsulation in
   explicit, generalisable formulae, procedures, or rules--which can
   in turn be applied to the various situations and circumstances that
   arise in the practice, so as to meet the problems they present. (p.
   375)

This technical approach to teaching contrasts with Aristotle's notion of phronesis, or practical wisdom, which emphasizes the importance of judgment in context. "This is knowledge not as a possession ... but as invested in action" (Dunne & Pendlebury, 2002, p. 198). In this frame, less emphasis is placed on the applying of generalized knowledge (such as knowledge of efficient routines for pacing lessons or managing children) and more on the ability to bring general and particular--theory and practice--"into illuminating connection with each other" (Dunne, 2005, p. 376). Dunne posits, "This requires perceptiveness in [the] reading of particular situations as much as flexibility in ... 'possessing' and 'applying' the general knowledge" (p. 376).

The teacher education program in which student teacher Noah, the focus of this article, participated embraces phronesis "and in doing so attempts to prepare teachers that can dwell within the rough ground of experience, appreciate its complexity and deep interpretability, and respond ethically" (Phelan, 2005a, p. …

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