Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Schoolhouse Teacher Educators: Structuring Beginning Teachers Opportunities to Learn about Instruction

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Schoolhouse Teacher Educators: Structuring Beginning Teachers Opportunities to Learn about Instruction

Article excerpt

Teacher education in the United States is mostly associated with universities and other credentialing bodies that offer teacher certification programs. That seems sensible enough as these institutions specialize in the preparation of teachers (Shulman, 1986), and they are indeed responsible for the certification of about two thirds of teachers who enter the workforce (Feistritzer, 2011). Still, few would disagree that a key component of educating teachers to teach happens on the job, especially in those first few years of their careers. Yet, research rarely explores the schoolhouse as a teacher education site.

Several lines of research point to the importance of teacher's early years on the job and also that a large proportion of teachers leave within their first 3 years (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, Rockoff, & Wyckoff, 2008; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003). While some of this turnover may be beneficial (Abelson & Baysinger, 1984; Jackson, 2010), such persistent attrition and turnover is costly in terms of human and financial capital (Bames, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007) as well as student performance (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013). The first few years are also a critical time for teacher learning, with the greatest growth in teacher productivity happening in their initial years in the classroom (Rivkin et al., 2005; Rockoff, 2004).

Although this research points to the importance of supporting beginning teachers, few studies explicitly examine how, or by whom, a teachers' education is supported during their first few years teaching. In this article, we focus on inservice as distinct from preservice teacher education and explore how beginning teachers' opportunities to learn about mathematics and reading/language arts instruction (henceforth referred to as literacy instruction) are supported within elementary schools. We sought to address the following two research questions:

Research Question 1: Who is doing the work of beginning teacher education inside schools?

Research Question 2: How do these schoolhouse teacher educators provide beginning teachers with opportunities for learning?

Based on our exploratory analysis, we contend that formal organizational structures, specifically grade level teams and formal leadership positions, were important for shaping beginning teachers' opportunities to learn about instruction.

We begin by anchoring our study in literature on the school factors that support beginning teachers' learning and by motivating our examination of teachers' learning opportunities using instructional advice and information networks. Next, we describe the mixed methodology used in the analysis, which included surveys and interviews from teachers in 24 elementary schools in two school districts in a midwestern state. Turning to findings, we examine beginning teachers' advice- and information-seeking related to mathematics and literacy, showing that grade level teams and formal leaders afforded beginning teachers' opportunities to learn about instruction in both subjects. We then explore why these formal structures were drawn upon by beginning teachers and in what ways they facilitated learning opportunities. We conclude the article with a discussion of the implications of these findings for policy and practice.

Framing the Work

Our study is framed like this: First, we situate and support the study with literature that examines the school-related factors that support beginning teachers' learning and development. Second, we motivate and frame our work with research on advice and information interactions and subject-matter differences in elementary school teachers' work.

School Factors That Support Beginning Teachers' Learning and Development

While few studies focus specifically on schoolhouse teacher educators, a growing body of literature has examined the factors that support beginning teachers' learning and development and how they are related to teacher retention and long-term performance (Feiman-Nemser, 1983, 2003; McDonald & Elias, 1983). …

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