Alleviating Stress in Pre-Service Teachers during Field Experiences

Article excerpt

Preservice teachers often experience extreme stress during field experiences which can make them less effective and stunt professional growth. Through talking with students, reading their journals, noting comments on professor evaluations, and constant experimentation, the authors have developed diverse strategies that have been successful in alleviating undue anxiety. Described strategies include reflective and dialogue journals, visits by former students, collaborative teaching, observations of and interviews with supervising teachers, simple classroom management techniques, simulation lessons, debriefing sessions, non-threatening evaluation procedures, and avoidance of transmission of professors' stress. Readers may adapt these techniques to fit their own unique situations or develop similar strategies of their own.

Introduction

Teaching is an occupation with a high degree of work-related stress (Brissie, Hoover-Dempsey, & Bassler, 1988; Hipps & Halpin, 1992; Hollingsworth, 1990; Stamaman & Miller, 1992). According to Greer and Greer (1992), the highest risk for stress and burn-out may come at the beginning of an educator's career during preservice field experiences. Even though, preservice teachers may have high academic achievements in core university classes, success as a teacher in a school setting is not automatic, thus leading to anxiety and distress (Bowers, Eicher, & Sacks, 1983).

Various researchers have studied factors associated with stress levels during student teaching. Much of the research has been qualitative based on observations and professional judgments. The findings of Bowers, Eicher, and Sacks (1983) indicate that preservice teachers are primarily concerned with affective matters (e.g., maintaining discipline, gaining respect of pupils, and developing appropriate relationships with pupils, parents, and other teachers) and instructional matters (e.g., knowledge of subject matter, use of strategies for instruction, utilizing child behavior principles, and providing for differences). Greet and Greer (1992) suggest that the personality traits of individuals attracted to teaching may make them predisposed to unrealistic expectations and idealism which may contribute to preservice stress. Sinclair and Nicoll (1980) state that student teachers perceive preservice experiences to be a test of not only their adequacy as teachers but as human beings as well. Jelinek (1986) proposes that stress can erode confidence in knowledge of content and as a professional in the classroom; however, it can also motivate a careless preservice teacher to perform more effectively. Cole and Knowles (1995) report that preservice teachers often experience emotional trauma and confusion regarding university supervisors' roles during field experiences.

Numerous recommendations have been made to help ameliorate detrimental preservice stress levels. Greer and Greer (1992) suggest that the development of realistic expectations, the encouragement of detached concern, a better understanding of classroom successes/failures, and an introduction to various stress reduction techniques would be helpful in assisting future teachers in dealing more effectively with the stresses of teaching. They go on to advocate the utilization of mentoring by veteran teachers to reduce stress.

Bowers, Eicher, and Sacks (1983) propose earlier field experiences and workshops for cooperating teachers to develop non-threatening supervisory and evaluation skills. They also advocate training for university supervisors to develop support systems for preservice teachers. In addition, preservice teachers need to learn to set realistic goals and practice techniques for self-evaluation/criticism as well as develop human relation skills. Furthermore, conferences with cooperating teachers well in advance of actual preservice teaching are beneficial to preservice teachers.

Other authors have made additional suggestions. …

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