Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

When Students (Who Are Preservice Teachers) Don't Want to Engage

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

When Students (Who Are Preservice Teachers) Don't Want to Engage

Article excerpt

They sit in our classes, lurk on our listservs. They rarely or never contribute to conversations or discussions--except when specifically addressed, queried, or assigned to do so. They remain largely apart from the buzz of classroom discourse. They prefer not to collaborate or do the occasional group project. When they do, it is only after a show of reluctance, protest, or personal disclaimers in quiet asides. They are appalled at being videotaped and aghast at having to write about their performances. They do not want to engage or reflect or they do not want to engage on someone else's terms and in someone else's contextualized space. They are perhaps one tenth of my English education preservice students, students whom I have come to think of as reluctant, resistant, even difficult members of our cohort.

Ours is a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) graduate program that accepts applicants with an undergraduate degree in English and then after three, sometimes four, semesters of coursework--half in English, half in education--graduates them with a Master's degree and certification to teach. I am their professor for a theory and philosophy course, a methods course, and usually another elective course in English. I am their supervisor during student teaching. We turn away two thirds of the applicants to our program for lack of space; the remaining one third are typically very well qualified--with undergraduate GPAs of around 3.5, respectable Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores in the 1500-1600 range, and demonstrated writing ability. I try to screen applicants to avoid those who really do not want to teach secondary English (the ones who want to get certification just in case they cannot get into a Ph.D. program) and accept those who seem best qualified. I usually end up with cohorts of 10 to 12 students. Although I try to choose students who I think will engage and be engaged, each cohort inevitably contains one or two students who resist engaging with the work at hand, with the group, and with me. Significantly, they resist reflection; like Melville's scrivener Bartleby, they prefer not to probe or think or interact in a demonstrable way.

In this study of resistance to reflection, I examine the writing and performance of two students from the same cohort, Natasha and Kelly. (I have altered the names of the students; both gave written permission for the use of their work.) Both were quiet, reserved in class, rarely initiating discussion or asking questions in class, responding reluctantly to efforts to be pulled into class talk. This general reticence in class persisted throughout their coursework. But I found them to have quite different out-of-class personalities, ones that eventually had an effect on their teaching behaviors. Natasha became skilled at reflection and eventually demonstrated very positive teaching behaviors. Kelly did not become skilled at reflection; she resisted reflecting on the coursework, did not engage the work or her classmates, and consistently failed to reveal many positive teaching behaviors. Natasha quickly demonstrated on the class's listserv or electronic study group (ESG) and in her writing to me and her peers that she was intellectually and emotionally engaged with them and with the work. Throughout all the semesters of the program, Kelly remained withdrawn; mostly unresponsive to me and to her peers; and unreflective about the class, her writing, and her teaching--out of class, on the listserv, and in her writing. In this article, I examine the level of reflection apparent in several texts and in interviews with both Natasha and Kelly, search for differentiating factors, and subsequently try to profile characteristics of reluctant reflectors.

Reflection is key to our work together as professor and students preparing to be teachers. It is the foundation of becoming a thoughtful practitioner, a creative teacher. It is the difference between teacher training and teacher preparation and between vocational education and intellectual education. …

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