Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

From Student to Teacher: A Successful Transition

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

From Student to Teacher: A Successful Transition

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article seeks to contribute to the emerging body of research on learning to teach a second language (L2). Specifically, it examines the learning-toteach experience of a preservice German language teacher from her own perspective illuminating the contextual, biographical, academic, and cognitive factors affecting her development (Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Freeman & Richards, 1996; Richards & Nunan, 1990). Multiple data collection instruments that generated relevant and rich data were used. They included open-ended interviews, participant observation, class videotaping and stimulus recall procedures, and lesson plans. Analysis of the data revealed that the interplay of factors, such as the learning background the participant brought with her added to her knowledge of the subject matter, her level of commitment, and an effective mentoring relationship contributed to the participant's successful, productive, and meaningful experience.

Key words: ACTFL/NCATE Standards, foreign language teacher education, learning to teach, student teaching

Languages: Relevant to all languages

Introduction

The present study seeks to contribute to our emerging understanding of how foreign language teachers learn to teach. More specifically, it examines the student teaching experience of a German language teacher candidate through her own eyes, shedding some light on how the participant's prior learning experiences and beliefs informed her initial practice, how she developed her teaching skills, what contextual factors affected her learning-to-teach process, and the sources from which she drew her knowledge. A qualitative study using the lenses of phenomenology was deemed appropriate to uncover the issues involved in the participants' transition from student to teacher. Surveys of the state of the art of language teacher education conducted in the last two decades show that the preparation of teachers has been based more on tradition and opinion than coming from theoretical and research-based approaches (Bernhardt & Hammadou, 1987; Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Schulz, 2000; Vélez-Rendon, 2002a). This has led to the realization that to prepare language teachers better, it is essential to understand how they learn to teach by focusing on the teacher candidates themselves, their ways of knowing and their emerging practice. Inquiry into issues such as prospective teachers' previous language learning experiences, their professional education, their beliefs, their understanding of the subject matter they teach, their perception of their initial teaching practice, and the contextual factors affecting it, can shed some light into the complex task of learning to teach a foreign language (Freeman & Richards, 1996).

Review of Literature

The Role of Previous Learning Experiences

Research on learning to teach has sought to uncover the role that previous learning experiences, professional education courses, and field experiences play in the development of prospective teachers. Findings indicate that prior learning experiences are pivotal in shaping prospective teachers' beliefs. As a result of the apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975), that is, the continuous exposure to teachers' work during the many years of schooling, prospective teachers develop deep-seated beliefs of what it means to teach. This belief system is paramount in the way new knowledge is acquired and interpreted and also has an enormous influence on what prospective teachers ultimately do in their classroom practice (Johnson, 1992, 1994; Moran, 1996; Numrich, 1996; Pajares, 1992). Research also indicates that the beliefs of teacher candidates tend to remain unchanged after their professional education courses (Kagan, 1992; Pajares, 1992). Additionally, a number of teacher candidates feel that education programs do not prepare them adequately for the challenges they face during their initial practice (Kagan, 1992; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998). …

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