Academic journal article New Waves

First-Year Influences & Belief Adaptation: A Case Study of Urban Schoolteachers

Academic journal article New Waves

First-Year Influences & Belief Adaptation: A Case Study of Urban Schoolteachers

Article excerpt

A Case Study of Urban Schoolteachers

Teachers play a powerful role in the development students and their perceptions of society as they oversee a microcosm of the world in their own classrooms. Teachers decide on and enforce rules for order, dictate norms for student behavior, and determine appropriate pedagogy to achieve various learning goals. This unique school environment brings students from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and racial identities together (Church & Sedlak, 1976).

New teachers who have a dedication to teach with empowering pedagogy and address educational debts between students from various socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds are entering the classroom more rapidly than ever before (Picower, 2012). However, research suggests that this initial outlook-and optimistic belief in all students' abilities-quickly dwindles as new teachers gain more years of experience and become accustomed to school norms and routines (Friedman, 1991; Hoglund, Klingle, & Hosan, 2015). This is particularly prevalent in under-resourced, urban schools (Ingersol, 2001).

It is no surprise that one in ten teachers will quit by the end of their first year (Gray & Taie 2015) or experience uncertainty in what to do in their classrooms even after undergoing years of coursework and student-teaching (Toom et al., 2017). Combined with emotional turbulence that often peaks during the first few months, first-year teachers experience vulnerability unlike any other group of teachers (Elden, 2013). This unique vulnerability leaves first-year teachers susceptible to the influence of others as they scramble to make sense of their own understandings and perspectives around teaching and learning and greater philosophical truths like equity, adequacy, and fairness. During this challenging year, teachers may turn to others for advice and insight (Brock & Grady, 2007). Sometimes this advice and influence may come from a formal mentor (Mena et al., 2016), while other times it will come from more informal sources (Desimone et al., 2014). How this advice compounds over time and influences the beliefs of first-year teachers is still relatively unknown.

Understanding how new teachers experience their first year in the classroom and how these early-career experiences play a role in their developing teaching practice is an area of research that needs further exploration (Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2001). This need is even more vital in urban areas where new teachers who are empowered with visions for reform "fall prey to the stereotypes and deficit thinking that is part of the air they breathe in urban public schools" (Picower, 2007, p.16). This study examines first-year teachers working in an urban school and how their beliefs and practices change over the course of the year. Specifically, I address the following research question:

Research Question 1: Do the beliefs of teachers change over the course of their first year of teaching? How?

Research Question 2: When are belief changes most likely to occur?

Background on Beliefs

While the terminology of beliefs can be amorphous and difficult to conceptualize, I decided on this wording because it best represents a cognitive premise that is held to be true by the individual holding that premise. I also considered value and attitude as potential terminology to reflect this phenomenon as values are often defined by what someone thinks are important, while attitudes are defined by the way an individual expresses his or her thoughts because of personal values and/or beliefs (Rokeach, 1968). Ultimately, I felt that the term belief best encapsulated the origin of what individuals hold true and base decisions off of-whether spontaneous or deliberate (Fazio & Towles-Schwen, 1999).

Applied in an educational context, beliefs are what teachers hold true about what happens in their classroom and can include constructs such as teaching and learning, instruction and pedagogy, student actions and aptitude, parent and community involvement, and the greater role of school in society. …

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