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Clinging to the Edge of Chaos: The Emergence of Practice in the First-Year of Teaching

by Kathryn Strom, Adrian D. Martin & Ana María Villegas - 2018

Background/Context: New teachers must cope with various instructional, personal and organizational challenges, an experience that often leads to difficulties enacting innovative, student-centered instructional practices learned in their preservice programs and contributes to high rates of teacher attrition.

Purpose: Drawing on complexity theory, this review of empirical research takes an organizational or “systems” perspective on the experiences of first-year teachers as they transition from preservice education to the teaching profession. In so doing, we aim to shift away from constructions of the teacher as an autonomous actor and instead build a more complex, nuanced, and layered understanding of the multidimensional influences that work together to shape the practices of novice teachers.

Research Design: We conducted a metasynthesis of 46 studies that met the following criteria: (a) were focused on first-year teachers, (b) offered sufficient description of participants’ professional practices, (c) featured participants who attended a university-based preparation program, and (d) were conducted since 1990. We first recorded each study’s methods, findings, and descriptions of first-year teacher practices. As a second level of analysis, we used a complexity lens to identify the systems comprising first-year teacher practices, noting how those systems and their component or elements interacted to shape first-year teaching.

Findings/Results: We found that common patterns of interactions between and among systems of first-year teaching—including the teacher herself, the classroom, the school, and the larger district, state, and federal environments—tend to reinforce traditional, teacher-centered practices. Yet, in some studies, conditions surfaced that enabled participants’ to enact student-centered and equity-minded teaching practices learned in their preservice programs.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Authors suggest that taking a complex systems view of beginning teaching, rather than singularly focusing on the teacher’s actions out of context, can reveal opportunities for fostering more supportive, enabling conditions for new teachers to enact innovative practices that many preservice programs promote and experience a smoother transition into teaching.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 7, 2018, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22322, Date Accessed: 5/12/2021 6:57:50 PM

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About the Author
  • Kathryn Strom
    California State University, East Bay
    E-mail Author
    KATHRYN (KATIE) J. STROM is an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership Department at California State University, East Bay, where she serves as core faculty in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program. A former K–12 educator in urban settings, her research interests encompass teacher and leadership preparation for social justice, equitable pedagogies for linguistically and culturally diverse students, and nonlinear theories and methodologies for studying teacher development. Her recent publications include “Teaching as Assemblage: Negotiating Learning and Practice in the First Year of Teaching,” which appeared in the Journal of Teacher Education in 2015, and “Pursuing Lines of Flight: Enacting Teacher Learning in First-Year Teaching,” a coauthored article with Adrian Martin published in Policy Futures in Education (2016). Her book, Becoming-Teacher: A Rhizomatic Look at First Year Teaching, also coauthored with Martin, was published in December 2016.
  • Adrian Martin
    New Jersey City University
    E-mail Author
    ADRIAN D. MARTIN is an assistant professor in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at New Jersey City University. Dr. Martin’s academic interests are informed by his earlier professional experiences as an urban elementary classroom teacher and educational leader. His scholarship attends to promoting equity and social justice in education, teacher preparation and development for linguistically and culturally diverse students, teacher identity, discourse analysis, qualitative and postqualitative inquiry, and the self-study of teacher education practices. Recent peer-reviewed publications include “Toward a Linguistically Responsive Teacher Identity: An Empirical Review of Teacher Identity and English Learners” in International Multilingual Research Journal (2016) and “Pursuing Lines of Flight: Equity-Based Preservice Teacher Learning in First-Year Teaching” (2016) in Policy Futures in Education, both coauthored with Kathryn Strom.
  • Ana María Villegas
    Montclair State University
    E-mail Author
    ANA MARÍA VILLEGAS is professor of education and director of the Teacher Education and Teacher Development Ph.D. program at Montclair State University. Her scholarship focuses on culturally and linguistically responsive teaching, policies, and programs for diversifying the teaching force, and teacher education policy. Villegas has published widely. Her recent publications include “Research on Teacher Preparation: Charting the Landscape of a Sprawling Field,” a coauthored chapter in the 2016 Handbook of Research on Teaching, and “Framing Teacher Education Research, Part I and Part II,” two related coauthored articles in the Journal of Teacher Education.
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