Stories of Beginning Teachers: First-Year Challenges and Beyond
reviewed by Gary M. Kilburg - 2004
Title: Stories of Beginning Teachers: First-Year Challenges and Beyond
Author(s): Alysia D. Roehrig, Michael Presley, and Denise A. Talotta (Editors)
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN
ISBN: 0268017778, Pages: , Year: 2002
Search for book at Amazon.com
“For many new teachers, their first three years are probably the most stressful times in their teaching careers” (Martin, Chiodo and Chang, 2001, p. 55). Working in a new environment, examining old beliefs, working with an unfamiliar population, and trying to manage a level of confidence at times may seem like an endless task (Veeman, 1984). Historically, these concerns tend to be quite universal. Whether you are in the United States or in another country, the challenges are essentially the same (Martin, Chiodo and Chang, 2001). Regardless of the nature of these challenges, beginning teachers tend to have more classroom-related problems than teachers who have been teaching for longer periods of time. That is why it is so critical for teacher training institutions and school districts to provide the necessary resources for the new teachers to become effective and successful in the profession.
Stories of Beginning Teachers: First-Year Challenges and Beyond. (2002), by Alysia D. Roehrig, Michael Pressley, and Denise A. Talotta, provides the reader with a graphic illustration of the challenges faced by new teachers. “No prior work has identified the challenges facing the teaching profession as vividly as this book” (book jacket). Pressley directs the Notre Dame Teacher Education Program at the University of Notre Dame and was also the endowed chair for the three year study that resulted in the book. Roehrig and Talotta are both graduate students of the University of Notre Dame and became involved in the project because of their vested interest in the challenges that both new teachers and veteran teachers face in teaching.
The book’s 13 chapters are separated conceptually into three main sections (Introduction, Part I, and Part II): first, an introduction to the concept of “challenges” and the types of challenges that new teachers encounter on a daily basis; second, samples of first- and second-year teachers asked to review the challenges and identify which ones they experienced and the seriousness of those challenges; and third, stories of how the new teachers responded to the “challenges.” Throughout this book, the authors emphasized that there were two goals for this study. The first was to identify challenges that beginning teachers faced and show how those challenges were met through reflective practices and problem solving (p. 224). The second goal was to help teacher training institutions “devise ways to prepare new teachers in training and to provide support for beginning teachers once they enter the field” (p. viii).
In the Introduction, the authors provide the reader with a thorough analysis of the challenges faced by beginning teachers the first three years of their teaching assignments. They used Veenman’s (1984) study on challenges as their baseline. The authors’ analysis was based on grounded theory and clearly demonstrated their understanding of the research protocol (pp. 6–7). Over the course of three years, the authors gathered data from five volumes of case studies on beginning teachers (Dollase, 1992; Kane, 1991; Kowalski, Weaver, and Henson, 1994; and Ryan et al., 1980). From the data gathered, the authors identified 571 challenges that new teachers and veteran teachers alike face, and then organized them into 22 categories. Finally, the authors identified “five superordinate categories that capture[d] the challenges of beginning teachers” (p. 16).
In Part I (Chapter 2) the authors surveyed first and second year teachers in nine states, all graduates of the
In Chapter 3, the authors compare the challenges experienced by veteran teachers to those experienced by first-year teachers. Their purpose was to determine if the challenges were similar as well as to compare the frequency of those challenges. Although the challenges were essentially the same, the frequency of the challenges for the veteran teachers were fewer in number (p. 72). Despite the difference in frequency, the common denominator for both new teacher and veteran teachers was dealing with students who were causing problems
In Part II (Chapters 4 -13) the authors provide the reader with eight stories of first-year teachers and sixteen interviews over a period of four weeks with yet another group of first and second-year teachers. Each “storyteller” in Chapters 4 – 11 provides a narrative that reflects the year gone by. It is a story of self-examination and the impact of problem solving. Although it can be an overwhelming task for the beginning teacher to take on all of the new responsibilities that are required, it is also just as important that they recognize how to respond to the challenges faced.
The stories provide a diverse view of how new teachers responded to the multiple challenges they encountered on a daily basis. They had to learn how to respond to unrealistic expectations and fear (pp. 160-174), to helping students develop listening skills (pp. 99 & 104), to boundary issues (pp. 177-178), to managing student teacher relationships (Chapters 4-11), and to issues of objectivity (p. 107), among others. In Sarah’s Story, one of the many challenges she faced was her own idealism. “In this year of incredible humility and self-depreciation, I have been ironically arrogant. I presumed that, in my time with these students, I needed to fix them . . . But I have been just one small factor in their precious growth; I am solely responsible for neither their accomplishments nor their shortcomings” (p. 127). Although there is nothing wrong with being idealistic, there is a need to have balance between the teacher’s idealism and the reality of the classroom. Even Dennis (Chapter 11) talks about the value of re-examining what he believed and even though the process was “laborious and challenging, it resulted in more self-knowledge as well as a more comprehensive development of the ideas and beliefs that I [he] held sacred” (p. 176).
In Chapter 12, the authors interviewed sixteen first and second-year teachers to determine, on the day of the interview, what problems they had encountered that day and how they had dealt with those problems. Two constant factors in the problem solving process were the reflective practices of teachers and the relationship with the students. “There is much in these cases about how young teachers must learn to interact with others—most often students, but also other teachers, administrators, and parents” (p. 184).
The authors have provided the reader with one of the most in-depth and comprehensive views of challenges faced by new teachers and veteran teachers alike. The stories that new teachers told illustrated most powerfully the challenges faced. It is a reminder of the value of storytelling and the transforming power of listening, reflecting, and problem solving. Kienholz (2002) supports the authors’ contention regarding the use of “teacher lore” or storytelling (p. 37). Teacher stories can help both pre-service teachers and in-service teachers to see the reality of the classroom in a much different light. It is an opportunity for the pre-service and in-service teachers to see how “pedagogical theory can be separated from actual classroom life” (p. 40). Time and time again, as the stories unfold, the reader can feel the anxiety and frustration level of the new teacher, and the reader, if an experienced teacher, is also reminded of days gone by and of challenges met and unmet.
This book provides an overwhelming amount of information and data at the outset that the reader has to sift through (Chapters 1 -3). Although the data provides excellent insights into the types of challenges faced, almost any student teacher or new teacher would probably feel stunned by reading the sheer volume of the challenges they may encounter. With that said, the detail of the research design does provide a road map that helps the reader put together the data collected, the literature reviewed, the stories, and the conclusions.
Stories of Beginning Teachers: First-Year Challenges and Beyond should be required reading for all student teaching candidates, as well as suggested reading for new teachers. And at the very least, the book should find a place in any professional development library. Roehrig, Pressley, and Talotta have provided the reader with a text that has been too long in coming. It is a powerful and compelling account of the challenges faced by new teachers and veteran teachers and provides a view of the world that is larger than ourselves. Although Stories of Beginning Teachers: First-Year Challenges and Beyond is not an easy read in one sitting, it makes a major contribution to the literature on classroom management and to the stories that teachers tell.
Dollase, R. (1992). Voices of beginning teachers. New York: Teachers College Press.
Kane, P. R. (1991). The first year of teaching: Real world stories from America’s teachers. New
York: Walker and Company.
Kienholz, K. (2002, Fall). Let me tell you a story: Teacher lore and pre-service teachers. Action in Teacher Education, 24, 37 – 42.
Kowalski, T. J., Weaver, R. A., & Henson, K. T. (1994). Case studies of beginning teachers. New York: Longman Publishers.
Ryan, K., Newman, K., Mager, G., Applegate, J., Lasley, T., Flora, R., and Johnston, J. (1980). Biting the apple: The accounts of first year teachers. New York: Longman, Inc.
Veenman, S. (1984). Perceived problems of beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 54, 143-178.