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1.1. Motivation for the study
A student teacher reflected that the practical component of teacher training - practice teaching - was a part of the course fraught with difficulty and thus exceedingly stressful. She did not appear to enjoy the experience.
This student teacher's experience identifies her own feelings around practice teaching. This anecdotal reference serves to position the research question as both relevant and consü-uctive in terms of the ongoing research around teacher training in South Africa.
Many problems confront teachers who enter the workplace for the first time after completing their studies. Student teachers who qualify from our current teacher training programmes are not always ready to enter the classroom. These problems are related to their practice teaching experiences, a conclusion that may be deduced from the researcher's own professional dealings with student teachers. One gets the impression that some student teachers are inadequately prepared for the real situation during their practice teaching.
Research conducted by Tang (2003) found the quality of student teachers' learning experiences in the field to be a major concern. Converting theoretical knowledge into practice will always remain a challenge — learning to teach is a complex process (Solomon, Worthy & Carter as cited in Farrell, 2002).
In support of these views, many researchers have written about the 'shock of reality', a phrase referring to the difficulty of shifting from theoretical training and academic knowledge to the actual work of teaching (Johnston, Rastoy, Holdaway & Friesen as cited in Bertone, Meard, Euzet, Ria & Durand, 2003).
Research undertaken in 1999 by the United States Departrnent of Education's
National Centre for Education Statistics shows that only one in five teachers feels
well prepared to work in a modem classroom (Thomas & Loadman, 2001:195). Supporting this finding, French researchers also focused on the limitations of practical experience (Charlie & Durand as cited in Bertone et al., 2003).
On the other hand, Borlo and Mayfield (as cited in Bertone et al., 2003) found that practical experience can also be of great value in learning how to teach. An appropriate mix of challenge and support conü-ibutes to students' positive experiences of practicals (Tang, 2003).
Practicals are a rite of passage all teaching students have to undergo before entering the classroom to begin their teaching careers. The question that arises is how do final year students currently experience teaching practice in the prevailing South African educational climate?
1.2. Statement of the problem
This research intends to explore the experiences of a sample of student teachers in order to gain a richer understanding of practice teaching experiences in the intermediate phase.
The research questions are:
1.2. l. How do students feel about practice teaching?
I .2.2 What do students experience as positive aspects of practice teaching? I .2.3 What are some of the negative aspects of practice teaching?
I .2.4 Which aspects of practice teaching have been the most challenging?
1.3. Aims of the study
The aims of the study are:
I .3. l . To investigate the phenomenon of practice teaching as experienced by a sample of student teachers.
I .3.2. To determine the positive aspects of practice teaching with respect to the respondents.
I .3.3. To establish the negative aspects of practice teaching with respect to the respondents.
I .3.4. To identify the most challenging aspects of practice teaching with respect to the respondents.
1.4. Definition of terms
I *4.1 . The term "student teachers" refers to final year Bachelor of Education students who have not yet entered formal teaching.
I .4.2. The term "practice teaching" refers to the practical component required by the curriculum for final year Bachelor of Education students at University of Fort
I .4.3. The term "intennediate phase" in South Africa refers to Grade 4, 5 and 6 learners (Revised National Curriculum Statement Grades R-9, 2002: 17).
1.5. Value of study
By examining some of the dynamics of student teachers' experiences in the classroom, this research will be contributing to the ongoing discussion regarding productive student teacher experiences. The information gleaned from the study will then be shared with the relevant education faculty. It is the contention of the investigator that institutions presently training teachers in South Africa would benefit from the knowledge generated as a result of this study.
1.6.1 Research design
This research will adhere to a case study format whereby an in-depth study of a few cases will be conducted. This investigation will follow an interpretive, phenomenological approach in order to enable the researcher to explore and describe as accurately as possible the personal experiences of each participant. Jianping (2002) in a study of student teaching in the context of a school-university partnership used a similar research design. The kind of information the researcher hopes to extract will include details regarding student teachers' lived workd experiences of practice teaching.
1.6.2 Sampling design
188.8.131.52 Target population
The sample to be studied will comprise five final-year Bachelor of Education students from Fort Hare University in East London.
184.108.40.206 Selection procedures
Students from the target population will be approached as to their willingness to pa.rticipate in the research. The sampling procedure will thus be extreme sampling, where respondents and situations that are rich in sampling will be selected. The researcher herself possesses a BA HIDE in teaching and has contact with the proposed target population on a professional basis.
1.6.3 Research Instrument
Well-constructed questionnaires allow researchers to gather reasonably valid quantitative data in a simple, cost efficient and timely manner (Anderson, 1998: 182). The questionnaire will comprise biographical and demographical questions posed in order to obtain a sample description. Questions that will elucidate the research topic will also be included.
As this study is mainly qualitative and descriptive, the research will include an interview with participants. The interviews will be conducted after the researcher has had a chance to examine the responses to the questionnaire. The semi-structured interview will allow the researcher to be flexible enough to respond to cues from the
participants in order to access their experiences regarding teaching practice. This type of interview is referred to by Kvale (1996:6) as a semi-structured life world interview... whose purpose is to obtain descriptions of the life world of the interviewee with respect to interpreting the meaning of the described phenomena".
These face-to-face interviews will be conducted by the researcher herself and will be recorded onto audiocassette for purpose of analysis.
1.6.4 Data Analysis Techniques
Data analysis will follow a qualitative approach. The questionnaires and transcripts of the interviews will be analysed individually in order to develop a picture of final year student teachers' experiences of practice teaching. The researcher will adapt the methods used by Smith (1995) and Stones (1988): reading an entire script to achieve a holistic sense thereof, searching for emerging themes, noting the connections between themes, producing a master list of themes and then adding an identifier of instances.
1.6.5 Reliability and Validity
Although careful validation procedures will be employed during the collection and processing of data, it is acknowledged that the outcomes will only apply to a small number of individuals. Borrowing a phrase from Koetsier and Wubbels (1995:344) the conclusions derived from this study must thus be seen as "well-grounded hypotheses rather than firm assertions". However, this should not compromise the argumentative reliability and communicative validity of the study.
Qualitative research requires alternative models appropriate to qualitative designs that ensure rigour. In order to ensure the refiability and validity of the study, Guba's model of frustworthiness of qualitative research will be used (Poggenpoel, 1998:348). This model has been used with success in South Africa and makes use of four strategies:
ü•uth value, applicability, consistency and neutrality.
Although practice teaching is an integral, essential requirement of teacher training, it remains to be seen whether student teachers view this period in a positive or negative
Student teachers are not always ready to enter the classroom. There is difficulty in shifting from theoretical training and academic knowledge to the actual work of teaching - converting theoretical Imowledge into practice is tricky. Some student teachers are inadequately prepared for this leap. Institutions presently training teachers in South Africa would benefit from the knowledge generated as a result of this study.
This introduction is a first step in the journey of exploring the research questions:
How do students feel about practice teaching?
What do students experience as positive aspects of practice teaching? What are some of the negative aspects of practice teaching?
Which aspects of practice teaching have been the most challenging?
At this point, it would thus be appropriate to take a closer review of some of the related literature around the topic of student teachers and practice teaching.
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