Challenges Faced and the Strategies Adopted by a Malaysian English Language Teacher during Teaching Practice
In this paper, the reflections on distinct and crucial teaching practices of a pre-service English language teacher are presented and examined. The focus of this paper is on three aspects of class teaching that the teacher found presented a challenge during her teaching practice. For each aspect, the nature of the difficulties and the challenges are described and deciphered. In addition, various strategies that the teacher explored and experimented in order to meet those challenges are outlined and elucidated in terms of their effectiveness. This process is interwoven with the nurturing of pedagogical knowledge of the teacher, which is developed from her reflective practices. This paper also highlights some of the teacher’s plans and thoughts on dealing with those challenges in the future. Implications for teaching practice are also discussed.
Keywords: Challenges during teaching practice, Pedagogical knowledge, Reflective practices.
Kennedy (1996) advocates that at some point of their training, pre-service teachers must be able to express their personal educational philosophies, theories and understandings. Teaching practice, notwithstanding the length or duration, is an excellent opportunity for pre-service teachers to experiment and test their knowledge and skills in an authentic teaching and learning environment in tandem with own understanding of their personal educational philosophies and theories. In the words of Davis and Hall (2003), it is “a socializing experience into the teaching profession” (p. 2). Nevertheless, such rigorous negotiations during teaching practice essentially leads to higher confidence in improving pre-service teachers’ learning, satisfaction with their teaching career, and a higher sense of teacher efficacy (Oh et al., 2005). As such, pre-service teachers must question their beliefs and assumptions in developing pedagogical knowledge during teaching practice to avoid practices that are not founded on effective and critical pedagogical knowledge and theories. The understanding for this can be drawn from Schön’s (1983) argument that in the profession of teaching, the theoretical facets are embedded in and inseparable from practice.
Many recent studies on teaching practice quite extensively focus on the challenges faced by English language pre-service teachers and how they affect numerous aspects of teacher education. For example, Thomas (2006) highlights the language, cultural (diversity) and environmental barriers experienced by four American pre-service teachers in Central Asia and how they coped and successfully managed in gaining valuable experience during their teaching practice. Pomeranntz and Pierce (2004) lead an inquiry into the challenges experienced by pre-service teachers in the “real world”, and to what degree the “courses prepared them for those challenges” (p. 55). These acts of rethinking and re-examining the challenges actually allow the ‘knitting’ of new knowledge and reconstructing of existing knowledge through various conciliation processes of solving problems and difficulties during teaching practice. Chung (2002) examines the challenges of developing effective teaching strategies ofpre-service teachers through quality feedback from supervisors. She concludes that the dialogues that they have facilitate knowledge building and encourage collaborative (between supervisor as an expert and pre-service teacher as a novice) reflection on individual teaching practice to improve the understanding of teaching. By using such dialogues, Chung (2000) insists that supervisors are able to assistthe novice teachers in identifying and evaluating “the context of the problem or deficiency and establish developmental goals or standards” and “the personal strengths and resources of the student-teacher may be used to improve plans for teaching” (p. 10). And the possibility of improving teaching is enormous in terms of the various innovative ways and situations in which new knowledge can be produced, constructed and reconstructed, and refined for positive, meaningful learning experiences (Kabilan, 2005).
With the new knowledge gained and the reconstruction of existing knowledge, the teachers have the potentials and the power to be adept in confronting the challenges and eventually prevailing over them. And as for teacher education providers, it may assist in improving teacher preparation courses (Pomerantz & Pierce,2004). A recent nationwide evaluation study of teaching practice in the Malaysian teacher education program seriously suggests that it is very important and beneficial to identify and examine the challenges that the pre-service teachers face during their teaching practice (IPT, BPG & MOE, 2005). The study contends that findings from such an investigation can enrich and improve the effectiveness of teacher education programs in Malaysia, particularly the teaching practice component. And in this respect, many teacher education institutions in Malaysia aspire to provide effective and meaningful experiences for future English language teachers (Kabilan, 2007), especially the teaching practice component, which has always been a focus of these institutions.
However, local studies in Malaysia have highlighted numerous difficulties and problems faced by the pre-service teachers during their teaching practices. Hanifah (2004) for instance, find that pre-service teachers seldom question their assumptions and beliefs they developed during teaching practice in school. A study by Toh (2002) on Malaysian pre-service teachers’ educational beliefs during teaching practice locates that pre-service teachers become less student-centered and more teacher-oriented in their educational beliefs. Ong et al.’s (2004) study, though discovers many positive aspects of teaching practice of primary teachers of ELT, highlights too a very disturbing trend – almost 55% of the pre-service teachers find that their teaching practice failed to give them the opportunities to engage in theory and practice because the teachers are overwhelmed by the realities of the classrooms. Ong et al.’s (2004) also identifies five challenges that burdens the pre-service teachers – supervision, environment, workload, pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge – but never probes into the strategies adopted by the teachers to overcome those challenges, implying perhaps the pre-service teachers were never given the chance to reflect upon the strategies that they drew upon to confront those challenges. If the pre-service teachers’ challenges and strategies adopted during teaching practice are understood clearer, teacher educators would be able to supervise the pre-service teachers in a more meaningful and effectual manner, where the educators could specify which strategies are more appropriate in which conditions. Hence, this paper attempts to explore and understand the challenges and difficulties that beleaguered a Malaysian pre-service teacher of ELT during her teaching practice, and the strategies she employed to overcome those challenges and difficulties.
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