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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Listening and Responding to Novice Teachers' Inner Voices

Bahar Gün, Evrim Üstünlüoğlu and Aynur Yürekli, Turkey

Asst. Prof. Dr. Bahar Gün holds BA, MA and PhD degrees in ELT. She currently works at İzmir University of Economics as the Assistant Director of School of Foreign Languages. She is primarily in charge of teacher education programs at SFL.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Evrim Üstünlüoğlu holds BA, MA degrees in ELT and PhD degree in Educational Sciences. She currently works at İzmir University of Economics as the Director of School of Foreign Languages. Her research interests include teacher education, curriculum development and testing.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Aynur Yürekli holds BA, MA and PhD degrees in ELT. She currently works at İzmir University of Economics as the Undergraduate English Programme Coordinator in the School of Foreign Languages. She is primarily in charge of developing the curriculum and coordinate the testing processes in the programme.


Purpose of the Study
The institution
Data collection
Data analysis
Conclusion and Implications


Irrespective of the quality of pre-service teacher training courses, the real “learning to teach” process starts in the classroom as novice teachers make the move from the state of “the learner” to the state of “the teacher”. Within this transformational process, the first year of teaching is a difficult challenge, as the reality of classroom life, called “culture shock” by Veenman (1984) or “reality shock” by Huberman (1993), is very different from the “classroom life” that is envisaged during pre-service education. In most teacher training programmes, usually the last year of pre-service education is devoted to a “practicum” component, which requires the trainees to do actual teaching. The practicum is a credited course which is carried out under the supervision of a teacher trainer. This practicum experience could be overwhelming for the trainees since this is the first time they realize the contrast between theory and real classroom practice. This kind of a shock is strongly felt when novice teachers begin teaching and when they are unclear about what to do in the actual classroom environment. Huling-Austin et al. (1989) describe this period of uncertainty as “a sink-or-swim experience” because teachers are expected to take on many job responsibilities which they are not yet ready for.

Research conducted on novice teachers suggests that the first year is a time of much difficulty because of factors such as problems with classroom management, the workload, the learning and teaching process, motivating students, assessment and evaluation, and insufficient and inadequate material, instructional planning and pacing (Calderhead, 1991; McCann& Johanessen, 2004). Furthermore, Calderhead (1991) also states that those novice teachers who believe that teaching is merely showing and telling, and that learning is memorization, are overwhelmed with problems such as procedural unknowns, feelings of insecurity over the curriculum, teaching techniques and methods, and their relationship with other teachers. Similarly, McCann and Johannessen (2004) identified five main areas of novice teacher concerns: knowledge of curriculum, relationships (with students, parents, colleagues, and supervisors), workload/time management, evaluation/grading, and autonomy/control.

One of the outstanding problems that the novice teachers struggle with is having a heavier workload than experienced teachers. In their studies, Crookes and Arakaki (1999), and McCann and Jonannessen (2004) found that one of the primary causes for apprehensive attitudes towards professional development was overwork and associated lack of preparation time. Clif et al. (1995) support this particular finding by suggesting that novice teachers are also given the most demanding assignments, such as having to teach difficult groups and completing paperwork assigned by administration, as well as an overload of teaching hours. Ryan (1986) also expresses instructional planning and pacing as primary concerns for beginner teachers, referring to locating materials, organizing and sequencing instruction, keeping up to pace with the team. In addition to the workload, Veenman (1984) and Alexander and Galbraith (1997) identified classroom management as one of the main concerns. According to the results of Veenman’s (1984) study, with particular reference to classroom management, some of the learner-related issues perceived by novice teachers are: motivating students, dealing with individual differences, assessing students’ work, relations with parents and organization of class work. Similarly, Clif, et al (1995), and Reiman and Parramore (1994) claim that first year teachers have to deal with the most challenging classes and work with some of the most alienated students. Gilles, Cramer and Hwang (2001) report that professional and personal survival, attending to student needs, and discipline are among the major concerns of beginner teachers.

Due to these problems, the teaching profession has begun to lose talented teachers (Cole and Knowles, 1993; Schmidt and Knowles, 1995). Findings in the literature suggest that nearly 50% of teachers entering the profession leave within the first 5 years (Jerald and Boser, 2000). The first year is considered a vicious cycle during which teachers first complain about the teaching workload, then either change their teaching in a way contrary to their beliefs, or suddenly decide to leave the profession altogether (Gray and Gray, in Odell and Ferraro, 1992). Bearing this fact in mind, it is obvious that novice teachers have difficulties in surviving in the profession when left on their own. Fox and Singletary (1986) emphasize the need for support at this stage to become flexible, self-evaluative, competent, and confident enough to confront any problems which may arise in the classroom and at school. In addition, as Boss (2001) indicates, novice teachers need guidance and support from experienced educators.

There are a number of institutional and individual strategies to assist teachers in dealing with these problems and to retain them in the profession, (Richards & Farrell, 2005). Richards and Farrell suggest institutional strategies such as providing written sources for development, arranging visits to other schools, and providing time for ongoing reflection. Among individual strategies are reflection, self-directed learning and taking part in teacher support groups. The approach based on reflection plays a crucial role as it helps teachers to become more aware and also explore their teaching beliefs and practices. Studies on teacher reflection suggest that “experience alone is insufficient for professional growth, and that experience coupled with reflection is a much more powerful impetus for development” (Richards and Nunan, 1990, p.201). According to Osterman and Kottkamp (1993), reflection means “developing a greater level of self-awareness about the nature and the impact of their performance” (p.19).

Among many others, one of the most widely used strategies for teacher reflection is keeping journals. Richards and Lockhart (1994) agree that journals help classroom teachers examine their professional practice. According to Lukinsky (1990), journals or diaries are tools for "bringing together the inner and outer parts of our lives" (p.221). Brock, Yu and Wong (1992) list the benefits of keeping journal as generating questions and hypotheses about the teaching and learning processes, enhancing awareness of the way a teacher teaches and a student learns, providing a first-hand account of teaching and learning experiences, providing an on-going record of classroom events and teacher and learner reflections. Similarly, Carter (in Numrich, 1996) agrees that the stories of novice teachers elicited through journals enable professionals in the field to gain an understanding of their knowledge and how their knowledge changes with additional experiences of carrying out the teaching. In short, journals are regarded not only as a recording tool of teachers' thoughts, ideas, and practices, but also as a tool to promote teachers' reflective teaching (Bailey, 2001; Gebhard and Oprandy, 1999).

Purpose of the Study

As mentioned above, research on novice teacher concerns has highlighted the following areas: demanding assignments, an overload of teaching hours, organizing and sequencing the instruction, classroom management, relations with parents, challenging classes, knowledge of curriculum, and teacher autonomy. Educational institutions working with a large number of novice teachers would probably experience these and many other concerns at a higher rate. The university in Turkey where the study was conducted is an example of such a higher education institution with a relatively high proportion of novice teachers.

Within the above framework, this study aims at finding answers to the following questions:

  1. What are the main concerns of novice teachers working in this particular institution?
  2. What strategies do the teachers employ to deal with their concerns?


This is a qualitative study in terms of the type of data used, and the interpretative analysis conducted. The data collection procedure lasted 13 weeks, and included 6 novice teachers working at the institution.

The institution

The university in the study is a private English-medium university offering a one-year intensive English language program run by the School of Foreign Languages. The teacher profile in the School of Foreign Languages consists of teachers from different nationalities (American, British, Canadian, Turkish), different age groups ranging from 24-55, and different teaching experience ranging from 0-20+ years. The intensive language programme offered to four groups of students with different levels of proficiency (beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate and intermediate). The weekly contact hours range between 24 and 30, which is the main source of exposure for students who are learning English in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) environment. Regardless of whether novice or experiences, teachers are expected to cover 20 hours of weekly teaching, to attend weekly seminars and workshops, and to mark examination papers.


Of the 17 novice teachers working at the institution, 6 volunteered to participate in the study. The definition of novice teachers can vary depending on the purpose of the study being conducted; for example, Spector (1989) defines a novice teacher as someone who has less than five years of experience. However, Sarpy-Simpson (2005) describes the novice teacher as “a teacher who is new to the field of education with zero-two years of teaching experience” (p.9). For the purposes of this study, the selection of novice teachers was based on Sarpy-Simpson’s definition because the aim was to identify the concerns specifically related to the first two years of teaching. The researchers in the study were three female academicians with PhDs in the field of ELT, each with more than 18 years of teaching experience. The researchers, who worked in the same institution, and the 6 novice teachers came together for this particular study.

Below are the details of the six participants:

Teacher A: Female native speaker of English, one-year prior teaching experience in English, 26 years old, holds a teaching certificate in CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).

Teacher B: Female non-native speaker of English, no prior teaching experience, 23 years old, graduate in interpreting and translation in English.

Teacher C: Female non-native speaker of English, one-year prior teaching experience in English, 22 years old, graduate in education (English language teaching).

Teacher D: Male non-native speaker of English, two-year prior teaching experience in English, 27 years old, graduate in English literature.

Teacher E: Male native-speaker of English, two-year prior teaching experience in English, 29 years old, graduate in behavioral sciences.

Teacher F: Female non-native speaker of English, one-year prior teaching experience in English, 24 years old, graduate in interpreting and translation in English.

Data collection

At the beginning of the study, the researchers explained the purpose and the process of the study to the novice teachers.

Journal keeping, considered as one of the most effective ways of eliciting teachers’ beliefs, concerns, weaknesses, and strengths, was chosen as the instrument for data collection, together with the feedback meeting with the novice teachers. The data in the study was collected in 2 stages: a. weekly journal entries and b. feedback sessions.

a. Weekly Journal Entries

The teachers were asked to write weekly journals on their general concerns about their teaching and submit them at the end of each week. No guidance in structuring journal entries was given to the teachers. Thus, rather than starting with structured themes or focus areas, researchers examined the journals carefully to identify the shared concerns based on the themes which naturally emerged in the journals. The journal entries were written by individual teachers in their own time without any collaboration. Over the period of the data collection process, which lasted 13 weeks (i.e. one academic semester), the teachers handed in a total of 57 journal entries of varying lengths. In order to make journal entries as uninhibited as possible, no guidelines as to length or format were given.

b. Feedback meeting

Researchers held a single feedback meeting with the teachers, two weeks after the data collection procedure was completed. The meeting was organized considering the theme of ‘teacher concerns’, which had been identified by researchers using their notes on the journal entries. One of the aims of this meeting was to verify whether the concerns had been correctly identified. The second aim was to elicit from the teachers the strategies that they employed to deal with these concerns.

The feedback meeting was held with the three researchers and six participants present. During the meeting, one researcher led the meeting while the others took notes, and the entire discussions were audio-recorded. The meeting lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Data analysis

The analysis of the journals was completely data driven, without any prescribed topics. All entries were examined by the three researchers working independently, to ensure that the classification was based on a thorough analysis. The concerns teachers mentioned or implied were later classified into major and sub-categories reflecting the concern areas. While identifying the concerns, the criterion for acceptance as a common concern was the fact that it had been mentioned by at least four of the six participants. After the researchers agreed on the identified concerns and themes, the findings were given to an unbiased expert, working in the institution, but with expertise in teacher education. This consultation was done in order to eliminate the possibility of the researchers having preconceived notions regarding the research.


a. The journals

As a result of the analysis of the journal entries, the following three major categories and subcategories of concerns were identified. The list of concerns and the sample comments by the teachers in the form of direct quotations from their journals that fall under the categories is given in Table 1.

Table 1
The major and sub-categories of concerns and sample comments

Concerns Sample Comments by Teachers
Individual Concerns
Student-based Concerns “Students are hard to motivate.”
“I took granted that all students would know the basics, but they didn’t.” “Some students are too inhibited and passive.”
Concerns about self “I no longer trust my students, my perspective towards them changed. I started to believe that they are attacking me.”
“I started the second semester being a strict teacher, even though I am not.”
“Am I turning into an exam-oriented teacher?”
“It is almost impossible to get them to do homework without threatening them.”
“At the moment, I am not the teacher I actually want to be.”
Classroom Procedures
Classroom Management “They are not following my instructions”
“I have classroom management problems.”
“Students are getting naughtier. I don’t feel in control.”
Physical Conditions “Physical conditions are contributing to create distractions”
“For group activities, physical conditions are poor”
In-class activities “I get disappointed when group activities don’t work”
“Setting up pair/group work is very difficult”
“Students are resorting to Turkish a lot.”
Academic Coordination
Material “There is no time to use any kind of extra material”
“The schedule is so busy that we are bombarding the students with a lot of input.”
“The material is too challenging, especially for low level groups”
Testing “I don’t know what the exams will cover”
“There seems to be a mismatch between what is taught and what is tested.”
Work-load “I have to teach 20 hours a week, I feel so tired”
“Teaching four to five hours in a row is exhausting”
Student Regrouping “They compare me to their first semester teacher and they think I am boring.”
“Due to the students’ regrouping in the second semester, group dynamics is badly affected.”

Under the major category of “Individual Concerns”, the first sub-category was student-based concerns. Student motivation, the proficiency level of students, and personality traits of students appear to be the major concerns in this category. These findings are also supported by Veenman (1984) who suggests that motivating students and dealing with individual differences are among the main concerns of novice teachers. The second sub-category under this theme was “Concerns about Self”. As can be seen in the quotations in Table 1, these concerns show that teachers’ perceptions about students have changed and they began to view themselves as acting contrary to their beliefs; in other words, a conflicting teacher-image was apparent in their statements. Gray and Gray (in Odell and Ferraro, 1992) also agree that the first year of teaching is a vicious cycle which causes teachers to change their beliefs regarding their students, themselves as teachers and their teaching.

The second main theme was “Classroom Procedures”, which covered the sub-categories of classroom management, in-class activities and physical conditions. From the quotations related to classroom procedures in Table 1, discipline emerges as the major issue. Alexander and Galbraith (1997) and Veenman (1984) also highlight discipline issues as one of the primary concerns of teachers. Another area of concern was related to issues such as class size, or seating arrangements. However, it was evident in later journal entries that teachers stopped writing about these concerns, suggesting that they had come to accept the existing physical conditions. The third subcategory regarding the concerns of the novice teachers was in-class activities. As can be inferred from the quotations above, teachers believe that the physical conditions of the classrooms (size, seating layout etc) interfere with their teaching, thus become a concern (Vanci Osam &. Balbay, 2004).

The last main theme was “Academic Coordination”, consisting of material, testing, work load and student regrouping. Among these, material and work-load were indicated as the prominent concerns. The novice teachers clearly expressed their concerns resulting from the busy schedule, leaving little time for different learning activities. The teachers stated that they could perform better with more preparation time, less teaching hours and less additional duties. Similar concerns were identified in the study carried out by Ryan (1986), indicating that coping with hectic schedules, instructional pacing, and planning of instruction are among the concerns of novice teachers. Testing was another sub-category mentioned by the teachers. The reason for the concern over testing may be due to the lack of involvement of classroom teachers in exam preparation, which is the responsibility of a specialist testing unit. This led to uncertainty over exam content and claims of mismatches between what is taught and what is tested. The third group of concerns was work-load. As part of their contract, the instructors at the School of Foreign Languages are required to teach an average of 20 hours a week, in addition to attending professional development activities, completing paperwork assigned by administration, conducting office hours and grading student exams. Thus, many teachers consider teaching hours overwhelming. Research conducted in this field also identifies work-load as a common concern (Ryan, 1986; McCann and Johannessen, 2004; Crookes and Arakaki, 1999; Cliff et al., 1995). The last sub-category referred to in the journal entries was student shuffle. In the teaching context of the School of Foreign Languages, students are regrouped at the end of the first semester, based on the exam scores received throughout the semester. As a result of this, new groups are formed and different instructors are assigned to each group, which apparently cause teachers to express concerns about student dynamics and the fact that students tend to make comparisons between teachers.

b. Feedback meeting

In the feedback session, the teachers were asked specifically about the methods that they employed to deal with the problems and concerns stated in the diaries. The results suggest that novice teachers struggle in their own way through the first year of teaching by using different strategies such as consulting colleagues and family members, and searching the internet.

Two of the teachers who solved some of their classroom management problems by consulting family members who were themselves teachers, stated: “I change the seating of some students to solve management problems because my mother told me she would do the same thing” . Three indicated that they searched different sources to solve problems such as giving instructions. “I solved problems with giving instructions by shortening them and giving them step by step. This is something I read on the internet.” Finally, consulting colleagues was a strategy used by all six teachers. “By asking my office-mate, I managed to involve the indifferent students by giving them some tasks such as cleaning the board, distributing handouts, etc.”, “Sometimes I rewrite the material so it looks more motivating and matches the students’ level. That is what other teachers told me they do, too.”, “I learned how important it is to keep silent to make students silent”.

At the end of the meeting, they all agreed that consulting colleagues was the most useful strategy in coping with the problems encountered during the semester. They also expressed a desire for fewer teaching hours per week, which would give them the opportunity to cope with the above mentioned concerns more easily.

Conclusion and Implications

This study aimed to reveal the novice teachers’ concerns regarding various aspects of their teaching and to identify the strategies they use to cope with these concerns. Regarding the first research question, the results obtained from journal entries indicated that the concerns of novice teachers working at the School of Foreign Languages fall into three main areas; namely, Academic Coordination, Classroom Procedures and Individual Concerns. Under Academic Coordination, concerns about teaching material, testing and working load were mentioned. In Classroom Procedures, teachers expressed concerns about classroom management, physical concerns and procedural concerns. Finally, Individual Concerns consisted of concerns related to the students and the teachers themselves.

As for the second research question, it was evident that teachers found their own strategies to cope with the issues related to their classroom teaching by consulting colleagues and parents working in the field of education, and by referring to different sources including the internet, journals or books. The results of this study suggest that even highly motivated and enthusiastic novice teachers have to cope with reality shock when they begin teaching.

Novice teachers should be given more support and guidance to alleviate their individual concerns as well as their concerns about classroom procedures and academic coordination since such concerns identified in this study seem to be shared by novice teachers working in institutions throughout the world. Upon the completion of the study, taking the novice teachers’ concerns identified in the study, a well-structured orientation program for the following academic year was proposed for novice teachers so as to address their common challenges such as student discipline, motivation and dealing with individual learner differences. Furthermore, pairing novice and experienced teachers by grade level or content area, i.e. teachers teaching the same class, was thought to increase the likelihood of regular interaction and the effectiveness of peer support.

Regarding classroom procedures, teacher trainers, working in the Teacher Development Unit in the School of Foreign Languages, scheduled focused developmental courses, seminars and workshops to overcome difficulties related to classroom management and in-class activities. Novice teachers stated that they learned a great deal from colleagues, it was therefore suggested that peer observations be scheduled for the benefit of novice teachers.

Because excessive work-load was frequently mentioned by novice teachers, the administration was informed, and a reduction in teaching hours was suggested to allow more time for attendance of conferences, seminars and workshops, and to work with support providers and observe other teachers.

In conclusion, this study has uncovered the concerns of novice teachers and the strategies they employ to deal with those concerns. Based on the findings, suggestions as to how these teachers’ concerns can be further alleviated have been made. Needless to say, most of these suggestions center around the support novice teachers need in their early years. We should not sit back and merely watch as novice teachers sink or swim. Instead, as Fischer (2004) proposes, “We need to handout floatation devices until their strokes become more confident and their style more definite” (p.5).


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