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- Problems Encountered by Student-Teachers in Two Junior High Schools in Central Java
Problems Encountered by Student-Teachers in Two Junior High Schools in Central Java
Yulio Ageng Prastomo was a former student of English Language Education Program, Faculty of Language and Arts, Satya Wacana Christian University.
Listyani is a senior lecturer at the English Language Education Program, Faculty of Language and Arts, Satya Wacana Christian University.
This study aims to find out about what caused problems to student-teachers during their teaching practice. The participants of this study were six student-teachers who had passed their teaching practice. The interviews showed that some of these student-teachers faced various difficulties related to both external and internal factors. The study will hopefully be useful for students, mentor teachers, as well as teaching practice supervisors.
Teaching practicum (TP) is a course that is required to be taken by the students of Education and Teacher Training Faculty. Teaching practicum is also known in a variety of terms, such as; “practice teaching, field experience, apprenticeship, practical experience, and internship” (Gebhard, 2009). The course is usually held in the final year of college.
Teaching practicum has some purposes. One of them is to put students in the real world of teaching, and thus give them experiences as well as chances to be real teachers in a real school. Okobia et.al. (2013, p.7) stated that the central of teacher education program is to “produce teachers who can perform adequately in the world of work and meet the present-day challenges”. Teaching practice is thus an important aspect of the teacher preparatory program in teacher training institutions. Teaching practicum functions as a platform for student-teachers to be exposed to the real teaching and professional activities.
Teaching practicum is a chance for student-teachers to practice their teaching. In their practicum, student-teachers will be able to enhance their professionalism in teaching skills that can only be achieved through the practice in the real classroom situation (Wallace, 1991). Mukhibad and Susilowati (2010) also supported the idea by saying that teaching practicum is one of the curriculum’s crucial components that integrate students’ understanding and the practice.
In TP activities, student-teachers are guided by school teachers or mentors. Fung & Chow (2002) stated that “Mentor or cooperating teachers take the role of reflection facilitator by posing examples, analyzing and interpreting teaching practice, challenging student-teachers for value justifications and encouraging positive dispositions in teaching”. Mentor’s duty is to give some input to student-teachers and give guidance to accomplish tasks such as administration, disciplinary procedure, and cooperative working with other teachers (Wallace, 1991).
Problems commonly faced by student-teachers
In teaching practicum, several problems do occur along the way. Sarıçoban (2010) found that the first problem in teaching is the student-teachers need to perform certain teaching skills that they are lacking. This problem occurs because there is a gap between the academic institution and the current real teaching situation.
The next problem in teaching practicum identified by Wang and Odell (2002) is psychological and emotional pressures which can affect student-teacher performance in teaching. Attitudes and anxiety belong to this category.
a. Student-teachers’ and Students’ attitudes
At the beginning of teaching, student-teachers may find themselves confused with what attitudes that the students may give to them and what attitudes they may receive when teaching. This is one of the internal difficulties in teaching practice. Inevitably, disappointment, lack of self-confidence, stress and other psychological drawbacks may occur to student-teachers who are presumably new to real teaching.
Furthermore, Priambodo (2012) asserted that there are some internal factors that affect student-teachers’ attitudes in perceiving classroom in which they teach real students. Those factors include material preparation, teaching technique, classroom management, time management and self-confidence problem.
As mentioned by Rakasiwi (2013), some pre-service teachers might see themselves as sufficient enough to teach English in a classroom. However, there were also pre-service teachers who thought that their ability was insufficient.
Aside of that all, student-teachers will get experiences during their teaching and all this will affect their psychological perception. Just like other factors, attitudes may be received by student-teachers as a “punch” to their purpose. It means that the first impression of student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student attitudes and relationships may affect student-teachers' teaching performance later on.
b. Student-teachers’ anxiety
Anxiety in teaching is a very common phenomenon. Other terms that might suggest the same meaning are “nervousness”, “pressure” or “lack of confidence”. Although not every student-teacher faces all kinds of anxiety and stress, most of them have at least one innate anxiety caused by their attitude toward teaching (Guillaume & Rudney, as cited in Parker, 2011).
Some senior teachers who are already in service may have left certain attitudes that shaped them to what they are now from what they have got during teaching practicum. They may assert new teachers and student-teachers with what they believe and usually tell new teachers what to do that is suitable for the classroom based on their experiences (El Kadri & Roth, 2015). Moreover, student-teachers are sometimes trained with the same workload as an in-service teacher. The fact that student-teachers are not actual teachers but rather are learners themselves can cause an ambiguity for student-teachers who are supposed to be using teaching practicum as a learning to teach opportunity (Mtika, 2011). It means that though these pre-service teachers are actually learners, they have to position themselves as teachers when doing their teaching practicum.
Moreover, student-teachers have to deal with many kinds of students. One of the obstacles that produces more pressure is when a student-teacher meets or deals with passive students (Rakasiwi, 2013). Passive students are one of many factors that necessarily build anxiety in student-teachers as they are perceived as real teachers rather than a student who is in training.
Here is another situation that may cause problem. In reality, student-teachers are also often seen as replacement teachers. Mentor-teachers often somehow force their ideas on these novice teachers based on what they have experienced rather than let the student-teachers experience their own problems with their own solutions. Furthermore, school students often see student-teachers as temporary teachers and thus take them for granted.
In this particular study, the focus will be problems encountered by student-teachers in the beginning of the teaching practicum. To our understanding, student-teachers often face a certain level of problems even before they begin their teaching practicum. Many student-teachers would have wanted to know the causes, the impacts and presumably solutions to the problems at the beginning of their teaching practicum.
The participants of the study were students of English Language Education Program, Faculty of Language and Arts of Satya Wacana Christian University. They were student-teachers who were willing to be interviewed as respondents in this study. They conducted teaching practicum on January - March 2017 in a private junior high school in Salatiga and a public school in Banyubiru, Semarang Regency. Their ages ranged between 23 and 24, and all were male student-teachers.
The first four participants were Mr. L (Batch 2009), Mr. A (Batch 2013), Mr. J (Batch 2013), and Mr. D (Batch 2013); and they did their teaching practicum at a private junior high school in Salatiga. The last one was Mr. R (Batch 2013) who did his at a public school in Banyubiru, Semarang Regency.). These participants were named as P1, P2, P3, P4, and P5 respectively in this study. Initials were used for research ethics, that is, to respect the participants’ confidentiality.
These five student-teachers were interviewed between January and March 2018; and the interviews were immediately transcribed. The main interview question was “What worries came to your mind when you first came to the teaching site?”
The interview transcription was then analyzed based on the themes that emerged from the participants. Similar answers were coded. After that, themes were drawn, including the kinds of problems and solutions from the participants.
Findings and discussion
Our data showed that the student-teachers experienced four main types of problems at the beginning of their teaching practicum. Each would be discussed below.
Relatively new environment
Our student-teachers were not prepared mentally to deal with an unexpected new situation. P4’s statement showed that there were worries towards students’ behavior. Not only from students, actually, but worries also came from staff’s and teachers’ behavior.
This is a common kind of anxiety, although it is something usual. However, not many student-teachers are able to overcome immediately. Though the student-teachers knew that they were getting involved in real teaching and learning in the classroom, still, they felt unprepared. As one of the student-teachers said, “The first thing that I felt was I was shocked, because it was my first time coming to that school and I didn’t know anybody yet. I was worried that the students might be naughty or outsmart us. I was worried that the teachers would be strict to us, I was worried because I didn’t’ know anything about the school, let’s say I was “shocked”. There has got to be the concern when this student is misbehaving, even cleverer or something, the teachers are strict or something, and so on.” (P4).
Wright (1988) cited in Sarıçoban (2010) mentioned that in the classroom, teaching and learning can be considered as social activities that involve relationships between not only the teacher and students, but also between these parties (teacher-students) and materials, equipment, classroom environment, and curriculum. These relationships, which can be very complicated, are something new to the students. So far, they mostly deal with the teachers and materials in the classroom. The students doing TP, therefore, have to adapt themselves well to the new environment.
Sarıçoban (2010)’s study also found that the first problem in teaching is the student-teachers need to perform certain teaching skills that they are lacking. This problem occurs because there is a gap between the academic institution and the current real teaching situation. Student-teachers therefore must be able to fill in the gap between the two different situations.
Student-teachers have to deal with various kinds of students’ behavior. Of course, student-teachers were aware of this common perception because student-teachers were also students as well long before they entered college. However, handling teenage school students is not as easy as people think. There are student-teachers who suddenly become frozen or nervous when they come to the real classroom with real students.
The student-teachers participating in this study were afraid that the way they taught or delivered the materials would not be received well in the classroom. It was simply because school students thought that student-teachers were not their real teachers and thus could be taken lightly. Student-teachers had to build authority, obedience and admittance from their students.
To this, one of the study participants (P5) said, ““I didn’t feel anything in particular or any kind of that the first time I entered the school, but once I saw the student and they looked good, they didn’t seem so naughty then my nervousness dropped a little bit. Of course, I was worried because I was new to them so I was afraid they wouldn’t listen to me as they listened to their teacher or they couldn’t understand what I said.”
Veeman (1984) cited in Sarıçoban (2010) stated that there were problems faced by student-teachers including “classroom discipline, motivating students, dealing with individual differences, assessing students’ works, relationships with their parents, the organization of class work, insufficient and/or inadequate teaching materials and supplies, and dealing with problems of individual students”. Dealing with high-school students surely may cause problems to student-teachers. Most of the time, the problems are related to behavior. This is a special challenge for student-teachers to solve and overcome those student-related problems.
There was another concern amongst student-teachers which is student-teachers and mentor-teacher communication. P1’s statement revealed this, “For evaluation…the mentor teachers were unexpectedly worse, and I think the mentor teachers weren’t consistent in giving instruction. Besides, the time allocated for student-teachers was very little.”
P2 and P3 also said that they seldom had discussions with their mentor teachers though they were actually scheduled to have ones. Furthermore, the mentor teachers demanded “fun learning” which was constructed from active-learning-student-centered approach. This was very difficult without enough time allocated for discussions between student-teachers and their mentors.
Ogonor and Badmus (2006) in Okobia (2013) mentioned that mentor teachers play an important role in the students’ practicum. The purpose of teaching practicum program, among others, is to provide trainees or student-teachers with the opportunity to utilize the various teaching methods in actual classrooms/school conditions under the supervision of competent and experienced teachers. These competent and experienced teachers are also called mentor-teachers who guide the student-teachers during their TP. Good communication and cooperation with the mentor-teachers are therefore needed by both parties, so that the student-teachers can get and learn a lot of benefits from their mentor-teachers.
Fung & Chow (2002) also stated that “Mentor or cooperating teachers take the role of reflection facilitator by posing examples, analyzing and interpreting teaching practice, challenging student-teachers for value justifications and encouraging positive dispositions in teaching”. A mentor teacher ideally helps student-teachers in their teaching practicum. A mentor teacher is expected to give adequate feedback for student-teachers about their teaching.
Student-teachers’ background knowledge and experiences
There are other factors that affected student-teachers’ performances at the beginning of teaching practicum, namely experiences and background knowledge. Student-teachers are inexperienced teachers, however, some student-teachers managed to pull out the best performance only based on what they have learned during college. Some other student-teachers could overcome any problem that emerged during their teaching practicum because they had got adequate background knowledge. This happens to one of our student-teachers, i.e. P2 who usually gave a private tutorial to the children next door and to his relatives.
Meanwhile, student-teachers who do not have any interest in teaching may find it difficult to adapt in a teaching environment in the school even in the middle of the teaching practicum let alone at the beginning. As P3 said, “I felt excited I can’t wait to do the teaching. I was just not confident enough because I haven’t had any teaching experience so I worried about my teaching ability.”
However, in this study, there were also student-teachers who had not had any experience in teaching that can manage to prepare an interactive and engaging activity. P5, for example, has never been teaching in the context of formal or non-improvised teaching. However, he came prepared with games in case the students get bored or looked away during his teaching session. As stated by P5, “Mental and faith preparations. Done. And I have to prepare the materials for me to know what to do later on. Then, I always prepare games because junior high school students could easily get bored that’s why I always prepare games.”
Student- teachers’ knowledge and understanding towards the materials and other pedagogical issues are indeed necessary. These student-teachers should widen and enlarge their horizon in terms of knowledge, both the general one, or the one related to the materials. Urevbu (2004), in Okobia et al (2013) noted that the knowledge and skills acquired should be demonstrated before examiners of the teaching practicum who give feedbacks. Thus, the student-teachers can improve their practice before they are finally evaluated.
Teaching practice obviously creates a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and apprehension in the student teachers as they commence their teaching practice (Manion et.al., 2003 cited in Okobia et. al., 2010). Providing enough knowledge of how they will do and how they should be when becoming teachers soon after they graduate should be conducted soon (Biesta, 2014).
As shown in the discussion section, there were several problems faced by the five student-teachers involved in this study. It was found that there were four major problems that the participants experienced:
The first is the new environment. Student-teachers had to adjust with the new environment and it was not easy for them. Being in a real teaching world can make them stressed out, if they could not adjust well. They are now having a new position, i.e. as a teacher who teaches real students, not merely acting as a university student.
Secondly, the school students might cause problems. It is indeed challenging to deal with teenagers who may have problems related to their psychology, mental, as well as biological changes within them.
The next problem is related to the mentor teachers. However, student-teachers should be able to communicate and work together with the mentor teachers, since these teachers have more experiences, skills and knowledge that will be very useful for the student-teachers.
The last problem was from the student-teachers’ lack of experiences and background knowledge. This can be a special problem for the inexperienced pre-service teachers. They may feel inferior and unprepared when teaching in front of the class. Equipping themselves with adequate literature on teaching practicum, consulting senior students as well as supervisors from the university study program can be useful.
We believe that it is necessary for the student-teachers to realize that it is normal and common to face problems related to their first teaching in real school environment. Consulting senior students, mentor-teachers, and university supervisors might help reducing their anxiety.
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