What Motivates Slovak Students to Become English Teachers?
Elena Kovacikova is a university teacher at the Faculty of Education in Nitra, Slovakia. She teaches methodology of ELT. She also teaches English at Primary School Makovicky in Nitra. She has co-written English textbooks for children Cool English School, a textbook for university students on Methodology of foreign language learning, and other scientific papers. Current professional interests are pre-service English teachers and support in their teaching practice, bridging the university studies with teaching practice and CLIL. Enjoys working with children, students and language teachers.
The well-known quote by Aristotle on teachers: “Those, that know, do. Those that understand, teach”, has been modified over time into a cynical aphorism by G.B. Shaw “He, who can, does. He, who cannot, teaches”. (Shulman, 1986). Later, Shulman rightfully examines the background as to how and why this quote has survived in the minds of teachers throughout the decades as a belittlement or even a mockery of our teaching profession. There are only a few countries in the world that value the work of teachers in financial terms, mainly due to the fact that the impact of teachers’ efforts is evident in our future generations. In spite of the fact that teachers in Slovakia are underpaid and undervalued in our society, surprisingly, the faculties of education have large numbers of students in English teaching programs. What makes them choose this profession? This paper focuses on the motives that drive young Slovaks to apply for pre-service teaching courses, and examines their motivational changes during their university study.
Most of the studies on teacher motivation focus on extrinsic, intrinsic, and altruistic motivations as three main factors when deciding to choose the teaching professions (Richardson, 2007). In Slovakia, Tomsik (2015) carried out research on gender differences in motivation for choosing teaching as a career by examining the preferences in these motivational categories: competence, enthusiasm, family and benefits, income, social status, prestige, and pro-sociality, work with pupils and teenagers. His findings show that women tend to choose the category family and benefits while men choose work with children and teenagers. It would be interesting to find out more specific results within particular teaching programs.
A teacher´s identity can be defined in several directions. Friedman (2013) states that language teachers usually enter the teaching profession with mixed motivations. These can be altruistic, for example the desire to teach children and thus change their lives, intrinsic, as an interest in English as a language, and extrinsic such as job security or salary. Dörney & Ushioda (2011) claim that highly committed teachers usually hold either altruistic or intrinsic motivations that can support and guide their professional paths. Beijaard et al. (2004) shed light on teacher´s identity as one of the factors arguing that this is the way teachers perceive themselves as teachers. However, a teacher’s identity is not fixed and, as Dörneyi and Kubanyiova (2014) stress, it is negotiated through experience and developed through the sense made of that experience. Therefore, we might assume that it is a very complex and life-long learning process of discovering the professional self. Kubanyiova (2012), in her work, clearly determines and describes teachers´ ´ideal selves´, and this vision of ´an ideal self´ seems to be a crucial element not only in teacher professional development but definitely also in other professions.
However, the question whether a vision of teacher students (pre-service teachers) embodied in any type of motivation is already present at a pre-teaching stage remains unanswered. Secondly, whatever umbrella term is used (a vision, motivation, drive, etc.), it is compelling to find out how this knowledge correlates with students´ achievements during their university study as well as in their teaching practice. In Sinclair´s (2008) study, motivation and commitment of pre-service teachers changed over the first semester of their involvement in the teaching programme, particularly as a result of the first teaching practice (practicum). When we consider language teachers, their motivation proceeds along their education: their professional identity does not remain stable (Kavanoz and Gülru, 2017). Their study on motivation and concerns of pre-service language teachers in Turkey revealed that fluctuation observed among different years in their study reflects the ´interplay between the context and the self´.
The profession of a language teacher in Slovakia requires a Master’s degree taken at a faculty of education or arts. Pre-service teacher preparation is grounded in linguistic and methodological knowledge, extended with pedagogical and psychological theories. The linguistic and methodological part is delivered in the target language, i.e. in English. Pedagogical and psychological theories are taught in the mother tongue. Moreover, pre-service teaching programmes include compulsory teaching practice in a real school environment, starting with observation, and then gradual teaching practice at primary, lower-secondary and secondary levels of schooling, under the supervision of teacher trainers in approved centres of practices. The number of hours spent in real schools varies from faculty to faculty. After the completion of a Master’s degree, a year in the role of a novice teacher gives the opportunity and challenge for language teachers to start working, under the supervision mostly of a senior language teacher, at one particular school. Regarding life-long learning opportunities for independent language teachers, there are several possibilities for further professional development. The usual triggers are the desire to maintain and progress in language proficiency, a pay rise or other personal desires, or an interest in tackling the problems appearing in the classroom. Csikszentmihalyi (1998) claims that teacher motivation and enthusiasm undoubtedly affect the willingness of the learner, and thus the teacher definitely gives a positive example of how to pursue knowledge. However, some studies (Kubányiová 2009, Hiver 2013, Valmori and Costa 2016) have shown that the design of in-service professional development courses should take into greater consideration the needs of English language teachers. Researchers such as Chambless (2012) call for further empirical studies on the maintenance of in-service teacher proficiency levels after university graduation. Kráľová and Malá (2018) discuss concerns and anxieties of English language teachers mainly in their own perception of themselves as professionals not confident enough to use and teach foreign languages even though they have reached a teaching degree. Kubányiová (2009), in particular, concentrates on language teachers in Slovakia and proves that there is a high discrepancy between the ´self´ of the teacher and their ideal or desired ´self´. Thus, reflected in the classroom, this resulted in a contradiction between what teachers perceive they are and what they ought to be.
With the aim to find out the type of motivation of our students and the reason of the choice of their teaching career, reflection on their English learning experience at school, and future perspectives as English teachers, we have evaluated motivational essays of pre-service teachers (students of English teaching programmes in their Master’s degree). 43 students in 2018- 2019 in the first year of their Master’s English language teaching programme, were given open-ended questions (Silverman, 2006). The title of the essay was ´Me as an English Language Teacher´ with the following three research objectives:
- Me as a language learner during my schooling days,
- Who or what inspired me to study English and,
- A vision of myself as an English teacher in the future.
This qualitative research was grounded with the constructivist paradigm (Hatch, 2002) that presumes that there exist multiple realities which are unique, and the knowledge produced within this paradigm is produced in the form of case studies, rich narratives, interpretations and reconstructions. The students were free to answer the questions as a part of their assignment with no limits regarding the length and style of writing. The analysis of qualitative data was carried out by a form of coding that can be understood as the translation of question responses to specific categories. By analysing the essays, we created the following categories based on the students’ answers.
Table 1: Research Findings
As is evident from table 1 above, students´ answers were collected from their essays and arranged in the order according to their most frequent answers. The most interesting finding was to see the connections among the answers of a particular person. For example, the person who defined himself during his school days as an uninterested student with only sufficient results, was inspired by his English teacher at secondary school to become a teacher of English and eventually enrolled on the teaching programme at our faculty.
Another issue was to see how several students (reasonably) considered the opinions of their parents on their future; hence chose teaching as a career. They justified their decisions with the arguments that their parents advised them to become teachers as a teaching career is a very stable and safe one. According to the parents, although teaching is still underpaid, the government gradually takes steps to make improvements. However, the highest motivator for them to become English teachers remained their English teachers at elementary, secondary and language schools. These results proved the big responsibility of in-service English teachers as they evidently become role models for their learners in many ways, and evidently influence the choice of future career.
When comparing these results with the theoretical backgrounds on extrinsic, intrinsic and altruistic motivation, we can see, that within our small research group, all these three forms, the extrinsic (my teacher, my parents), intrinsic (gift for languages, no other study preference), and altruistic (work with teenagers and children) can be found, even though the altruistic motivation has the lowest rating in our small research (only 2 students out of 43). However, a positive outcome might be seen in the shift of the initial motivation and its development during their studies particularly after their first “real” teaching practice. This phase can provide the first formulation of their teacher “selves”. Thus, it can make them start thinking of their impact on very young, young learners, teenagers, or adults as well as shaping their opinions on their future in or out of teaching English.
The teaching profession is one of the most demanding and influential jobs as it requires us to work with people with professionalism, flexibility, tolerance and a big dose of enthusiasm. Moreover, the fruits of the teaching profession is evident in the present and future generations. Motivation works as an engine in every field, and through this small qualitative research we have found out what motivated our university students to become English teachers and how they see themselves in their professional future. The primary engine for most of them were their own English teachers; then their preference/competence/gift/passion for foreign languages. After that they were mainly influenced by the stability and job security of a teaching profession. The least formulated was the reason to influence children and teenagers. However, when the students were asked after their first teaching practice if they could see themselves at school, they could picture themselves either at primary or secondary schools working with children or teenagers. Only three of them were according to their essays discouraged or demotivated by their first teaching experience. However, there is a chance for a change in their negative experience during further teaching practices later on.
The results of this small research place high demands on methodology teachers at faculties of education who should base contents of their ELT methodological courses on the initial motivation of their students. Moreover, they should make them realize and acknowledge their English language learning experience in order to be able to understand their learners. Eventually, pre-service teachers should learn how to manage successful transfer and mediation of knowledge in the schooling environments considering the particularities and needs of their students. They train this experience during their teaching practice under the supervision of their teacher trainers. Thus, the teaching philosophy of university teachers should comply with that of teacher trainers. As it is evident from the research, English teachers often become role models as they may influence job preferences of their learners. Thus, the triangle of university teachers of ELT methodology, teacher trainers during teaching practices and in-service English teachers, is interconnected in the professional development of pre-service English teachers. To sum it up, the initial quote of this paper can be changed into: “Those that know, understand and want, teach.”
The paper was published under the research KEGA 002UKF-4/2020.
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