How Can Novice Teachers Be Supported in the Early Stages of Their Careers in Turkish State Universities? Esin Yüksel, Turkey

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How Can Novice Teachers Be Supported in the Early Stages of Their Careers in Turkish State Universities?

Esin Yüksel, Turkey

Esin Yüksel holds an M.A. degree in TESOL at the University of Brighton. She has been teaching as an English instructor for five years. Her areas of interest in research include teacher belief, cognition, grammar teaching and teacher education.





Reflection, teacher identity and reflective practice in teacher development

Novice teachers’ concerns

Context: Turkey, state universities, preparatory classes


Aims of mentoring and the role of the mentor

Benefits for mentees and mentors

Benefits of mentoring for educational systems

Disadvantages for mentors

Disadvantages for novice teachers




This article first looks at the importance of reflection for professional development and its close relationship between teachers’ beliefs and identity. Having examined them, it explores novice teachers’ concerns briefly and then investigates Turkish context where the focus will be state universities. Finally, it evaluates mentoring as a support tool for novice teachers in detail.

Keywords: novice teacher, mentoring, professional development, reflection


Teaching is a difficult challenge for novice teachers in the early stages of their careers. “In the first year, many beginning teachers describe this period as a time for survival and many researchers labelled the first-year of teaching as a “sink or swim” scenario” (Amoroso, 2005; Cobbold,2007; Hill,2004; Howe,2006; Lundeen,2004; Street,2004; cited in Nahal 2010, p.2). According to Huling-Austin et al. (1989) it is because “teachers are expected to take many job responsibilities which they are not ready for” (cited in Gun et al. 2010, p.1). In addition, when novice teachers first arrive into the classroom, they generally do not know what to do in the classroom because it is the first time they are facing with the actual classroom environment. According to Murshidi, Konting, Elias, and Fooi (2006, p.266), “when beginning teachers enter teaching force, they often encounter a reality shock as they confront the complexity of the teaching task. The reality of the actual teaching situation sometimes differs so much from what the beginners were expecting” (Nahal 2010, p.2). Therefore, novice teachers need guidance from their experienced colleagues to deal with the difficulties they face in the first few years of their careers and this assistance will probably facilitate their induction into the teaching profession and self-development as a teacher. “Teachers who do not receive assistance, knowledge, training and support during their first year experience may experience a sense of abandonment and confusion” (Ingersoll 2001a, and Nahal 2010, p.3). This guidance could be provided through mentoring where mentors, experienced teachers, promote the professional development of a novice teacher. The role of the mentor is “not primarily teach specific teaching behaviours, because teaching is varied and unpredictable but to guide novices in a reflective process, which includes noticing, interpreting and evaluating then developing their skills of selecting and planning” (Fischer 2004, p.3). Novice teachers could connect the theoretical knowledge that they learnt in pre-service training courses and increase their awareness through reflection. That is why reflection plays a crucial role in their professional development as it does in all teachers, and mentors could prompt the reflection of novice teachers. However, there is a lack of qualified mentors in Turkey, which leaves novices on their own in the early stages of their careers.

Reflection, teacher identity and reflective practice in teacher development

As Richards(2004, p.1) explains:

Reflection refers to an activity or process in which an experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose. It is a response to past experience and involves conscious recall and examination of the experience as a basis for evaluation and decision-making and as a source for planning and action.

When novice teachers enter the profession, they have rich theoretical knowledge but they do not have much classroom experience. They are mostly affected by their early language learning experiences until they gain a repertoire of teaching strategies. As Richards and Lockhart (1996) point out, “all teachers were once students, and their beliefs about teaching are often a reflection of how they themselves were taught” (p.30). Especially for novices, the knowledge they have about teaching is based on their early learning experience since they do not have developed schemata and their reflections are generally unconscious and intuitive. Eraut(2000) refers to this as tacit knowledge” (cited in McGregor&Cartwright 2011, p.56). Shulman (1988) called for teacher educators to help learners make this tacit knowledge explicit through reflection upon practical experience and theoretical understanding (cited in Richards 1996, p.79). Calderhead (1991) also suggested that “teachers rely heavily on the images of practice that are acquired from past and current experiences in schools and he claimed that these images can be accepted without reflection: taken and implemented uncritically” (cited in McGregor&Cartwright 2011, p.44). However, these early learning experiences or current experiences can be good or poor models of teaching. Therefore, teachers start to think critically and evaluate their practice through reflection.

Reflection also has an important impact on developing teachers’ identity. Reflection is recognized as a key means by which teachers can become more in tune with their sense of self and with a deep understanding of how this self fits into a larger context which involves others; in other words, reflection is a factor in the shaping of identity (Beauchamp&Thomas 2009, p.182).

Reflection and identity are related issues. Teachers can question, criticize, interpret and evaluate their teaching practice through reflection that shapes their identity as it is dynamic that implies it is not fixed. According to Beijaard, MeijerandVerloop (2004) identity is dynamic because it is an ongoing process. (cited in Beauchamp&Thomas, 2009, p.177). Therefore, each teaching experience from the first teaching practice to the induction year and each interaction with learners, tutors, mentors and peers can shape teacher identity (McGregor&Cartwright 2011, p.40). Novice teachers’ ideas and beliefs can change when they gain experience and they can develop and enrich their identity through reflection.

Having examined the term ‘reflection’ and its relationship between teachers’ beliefs and identity, I will now briefly look at the difficulties that novice teachers can face in the process of reflection and the tools they can use for it.
Reflecting critically is difficult for all teachers, but it must be much more difficult for novices since their priority when they start teaching is survival in the classroom. Therefore, ”they tend to focus on technical means of solving problems” (Hatton&Smitt, 1995,cited in Penso et al. 2001, p.333). Moreover; due to the lack of experience, novice teachers have difficulties in connecting theory and practice, so they do not know what to reflect. As Shulman (1987) points out, “it is important that during their professional training, the novice teachers become actively involved in structuring a linkage between theory and practice, which will assist them in developing a personal rationale for their activities as a basis for reflection” (cited in Penso et al. 2001, p.334).
As Richards&Farrell (2005) explain, there are a lot of tools for reflection, which facilitate professional development in language teaching. These are: workshops, self-monitoring, teacher support groups, journal writing, peer observation, analysis of critical incidents, case analysis, peer coaching, team teaching and action research. However, in this essay my focus will be mentoring to support novice teachers because qualified mentors can encourage self-reflection and give constructive feedback to novice teachers and other tools like journal writing might be difficult for them at first since they are not aware of what and why to reflect. Clearly, novice teachers need guidance and support to learn critical reflection and alleviate their concerns in the first year of teaching.
I move now to novice teachers’ concerns and then I will examine Turkish context where my focus will be the state universities in Turkey.
Novice teachers’ concerns
Having looked at the literature, I could say that novice teachers’ concerns and the difficulties they have during their induction year are mostly common. McCann &Johannessen (2004, p.138) defined five major concerns of beginning teachers as: relationships (with parents, colleagues, and supervisors), workload/time management, knowledge of subject/curriculum, evaluation/grading, and autonomy/control. Similarly, Mackinnon (1987) found that “novice teachers’ initial concerns were with relationship with pupils, which soon gave way to concerns with classroom management, teaching materials, instructional methods, and teacher explanations” (cited in Richards 1998, p.174). Moreover, Gilles,Cramer, and Hwang (2001) report that “professional and personal survival, attending to student needs, and discipline are among the major concerns of beginning teachers” (cited in Gun et al. 2010, p.2). Therefore, novices are mostly stressful and they endure many frustrations during their induction process. McCann &Johannessen (2004:140) note that “stressful experiences, such as unruly class, a phone call from angry parent, or a supervisor’s highly critical assessment of a lesson, are generally unexpected by novices”. According to them, differences between the teacher’s expectations of the teaching experience and the realization of the actual experience result in frustration among novices.
Due to these concerns and frustrations, high rates of novice teachers leave their profession in the early stages of their careers. Jerald and Boser (2000) note that “nearly 50% of teachers entering the profession leave within the first five years” (cited in Gun et al. 2010, p.2).

Feelings of unpreparedness, burdensome workloads, unrealistic expectations, lack of collegial and administrative support, alienation, and excessive paperwork are some of the reasons contributing to a first-year teacher’s decision to remain or leave the education profession (Buckley, Schneider, & Shang, 2005; Guarino et al., 2006; Schlichte et al., 2005, cited in Nahal 2010, p.4).

Thus, institutions and teacher preparation programs should take these reasons and alarming dropout rates into account and prepare teachers for the actual classroom environment. I will discuss later in detail how mentoring as a professional support tool could alleviate these concerns and help novices stay in the profession. I am now going to examine Turkish context.
Context: Turkey, state universities, preparatory classes

In Turkish universities, whether private or state, foreign language education is compulsory in most departments. Unless students pass English proficiency exam that school conducted or an international exam such as IELTS, they have to go through a year-long prep program. I taught at a Turkish state university for four years. The university offers a one-year intensive English program to nearly 5000 prep students every year run by the School of Foreign Languages. There are about 25 students per class at the prep school and they are taught about 22-30 hours of English a week depending on their level. The number of teaching staff is 203 and their age group ranges from 22-55. Regardless of whether novice or veteran, they are expected to cover at least 20 hours of weekly teaching. If the teacher takes evening classes, the hours s/he teaches varies from about 28-30 hours per week. Most of the teachers, especially novices take evening classes since they do not have a permanent staff at the university which implies they are not paid in summer or during school breaks. As novices are not regular staff, they are not eligible for benefits, rights and privileges. To have a permanent staff at the university, teachers should have at least five-years of teaching experience and pass both a Turkish and an English exam conducted by the government. Moreover, when recruiting teachers, universities require a bachelor’s degree that can be from any English related department such as English literature, interpretation, translation and pedagogical formation is not sought for the departments that their major is English Language Teaching (ELT).

At the university I worked, students were regrouped at the end of the first term and there were lesson coordinators and they conducted meetings every two weeks to inform teachers about changes in syllabus, exams and discuss issues. Exams, quizzes and unit tests were prepared by the school’s exam committee. Coordinators also decided the coursebook that was taught during the year. Veteran teachers or coordinators observed novice teachers three times in the first term and gave feedback. Besides, novice teachers were asked to observe experienced teachers’ classes in the beginning of the first semester. Having looked at the profile of teachers and conditions in the School of Foreign Languages, I am now going to examine how these conditions can affect novice teachers.

As English education is compulsory, most of the students are unmotivated and they are unwilling to learn English. They just want to pass the prep class and go to their departments, which make them focus on exams and memorize grammar rules rather than participate in the lesson. Veenman (1984) suggest that “motivating students and dealing with individual differences are among the main concerns of novice teachers” (cited in Gun et al. 2010, p.6). Therefore, novices need support because they blame themselves and start to think that they are not good at teaching. They can start to act contrary to their teaching beliefs to motivate students.

Based on my experiences at the university, novice teachers switch to their first language a lot to make students participate in the lesson although they believe exposure to the target language is crucial to learn a second language. I think this is because “novice teachers lack an adequate repertoire of mental scripts and behavioural routines” (cited in Richards 2005, p.8). Gray and Gray (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”(cited in Gun et al. 2010, p.6). Moreover, novice teachers are stressful and tired because of the heavy workload at the university. In a study of McCann and Johannessen (2004), some novice teachers report that “in addition to the stress of attending with the energy and occasional resistance of adolescents during the day, the teachers spent their evenings and weekends grading papers, responding to students’ writing, completing administrative paperwork, and planning lessons” (p.140). These responses will probably be the same at the university I worked as novices have to complete heavy tasks in addition to teaching for long hours. Luckily, they are not responsible for preparing exams, but this also makes some novices worried. In the study conducted by Gun et al. (2010, p.6) in a private Turkish university, some novice teachers report that “I do not know what the exams will cover”, “there seems to be a mismatch between what is taught and what is tested”. Novice teachers are not also happy with the student shuffle. In the first days of the second semester, students generally make comparisons between teachers, which discourages some novices. In the study of Gun et al. (2010, p.6), some novice teachers report that “they compare me to their first semester teacher and they think I am boring”, and “due to the students’ regrouping in the second semester, group dynamics is badly affected”.

Most importantly, novice teachers get inadequate support from the university. The fact that some novices do not have a degree in ELT, they are not self-confident in the classroom. Although other novices have pedagogical knowledge, they do not know how to put it into practice in the actual learning environment. Obviously, the feedback given three times is not adequate, professional and constructive. Ozturk (2008,p.46) states that “all the novice teachers need frequent feedback, support and guidance, and positive reinforcement in the early years”. Clearly, the university needs qualified and trained mentors to support novice teachers and alleviate their concerns. Being aware of the fact that there is not well-developed mentoring in Turkey, it will probably take time to apply it in Turkish state universities. However, if the institution is encouraged and informed about the benefits of professional development of teachers which will "directly or indirectly enhance the performance of the institution as a whole” (Richards&Farrell2005:10), the process would be easier. Having examined the Turkish context and state universities, I am now going to look at mentoring in detail.

In the article of Hobson&Ashby&Malderez&Tomlinson (2009,p.207), mentoring of beginning teachers is defined as “the one-to-one support of a novice or less experienced practitioner (mentee) by a more experienced practitioner (mentor), designed primarily to assist the development of the mentee’s expertise and to facilitate their induction into the culture of the profession and into the specific local context” (). As it is clear from the definition, mentors support beginning teachers and facilitate their induction into the teaching profession. That is why it is essential to develop effective mentoring system to support novice teachers’ in the early stages of their careers. Having defined the term ‘mentoring’, I will discuss some important aspects of it under subheadings.

Aims of mentoring and the role of the mentor
Fischer (2004,p.3) points out that the aim of mentoring “is not to have novice teachers clone the mentor but to become the best teachers - to develop to the full of their own individual potential and ability” (). Besides, developing reflective practice and increasing the retention of beginning teachers are other goals set by mentors. Mentors’ approach to novice teachers is very important to build collaborative structures for effective professional development. Kullman (1988, p.474) advised mentors “to be non-directive, developmental and collaborative rather than directive, judgmental and prescriptive”. They should not apply directive supervision model as Gebhard notes ‘it may give rise to feelings of defensiveness and low self-esteem on the part of the teacher” (cited in Richards&Nunan 1990, p.55). Therefore, mentors should choose the correct supervision model and give their feedback constructively and supportively since novice teachers can be easily discouraged. The mentor’s role is crucial because “it can enable a person to travel along the teaching path at a more rapid pace, with more confidence, competence and enjoyment” (Fischer 2004, p.3).

Benefits for mentees and mentors
It is suggested in some studies that “mentoring is an important and effective, perhaps the most effective, form of supporting the professional development of beginning teachers” (Carter & Francis, 2001; Franke& Dahlgren, 1996; Marable & Raimondi, 2007;Su, 1992, cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.209). McIntyre &Hagger (1996) explain the benefits of mentoring for beginning teachers as “reduced feelings of isolation, increased confidence and self-esteem, professional growth, and improved self-reflection and problem-solving capacities” (cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.209). In addition, research also points to “the impact of mentoring on the developing capabilities of beginning teachers, most notably their behaviour and classroom management skills and ability to manage their time and workloads (e.g. Lindgren, 2005; Malderez, Hobson, Tracey, & Kerr, 2007; Moor et al., 2005)” (cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.209).We could say that mentoring alleviates most concerns of novice teachers such as discipline, workload, and management issues. Furthermore, mentoring has been shown to increase the job satisfaction of novice teachers and affect their decision to stay in the teaching profession.
Benefits of mentoring are not just for mentees but also for mentors. Wallace & Gravells (2005, p.16) points out the importance of transition which has the potential for mutual learning. Bleach (1999, p.28) explains this mutuality in a number of ways, “such as shared power, the mutual exchange of information, equally active roles, collaborative learning and reciprocal reflection”. In several studies, mentors have reported that “learning new and improved teaching styles and strategies, enhancing their knowledge (Davies, Brady, Rodger, &Wall,1999; Lopez-Real & Kwan, 2005), improving their communication skills (Moor et al.,2005), becoming more self-reflective (Davies et al., 1999); and becoming more knowledgeable about beginner teachers’ and others’ professional development needs (Lopez-Real & Kwan, 2005;Moor et al., 2005)” (cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.209). For instance, mentors can develop their skills by discussing issues with the mentees. On the other hand, they can provide guidance on areas the mentees are unfamiliar with. Obviously, both the mentee and mentor take some advantages of mentoring.
Benefits of mentoring for educational systems
Schools and educational institutions also benefit from mentoring. Setting up an effective mentoring system ‘will contribute to the professional well-being and development of not only newly qualified teachers, but all staff” (Bleach1999, p.85). If their teaching staff is well-trained, they will have a good reputation and probably attract more students. As I mentioned earlier, the number of teaching staff is 203 at the university. Although I taught for four years, I do not even know most of the teachers’ names. In the study of Hobson et al. (2009), it was stated that “through mentoring relationships and the raised profile of beginning teachers and of early professional development activities within the school, staff came to know each other better, which led to their increased collaboration and enjoyment” (p.210). Moreover, institutions also benefit from increased retention. As mentoring boosts the confidence of novice teachers, they are more likely to stay in the profession. Most importantly, mentoring “is a cost-effective method of training and developing staff, since mentors are able to carry out their role in conjunction with their normal teaching job and there is no cost incurred for external training providers and premises”(Murray&Owen 1991, cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.210). Therefore, mentoring is advantageous for institutions lacking financial assistance and subsidies.

Disadvantages for mentors
One of the disadvantages of mentoring for mentors is that they have to juggle several tasks at the same time. “Many studies (e.g. Lee & Feng, 2007; Robinson & Robinson,1999; Simpson et al., 2007) have reported that mentors haveexperienced increased and sometimes unmanageable workloads, as a result of their involvement in mentoring in addition to their normal teaching roles” (cited in Hobson et al 2009, p.211). Due to the excessive workload, mentors can find it difficult to make enough time for their family and friends which may cause stress. Another disadvantage is that they can feel anxious and unconfident. Research (Bullough, 2005; Hart & Murphy, 1990; Orland, 2001) has shown that mentors sometimes experience feelings of insecurity, nervousness, threat and even inadequacy at the prospect of their lessons being observed by mentees or by their mentees presenting new ideas” (cited in Hobson et al 2009, p.211). For instance, some veteran teachers are against being observed by a novice teacher or their coordinator at the university. This may result from the feeling of inadequacy.

Disadvantages for novice teachers

Although mentoring has a wide range of benefits for novice teachers, there are some disadvantages resulted from poor mentoring practices. Some studies (Hardy, 1999; Oberski, Ford, Higgins, &Fisher, 1999; Smith and Maclay, 2007) have found that “some mentors have failed to provide sufficient support for beginner teachers’ emotional and psychological well-being, characterised in many instances by general unavailability” (cited in Hobson et al., 2009:211).The mentor should be supportive and accessible to the novice teacher who is in need of help in the first year of teaching profession. the implementation of mentoring is also very important. Due to being untrained, some mentors do not know how to give constructive feedback and provide adequate support. Poor practices can demoralize novice teachers and may cause them quit teaching. Hobson et al., 2009:210 “The lack of social and psychological support experienced by some trainee and early career teachers has actually been a contributory factor in their decisions to withdraw from their courses or leave the profession”. Finally, According to some studies (Lee & Feng, 2007; Sundli, 2007), mentors have tended to focus on practical issues such as “classroom management, craft knowledge and mentees’ subject of teaching content” (cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.211). Therefore, “ they have devoted little or insufficient attention to pedagogical issues, the promotion of reflective practice incorporating an examination of principles behind the practice, or issues of social reform and social justice” (FeimanNemser, 2001; Franke& Dahlgren, 1996; Lindgren, 2005, cited in Hobson et al. 2009, p.211).

As we stated earlier, reflection is very important for teachers’ professional development. Effective mentors not only focus on practical issues but also they promote reflection through mentoring. Mentoring is an effective form of supporting novice teachers. However, if poor practices are implemented, novice teachers will probably suffer more.

In this paper, I have examined the importance of reflection for novice teachers and its close relationship between teachers’ beliefs and identity. Having evaluated them, I have looked at novice teachers’ concerns briefly and then explained Turkish context where I have focused on state universities. Finally, I have evaluated mentoring in detail.

In the early stages of their careers, teaching is really challenging for many novice teachers as their priority is to survive in the classroom. We should not sit back and watch their “sink or swim” period. As Fischer suggests (2004, p.5) “we need to hand out flotation devices until their strokes become more confident and their style more definite”. At this point, mentoring is an effective tool to support novice teachers if it is implemented appropriately. However, it has some limitations with regard to Turkish context because the system has not well-developed in state universities yet. Thus, the institutions have important duties to adapt mentoring effectively since it recruits novice teachers every year. Moreover, the institution should not see mentoring as a burden because not only novice teachers but also the institution benefits from it. Therefore, the university should take a step and start to train veteran teachers to facilitate novice teachers’ professional learning and support experienced teachers’ development. All teachers complain about the heavy workload at the university and mentoring will probably be an extra work for them. Thus, it would be better for the institution to encourage experienced teachers by offering incentives. For example, mentors completed their training successfully could receive financial reward which can make mentoring attractive at the university.

Overall, teaching is much more difficult for novice teachers as Halford (1988) notes it is “the profession that eats its young” (cited in Fantilli&McDougall 2009, p.814). Therefore, they need professional support and guidance in the early stages of their careers. Mentoring could facilitate their induction and promote reflection which is very important for their professional development. However, it should be kept in mind that poor mentoring practices can make the first year of novice teachers worse. Therefore, it must be implemented when necessary conditions are provided for effective mentoring.

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­­­­­­­­­­­Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.

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