Negotiating a Path to Professional Efficacy: A Narrative Analysis of the Experiences of Four Pre-Service Educators

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The Research Story

The story of the development of the concept for this study is implicitly connected to the stories of the pre-service educators and explicitly to the larger story of how teachers acquire a professional identity. My interest in the stories and in studying the stories began with the conversations among educator colleagues in both the United States and South Africa which seemed increasingly to be stories of professional disappointment and frustration presumably representing a loss of a positive professional identity. In addition to personal observations, educational research (Hayward and Shutte, 2003) as well as professional and popular literature bore out these impressions of disenchantment. Woods (2002) for example, attributes the causes of these dispirited responses to the expansion of work commitments and describes the phenomenon in the United Kingdom and Europe as an “intensification crisis” resulting in high levels of work related stress and low morale among professional educators.
In South Africa, David Bolt, CEO of the National Union of Educators, concurs and says that he is “absolutely convinced” that low morale in the teaching professions is a “national problem” (telephone conversation February 2002).
Searching for the possible causes of what appeared to be a spiraling sense of negativity and disillusionment within the teaching profession, I came across the notion of professional efficacy described by Albert Bandura (1977). Bandura defines efficacy (which I understood to be the antithesis of disillusionment) as a sense of personal agency – the ability and confidence to become what one wants to become. More specifically, in their study of classroom educators Johnson and Birkeland designate the term “professional efficacy” todescribe whether or not educators “believe that they (are) achieving success with their students”… (2003: 593). Combining the two descriptions expands the concept of an educator’s sense of professional efficacy to suggest that when experiencing a sense of professional efficacy educators will be conscious of and express confidence in their capability to be successful with their students – however success is perceived. Lortie enlarged the concept further and linked efficacy and morale asserting that “the complexities of teaching can produce doubts about one’s efficacy …” (1975: X).
Thinking of the visibly lo morale of my colleagues in several countries in terms of feelings of efficacy provoked questions: Do we as educators have a sense of professional efficacy, that is, do we believe that we have the necessary knowledge as individuals to act as educators to influence what is happening in our classrooms – to work successfully with our students? Do we maintain with confidence that it is possible for anyone to have such knowledge and that the work of educating is a viable profession (Dembo and Gibson, 1985: 179)? Is it possible to work successfully with students? Considering these questions developed further into an interest in the origin of a sense of efficacy. If an educator has a sense of professional efficacy what does it look like in the classroom, how does an educator recognize a sense of efficacy and where would it have come from initially?

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Chapter One The Research Story
Choosing the Research Path
Chapter Two A Theoretical Path to Professional Efficacy
Introduction
Rationale for the Development of a Theoretical Path to Professional Efficacy
Beginning the Construction of a Theoretical Path
Theoretical Positioning
Approaching Professional Efficacy from the Positivist Position
Approaching Professional Efficacy from the Post Modernist/Constructivist Position
Widening the Theoretical Path
Practical Considerations
The Characteristics of Knowledge
Individualized and Experienced Knowledge
Tacit and Implied Knowledge
The Spheres of Knowledge
Practical Knowledge
Abstract Knowledge
Private Theories
A Conceptualization of Professional Efficacy
Chapter Summary
Chapter Three Preparing to Listen to the Stories: The Research Design Narrative Inquiry Methodology
Research Methods
The Preliminary Study
The Research Procedure
Participant Narrators
Narrative Data Collection
Chapter Four Listening to the Stories Part One: Classrooms, Collisions and Private Theories
Introduction
Nerine’s Story
Disa’s Story
Erica’s Story
Jak’s Story
Chapter Summary
Chapter Four Listening to the Stories Part Two: Professional Efficacy and Knowledge
Introduction
Professional Efficacy as Transformation and Coherence Nerine
Professional Efficacy as Transformation and Independence Disa Jak
Professional Efficacy as Worthiness Erica
Chapter Summary
Chapter Five Conclusions and Reflections: Learning from the Stories Using Narrative Inquiry Methods
Creation of a Body of Knowledge
The Role of the Mentors
Research Challenges
In Conclusion
References
Appendix

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