A longitudinal study on teacher self-efficacy: from the last two pre-service years into the first term of teaching
Teacher self-efficacy (TSE) indicates how teachers perceive their capability to achieve goals in daily teaching and much research has confirmed the impact of TSE on teachers’ dispositions and behaviour, and on the academic performance of their students. The initial phases of teacher professional learning, especially the professional experience placements and the first years of school teaching, are more likely to witness the vulnerability of TSE changes. However, few studies have investigated TSE changes longitudinally across this period. The present study applies a mixed longitudinal design incorporating repeated surveys and interviews, to investigate TSE changes and the factors that influence those changes across the first and final professional experience placements, and the first term of school teaching. Two hundred and one pre-service teachers (PSTs) completed surveys and a convenience sample of survey participants was interviewed across three phases. Multilevel modelling was used to analyse the quantitative data and thematic analysis was applied to analyse the qualitative data. Three aspects of change in TSE were apparent. First, overall TSE was reported to be lower before the first professional experience placement and reached a higher level by the end of this placement. PSTs reported they were less concerned about their teaching practice before their final placement and they experienced a relatively smooth growth in their TSE during this placement. They were concerned about whether they would be able to take on all of the responsibilities of teaching in formal school contexts, which was also true for self-efficacious PSTs before the first year of school teaching. An initial setback in TSE levels was prevalent in the early period of the first teaching term, before reaching its highest level at the end of the term. However, TSE associated with external classroom activities became the most concerning for new graduate teachers across the first teaching term. Second, changes also occurred in different subdomains of TSE. Classroom management was the most concerning for participants across all stages, whereas instructional strategies and student engagement were less threatening. How to deal with the school administration system and engaging with parents became the most challenging aspects of the first term of school teaching. Third, differences in individual TSE changes were also apparent. For instance, although almost all interviewees reported to be uncertain before their first placement, there were some PSTs who felt confident with their teaching capability, due to their prior informal teaching experience. Influential factors of TSE were summarised according to the four sources of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). The predominant role of mastery teaching experience was obvious across all phases of interviews. Psychological states emerged as the second most frequently considered source, with both positive and negative influences on TSE. Verbal persuasion and vicarious experience were the least mentioned. Implications for teacher education practice are discussed, such as the need to ensure that teacher education programs have sufficient early practical experience to prepare PST for classroom teaching. Future research directions are also discussed, in particular, applying preliminary planning to retain a sufficient longitudinal sample and tracking TSE changes over a longer period of early teaching career, such as the first three years of school teaching.