Agency development: Beginning Chinese international pre-service teachers’ Professional Experience in Australian Early Childhood Education

Year: 2019

Author: Zheng, Haoran

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Australian teacher education programmes have experienced an increase in international pre-service teacher (PST) enrolment, particularly those from China. Existing research has identified that international pre-service teachers often encounter English language and cultural challenges during their study, particularly in their teaching professional experiences (PE). Recognition of the challenges experienced by the international PSTs can inform policy and practices in teacher programmes as well as provide support for these PSTs. However, few studies on international PSTs’ PE connect to the Australian current context of teacher education. For example, in the context of teacher education such as Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Australia, teacher agency is imperative to teacher professionalism and therefore, PSTs are encouraged to be agentic during their PE. Pre-service teacher agency can be understood as the active intention and practices to develop their professionalism during PE. On the other hand, limited research explores how international PSTs’ develop teacher agency in PE.

This study is a qualitative multiple-case study which investigates Chinese international PSTs’ experience of PE in early childhood settings in Australia. Data are collected from focus group discussion, PE journals, pre- and post-PE interviews. I explored the perceptions of 11 Chinese international ECE students at one Australian university over two semesters in the first year of their study. Bourdieu’s concepts field, habitus, and capital are theoretical underpinnings inform data analysis. The findings in this study suggest that the participants have different understandings and interpretations on being agentic when they enter the new field: the PE context. Mismatch between the Chinese PST and mentor understandings of teacher agency due to the differences on habitus and capital impacts on PST confidence, and frustrates their teacher agency. Rather than taking a deficit perspective, this study argues that there is a need for recognising previous culturally-shaped experiences of international PSTs. Findings in this study suggest that the PE as a learning space which shares considerable potential for international PSTs to access new capital and restructure their understandings towards professional agentic teachers. In this process, the PE community plays a critical role in supporting the PSTs navigate in the new ECE context. In the meantime, this study’s findings might be increasingly valuable to universities continuing to enrol Chinese pre-service teachers, particularly those currently in ECE.