The disparities between pre-service expectations and in-service perceptions: A sociological study of an alternative teacher preparation program of China

Year: 2019

Author: YIN, YUE, Yang, Qiguang

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This study explores the experiences of Exceptional Graduates as Rural Teachers[1] [file:///C:/Users/yy/Desktop/jiangnan%20work_office/personal%20stuff/AARE.docx#_ftn1](EGRT) fellows as they transition from graduates of prestigious universities to rural teachers at disadvantaged schools. Many similar alternative teacher preparation programs like Teach for America have successfully recruited high academic achievers (Olmedo, Bailey, & Ball, 2013; Straubhaar & Gottfried, 2016). Moreover, previous studies have shown significant mismatches between teachers’ expectations and the realities of working in disadvantaged schools; this disparity can result in high attrition rates (McCann & Johannessen, 2004; Zhou & Shang, 2011). Therefore, this study contributes to unveiling the tip of the iceberg of EGRT fellows’ experiences of participating in the program, which mainly focuses on the disparities fellows may perceive between their pre-service expectations and in-service realities.

To address this question, the study builds on Bourdieu’s theory of social practice. A person’s practice results from relations between their enculturated dispositions (habitus) and recognised resources (capital) in a social arena (field). This equation is useful in understanding the nature of Bourdieu’s three main “thinking tools”, including “capital”, “habitus”, and “field” (Wacquant, 1989, p. 40). In this study, these tools are not used in isolation, but are necessarily interrelated conceptually and empirically.

The semi-structured interview broadly explored the disparities 16 EGRT interview participants may perceive. Prior to their EGRT service, the interview participants assumed that local students were a group of ‘cute kids’ who desired to learn. The students were also assumed (by fellows) to be innocent and ‘simple’, due to their relatively distant proximity from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Yet the realities perceived by participants after entry to their placement schools presented a different story. The knowledge base and learning ability of local students were perceived to be even weaker than expected. Perhaps more problematically, local students were perceived to be unmotivated to learn and misbehaving frequently. Thus, the transformative changes were much more difficult to achieve than the EGRT fellows expected.

This study sheds light on the disparities perceived by EGRT fellows. These findings identified the potential dangers of rhetoric promotion strategies of EGRT and the mainstream discourses purported in the public media, but further approaches are required for bridging these disparities in both pre-service intensive training and subsequent in-service support.

[1] [file:///C:/Users/yy/Desktop/jiangnan%20work_office/personal%20stuff/AARE.docx#_ftnref1]For research ethics considerations, pseudonym is used to ensure confidentiality.