Understanding beginning teachers’ experiences in Lao PDR: implications for teacher education policy and practice

Year: 2013

Author: Willsher, Michele

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

When beginning teachers first enter their own classrooms the tasks of teaching and learning to teach present innumerable challenges regardless of country and context (Schwille & Dembele, 2007). Efforts to resolve the challenges which many teachers face have resulted in the redesign of pre-service programs as well as the development of workplace induction programs (Darling-Hammond, 2006). A key component of many workplace support programs has been the use of mentoring to help teachers adjust to the school and classroom demands. In 2006, the Ministry of Education in Lao PDR developed its first Teacher Education Strategy and Action Plan (MoE, 2006). Embedded in the strategy was the establishment of an induction program as well as a plan for the training of mentors. At the time of the strategy’s development however there was a noticeable lack of research on what was happening in classrooms in Laos.
This study attempts to go someway towards filling this knowledge gap. The research design arose after several years of implementing professional development programs for lecturers working in the Teacher Training colleges in Lao PDR. It draws upon an ethnographic case-study approach and was undertaken in four rural village schools. Using a community of practice lens (Lave & Wenger, 1991) it explores how the local social and cultural contexts influence the teaching practices of beginning teachers.
The analysis of classroom observations and teacher interviews shows how beginning teachers must contend with a diverse range of dilemmas and in dealing with these they draw upon two key social strategies – compliance and compromise. The findings support the view that in a developing country such as Laos, teachers graduating with new knowledge and skills obtained in the Pre-Service Programs may be more aware than many veteran teachers, about how to support student learning.
The study provides an understanding of the ways in which beginning teachers develop their professional practices in rural primary schools in Lao PDR. The findings suggest that pre-service programs may benefit from a reconfiguration aimed at improving the cohesion of the theoretical and practical components of the program. The findings also show how in rural situations, conventional induction and mentoring programs may not be the most effective way to support beginning teachers. Thus an alternative set of strategies, cognizant of the local social and cultural conditions, are presented for consideration by those involved in policy design and implementation.