How beginning teachers are coping with the pandemic

Image: Jose Aljovin / Unsplash.com

Beginning teachers often experience a reality shock: a discrepancy between the skills and ambitions acquired in training and real-world conditions. On top of that, unforeseen educational challenges caused by a pandemic require a high level of professional adaptation.

When asked, beginning teachers were concerned about a lack of resources, their own workload, and insufficient training opportunities. Various aspects of their dissatisfaction and insecurity became particularly obvious in the course of the coronavirus pandemic and echoed the concerns of all teachers: lack of routine; insufficient direct communication with pupils; not enough digital tools and devices; and concern for socially disadvantaged pupils.

Particularly worrying for beginning teachers were the following:

  • Lack of experience in classroom teaching
  • Difficulties with decision-making and problem-solving in a virtual professional field
  • Insufficient provision of targeted support and mentoring opportunities
  • Dealing with emotional messages from students and parents
  • Cancellation of on-site seminars for beginning teachers
  • Fewer opportunities for faculty communication and social networking with colleagues
  • Lack of feedback on various aspects of their teaching
  • Technological challenges
  • Concerns about equal opportunities and learning gaps of students

It remains to be investigated whether beginning teachers reacted more flexibly and effectively than their experienced colleagues during the pandemic. If so, the reasons could include:

  • Their high affinity for innovative forms of teaching and learning
  • Their smaller age difference with respect to the pupils, so that communication barriers are better overcome
  • Their high motivation to help the most disadvantaged pupils, which makes them more likely to keep in touch with them or at least try

Drastic experiences like the recent school closures can lead us to educational  innovations. Many beginning teachers are dissatisfied with traditional forms of teaching and can play a significant role here, if Initial Teacher Education (ITE) is used productively. In particular, it should prioritise:

  • Testing and implementing different forms of digital learning and teaching
  • Improving individualisation: how to use learning groups, tutoring, mentoring, online resources and self-assessment tools
  • Learning how to effectively support disadvantaged pupils, with more individualisation and acknowledging the role of schools in creating environments for learning

Erna Nairz-Wirth

Prof. Erna Nairz-Wirth heads the Department of Educational Science at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. She is an Editorial Board Member of the European Toolkit for Schools.