27.3776, Review: Applied Ling: Farrell (2016)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-27-3776. Fri Sep 23 2016. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 27.3776, Review: Applied Ling: Farrell (2016)

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Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:15:26
From: Chris Blankenship [c.n.blankenship at gmail.com]
Subject: From Trainee to Teacher

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-366.html

AUTHOR: Thomas S. C. Farrell
TITLE: From Trainee to Teacher
SUBTITLE: Reflective Practice for Novice Teachers
PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Chris Blankenship,  

Reviews Editor: Helen Artistar-Dry


Thomas S.C. Farrell’s book, “From Trainee to Teacher” provides practical
advice for novice ESL/EFL teachers as they transition from education programs
into their first year of teaching. Farrell argues that teacher education
programs, particularly those in ESL, are often not adequately preparing
students for the realities that they will face in the classroom, leading to a
high rate of attrition. Additionally, Farrell notes that there is a distinct
lack of research on the experiences of novice ESL teachers, which limits
teacher educators in making meaningful changes to ESL teacher education
programs. To help address this research gap, he offers a case study of three
novice ESL teachers brought together in a reflective group setting, providing
an overview of the challenges that they faced in their first year of teaching
and the adjustments that they made to overcome these challenges in order to
gain a greater understanding of what novice teachers need in order to be
successful in their work. In the course of this discussion, Farrell provides
frequent “reflective breaks” in the chapters specifically addressed to novice
teachers or those currently enrolled in teacher education programs, asking
readers to reflect upon what they have just read as well as their own

The introductory chapter, “Teaching: A Profession That Eats Its Young,”
introduces the problem of high rates of attrition among teachers, with as many
as half of all new teachers leaving their jobs within five years (Ingersoll &
Smith, 2003). While these figures are for all teachers, Farrell narrows his
focus to ESL and provides an overview of the sparse research that has been
conducted on the causes of this professional “revolving door.”  From this
research, he points out two key places where teachers receive training:
teacher education programs and the schools where novice teachers start their
careers. Farrell states the aim of this book, then, is to provide readers with
a greater awareness of the needs of novice teachers; he also provides guidance
on how to use the book: primarily as a companion text for novice ESL teachers.

The second chapter, “Forget all you learned at _____: The Role of Teacher
Education,” sets the scene for the rest of the chapters of the book. Farrell
begins with an anecdote about the advice that an experienced ESL teacher gives
novice teachers who come to her school: “’Forget all you learned at ____’
[fill in the name of the teacher education institution] ‘because it will not
work’” (p. 12-13). Using this advice as a starting point, he points out the
paucity of in-depth research on the experiences of novice ESL teachers, which
this book serves to address. The remainder of the chapter introduces the
research itself, including the theoretical approach (reflective language
teaching), the methodology (case-study), the participants (three female novice
ESL teachers), the data collection (interviews, teaching journals, group
discussions, and classroom observations), analysis (qualitative coding), and
the overall guiding framework (a weekly reflective teaching group, based
largely upon Farrell’s previous work). 

The third chapter is entitled “From Trainee to Teacher: The Transition Shock”
and addresses the stark and often unexpected differences between teacher
education programs and work as teachers, focusing primarily on two areas: the
classroom and interactions with colleagues. Returning to the teacher attrition
numbers from Chapter 1, Farrell then addresses the research on who is to
“blame” for this shock, the teacher education programs or the schools,
concluding that it should be shared. To further contextualize this shock, he
then argues that novice teachers are in the process of moving from learning to
teach to teaching to learn. In this process, they are still developing several
aspects of their practice. Farrell highlights three of these dimensions of
practice, discourse skills, teaching skills, and professional knowledge, as
particularly important for helping novice teachers overcome transition shock. 

Chapters Four,Five, and Six “’The First Week Is Like You’re in a Swamp’:
Developing Awareness,” “’Here’s the Book, Go Teach’: Managing the Classroom,”
and “’It Was Very Dry’: Evaluating Lessons” respectively, make use of the case
study data from the three novice teachers to describe and analyze the
challenges posed by both the administration and students. With regard to
administrative challenges, Farrell addresses the novice teachers’ lack of
support by administration, including the lack of a staff meeting in the first
semester, missing textbooks, lack of computer system access, lack of
transparency and support from the coordinator (essentially, a supervisor),
confusion regarding exam requirements, and low pay relative to the amount of
time spent on the work. From the classroom itself, the novice teachers faced
challenges such as students who questioned their methods, the difficulty of
small group work, how student progress was reflected in grading, students who
didn’t attempt assignments, students who dominated class discussions, problems
integrating their own ideas with required textbook chapters, and
tardiness/attendance. Throughout all of these experiences, Farrell analyzes
the situations and describes how these challenges contribute to the novice
teachers’ growing awareness as practicing educational professionals. 

Chapters Seven and Eight, “’I Want to Be Me’: Role Identity Development” and
“’You Put Your Personal Stamp on It’: Reflecting on Teaching Style” continue
to use case study data but take a more inward, reflective turn. Using separate
coding for each concept, Farrell analyzes the development of the novice
teachers over the twelve week semester. For role identity, Farrell finds three
main identities, each with sub-identities, coded in the group meeting
transcripts: Teacher as Manager (sub-identities of Communication Controller,
Arbitrator, Motivator, and Presenter), Teacher As “Acculturator”
(sub-identities of Volunteer, Friend, and Care Provider), and Teacher as
Professional (sub-identities of Novice, Follower, and Unique). He discusses
each sub-identity in turn, providing examples from the data and describing the
challenges the teachers faced with each one. Using similar methods, Farrell
finds four main influences on style: personality traits, such as being a
“planner;” teacher experience of what works best, such as using materials
outside of the textbooks; preferred teaching approaches to particular skills;
and established practices, such as the institutional requirement that lesson
plans be prepared and delivered to teacher supervisors. According to Farrell,
both role identity and teaching style reflect a teacher’s beliefs, values, and
emotions. Awareness of these different facets of teaching can aid novice
teachers in their transition into the profession as well as aid teacher
educators in creating successful programs.

Chapter Nine, “’Remember All You Learned at _____’: Reflective Practice within
Teacher Education,” provides advice to teacher educators on revising programs
to help novice teachers navigate the transition shock, so that these teachers
stay in the profession. Farrell suggests that this could be accomplished
through the addition of a single supplementary course called “teaching in the
first year.” Because teaching situations are so widely variable, the best way
to prepare pre-service teachers is to increase awareness through reflective
practice.  Farrell recommends the reflective framework of Philosophy,
Principles, Theory, Practice, and Beyond Practice, outlined here but fully
developed in his 2015 Promoting Teacher Reflection in Second Language
Education: A Framework for TESOL Professionals. “Philosophy” is based on the
idea that observable behaviors have reasons, even when not articulated, and
requires a teacher to gain self-knowledge by reflecting on their background.
“Principles” explores the teacher’s assumptions, beliefs, and conceptions
about teaching and learning. “Theory” involves articulating how teachers put
what they have learned, both in their training and through experience, into
practice, using tools like reports on critical incidents (unplanned, memorable
events that introduce dissonance in the teacher’s beliefs and practices).
“Practice,” opposed to the previous, “hidden” aspects of teaching, requires
the teacher to consider the visible, observable aspects of the classroom,
using reflection before (reflection for action), during (reflection in
action), and after (reflection on action) lessons. “Beyond Practice” moves
past the individual and “entails exploring and examining the moral, political,
and social issues that impact a teacher’s practice both inside and outside the
classroom” (p. 121) through discussions such as those in reflective teacher

Building upon the training suggested in the previous chapter, the final
chapter, “’I Liked Hearing Other Ideas’: Reflective Practice during the First
Year'' argues for the implementation of novice teacher reflection groups
during teachers’ first year of professional practice. Revisiting the research
on teacher education programs, Farrell reiterates that induction programs and
mentoring have been shown to reduce attrition, but the “sink or swim”
mentality is still strongly embedded in the profession. Arguing that novice
teacher reflection groups can mitigate this transition shock, Farrell provides
a process for creating and facilitating these groups. These groups can provide
support as well as a space for novice teachers to consider connections between
theory and practice as they gain more practical experience in the classroom.
The novice teachers in Farrell’s case study also noted less isolation and a
greater feeling of belonging at the institution through the group. Even with
these benefits, Farrell points out that this group was an anomaly, coordinated
by him as a part of a research study. In other circumstances, he feels that
administrative support for such groups would be essential for their formation
and persistence. He also suggests a reduced workload for teachers in their
first year to make time for such groups and the employment of an experienced
group facilitator (preferably in a paid position, but at least a volunteer
one). Farrell ends with the limitations of the study, admitting that the small
size of the study, the particular context of the novice teachers, and the lack
of disclosure of identifying information about the teachers makes the results
ungeneralizable; however, he asserts that the case study corroborates existing
research, making clear that “teacher education programs could better prepare
their novice teachers for the anticipated challenges and struggles they will
inevitably encounter in their first year” (p. 136). 


This slim volume offers an approachable, in-depth look into the experiences of
novice ESL teachers as they attempt to navigate their first year of
professional practice. As a textbook, it is highly successful, written in a
style that language education students will find accessible and engaging. The
reflective breaks, while perhaps a bit too frequent in the first chapters,
certainly represent the reflective framework that Farrell argues for across
the volume. These breaks are also appropriately self-evaluative,  raising
questions about the limitations of the methodology due to the anonymity of the
participants and leading readers to be critical as well as reflective.

As a work of research for teacher educators and program administrators, this
book is still successful, though it is not quite as successful as a textbook.
The case-study data certainly provides helpful insights into the experience of
novice teachers, and given the emphasis on the school where the case-study
participants worked, may prove particularly illuminating for administrators at
such schools. However, the reflective breaks are directed solely to
pre-service and novice ESL teachers, which non-teacher audiences may find
irrelevant or distracting. I also found myself wondering about the use of the
data. While Farrell also collected data from teaching journals, interviews,
and classroom observations, the vast majority of the data used in the analysis
comes purely from the transcriptions of the group discussions. For example, I
only noted one instance, in Chapter Nine, where a classroom observation of a
teacher was used to support the analysis. Perhaps the data simply wasn’t as
interesting or was withheld to help preserve the anonymity of the subjects,
but, when considering the excellent use of the data otherwise, the omission
was notable. 

In summary, “From Trainee to Teacher” is a valuable contribution to the
scholarship on language teacher education. Thomas Farrell makes a persuasive
argument about the need for greater support for pre-service and novice
teachers, and this volume provides an important part of that support through
compelling stories from novice teachers, insightful analysis, and pragmatic
advice on the utility of reflective practice. 


Farrell, T.S.C. (2015). Promoting Teaching Reflection in Second Language
Education: A Framework For TESOL Professionals. New York: Routledge.

Ingersoll, R.M. & Smith, T.M. (2003). “The wrong solution to the teacher
shortage.” Educational Leadership, 60, 8: 30-33.


Chris Blankenship is an assistant professor in the Department of English at
Salt Lake Community College. He teaches courses in general linguistics,
discourse analysis, and academic writing. His recent research includes work on
writing program administration, academic labor, and writing assessment.


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