Level, causes and coping strategies


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Level, causes and coping strategies

  1. 1. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 17 LEVELS, CAUSES AND COPING STRATEGIES OF STRESS DURING TEACHING PRACTICE Dr. Samina Malik, Fouzia Ajmal International Islamic University (PAKISTAN) E-mails: samina.malik@iiu.edu.pk, fouzia.ajmal@iiu.edu.pk ABSTRACT This study explored the concerns of a group of student-teachers during a period of school placement for teaching practice. The major objective of this study was to assess different levels, causes of stress and coping with those stress- sors among student-teachers during their one month teaching practice. The population of the study included all the stu- dents who had completed their teaching practice from International Islamic University, Islamabad during September-De- cember semester 2009. All the students (95) were taken as sample of the study. A questionnaire was administered for student teachers in order to explore identified areas. Researcher personally contacted the students-teachers to fill in the questionnaires after getting their consent. This study revealed that most of student-teachers experienced moderate level of stress during teaching practice. Five areas: heavy workload, evaluation by supervisor/teacher, managing classroom, writing detailed lesson plans and preparing final lesson were identified as major causes of stress. In addition, three main coping strategies: Communi- cation/feed back (talking to the teacher/ supervisor), Talking to the friends/family and Use of self-management skills such as preparation, planning and organizational skills were documented. Study revealed need of more coordination between university supervisor and cooperating school. Data indicated that assigned schools may take student-teachers as internees and formative assessment may be followed to evaluate their work. The paper also considered the implications of these findings for improving the quality of initial teacher education. Key words: Student-teachers, Teaching Practice, Stress, International Islamic University, Pakistan 1. INTRODUCTION According to Collins English Dictionary (1), student-teacher is a person who teaches in a school for a limited period of time under supervision as part of a course to qualify as a teacher. Traditionally, student-teachers are assigned to cooperating teachers in school setting for 5 to 8 weeks (2). Therefore, every student in a teacher education programme is expected to practice teaching in a real situation which provides the prospective teachers with pre-service teacher's beginning into the real-life world of the school. In Pakistan, it is a full day, full time, school-based experience that is supervised by both a certified experienced teacher and a university supervisor. The purpose of student teaching is to offer the opportunity for attaining and exhibiting teaching skills in schools with trained and experienced cooperating teachers. Teaching profession causes a very high degree of stress (3). As it is a fact that students with high academic achievements can not assume to be a successful teacher automatically (4). Though, there is a body of professional knowledge and set of skills that are considered necessary, but not sufficient, for achieving teaching effectiveness (5). The present study is focused on exploring different levels of stresses, their causes, coping strategies adapted by student-teachers during teaching practice and their suggestion for the improvement of teaching practice. Knowledge of how student-teachers cope with those stresses is valuable as it inform to teacher education programs for adapting effective ways of providing support to them. Little research has addressed student-teacher stress related to practice teaching in Pakistan. The present study attempted to find out answers to the following research questions: 1. What is the perceived level of stress experienced by student-teachers during practice-teaching? 2. What are the major causes of stress? 3. What strategies student-teachers adapt to cope with those stressors? 4. What student-teachers suggest for the improvement of teaching practice? 2. LITERATURE REVIEW Research findings support the notion that teaching is a stressful profession (3,6). It has also been documented that teacher education students experience high levels of stress during teaching practice (7,8,9) that ultimately hinder their learning (4). A high level of stress among student-teachers may be attached to various negative consequences such as class control problems and classroom disruption. Preece (10) found a relationship between student-teacher stress and class management problems. Hart (11) also reported a positive correlation between student-teacher stress and classroom disruptions. Therefore, stress appears to be a relevant characteristic of student-teachers. A number of studies in various countries have explored the extent to which student-teachers experience stress from teaching practice related factors. Some studies indicate that student teachers experience moderate levels of stress/anxiety (11, 12, 13, 14, 6) while others show that student teachers report high anxiety levels (15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
  2. 2. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 18 Several studies have also looked at the nature of student-teacher stress related to practice teaching. Hart sug- gests that student-teacher in Great Britain experience stress from factors such as evaluation, pupil and professional con- cerns, class control and teaching practice requirements (11). Morton et al (6) reported that student-teacher stressors were related to evaluation, pedagogical, classroom management and staff relations factors. Capel (14) reported in her study that was conducted among student-teachers in Canterbury that stress was due to evaluation, professional pre- paration, class control, and school staff factors. Notably, student-teacher stress factors related to teaching practice are common in many countries. These studies also reveal that student-teachers world-wide are anxious about evaluation. Researchers have noted that student-teachers' perceptions of potential sources of stress related to practice teaching can vary greatly from individual to individual. They further assert that there are differential reactions to stressors as a function of variables such as personality (20), culture or even sex (21). In a study of student-teachers who were attending a faculty of education at a Canadian University, it was observed that females experienced higher levels of stress than ma- les prior to practice teaching (6). Preece (10) however, did not find sex-linked differences with regard to class control problems. Teachers’ stress is a complex problem that has been well documented in the literature (22, 23, 3, 24). Black- Branch & Lamont (25), state that teaching is one of the professions where high level of stressful situation is predictable and student-teachers have to cope with the similar stressful experiences, such as those faced by practicing teachers. Stress related researches and specifically statistics shows that stress of teaching needs to be addressed at the pre- service stage of teacher’s career as many of the teacher-trainees leave the profession for less stressful careers even after the completion of their degrees. Black-Branch & Lamont (25) study show that 50% of teacher-trainers enter and continue with the profession, and many of them leaving to find less stressful professions. Bruce White and Rosie Le Cornu, (26) study, indicates that student-teacher learning process is greatly affected by the stress they experience during practice. Stress has countless harmful effects as it can cause physical and mental he- alth problems and minimize memory and learning skills of individuals. It also numerously effects on students’ self-esteem and definitely on their academic performance. Another study by Niemi P.M and Vaniomaki p.T (27) shows that poor concentration and impaired decision making are the common symptoms of stress.Though some amount of stress can have positive influence on motivation and creativity; if it crosses that extent then excessive pressure has an over- whelming and atrocious effect (28). Unfortunately, classroom teachers experience far greater pressure than is bene- ficial. The present study is an attempt to probe the level causes and coping strategies adapted by student-teachers during teaching practice and their suggestion for the improvement of teaching practice. 3. METHODOLOGY FOR THE PRESENT STUDY The study was survey in nature. A total of 95 students including fifteen males and eighty females were enrolled in Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Master of Education (M.A) programs at International Islamic University, Pakistan, during semester Fall 09 formed the target sample of the study.These students had a sound background of theoretical teaching since they had completed 90% of their courses A questionnaire was designed to explore the general level of student-teacher stress; the sources of student- teacher stress, the coping strategies used by student-teachers, and what actions student-teachers’ suggest need to be taken to reduce student-teacher stress and for the improvement of teaching practicum. Unlike the majority of researches, suggestions from student-teachers for the improvement and for reducing stress during teaching practice were invited through open-ended question. Student-teachers were invited to attend a concluding session prior to the commencement of the examination. In this session, they were briefed about the study and then were asked to complete the questionnaire. All present (91 out of 95) students completed questionnaire. 4. INSTRUMENT A questionnaire that contained four parts was designed and each part contained number of items to explore the perceived level of student-teachers stress, the sources of their stress, the coping strategies used by student teachers, and what they suggest to improve practicum. The first adapted part of the questionnaire was developed by Cohen that measures the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful (29). This adapted part of the questionnaire is considered the most widely used psychological instrument for measuring the perception of stress. Items were designed to tap how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded respondents find their lives. The scale also includes a number of direct queries about current levels of experienced stress. In addition, the questions are of a general nature and for this reason are relatively free of content specific to any sub-population group. The questions in the PSS (perceived Stress Scale) ask about feelings and thoughts during the last month. In each case, respondents were asked how often they felt a certain way. Second part consisted of a question identifying 30 items that may cause stress during teaching practice. The four highest graded stress producing causes were highlighted in this paper. Whereas third part inquired for spotting the coping strategies they adopt frequently to combat with stressors during teaching practice. This part consisted of eight items, out of that three coping strategies, highest graded by the participants were discussed in this paper. Forth part of the questionnaire contained an open-ended question inviting suggestions from student-teachers for the improvement and reduction of stress during teaching practice.
  3. 3. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 19 5. ANALYSIS OF THE DATA Data collected through questionnaire were analyzed using percentage calculation of the responses. Following are the details of the analysis. 6. LEVEL OF STUDENT TEACHERS STRESS The responses of the student teachers to the question on the perceived level of stress experienced are shown in Table 1. Table 1. Overall student teachers stress (percentages, N = 91) Less Stress Moderate stress High stress 9 % 86% 5 % Fig. 1. Graphic representation of the perceived level of stress in student teachers The responses of the student-teachers to the ten statements relating to the feelings and thoughts during the investigation period of one month were asked to determine the level of stress they experience. Results revealed that the level of stress felt by majority (79%) of the student-teachers was moderate, 08% student-teachers were less stressed, and 04% student-teachers were severely stressed. This shows that most of student-teachers experience moderate level of stress during teaching practice. The level of stress varies in nature and severity but a significant prevalence of stress is found. Some studies indicate similar levels of stress that student-teachers experience (11, 12,13,14,6) contrary to the findings other studies found high stress levels among student-teachers (17,18,19). 7. CAUSES OF STUDENT TEACHER STRESS Second part of the questionnaire contained a list of 30 items that may cause stress during teaching practicum which were derived from review of literature. Out of those 30 items, four were selected for discussion that student- teacher rated highest as stress producing factors during practicum than others. Table 2. Major causes of student teacher stress (percentages, N = 91) S No Stress produced by the factors Mostly Some times Never 1. Heavy Work Load 80 % 17% 3% 2. Being Observed and Evaluated by Supervisor/Teacher 76% 18% 6% 3. Inadequacy in Classroom Management 74% 20% 6% 4. Writing detailed lesson plans 57% 29% 14% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% less stress Moderate stress high stress
  4. 4. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 20 Fig. 2. Graphic representation of the major stressors which bother student teachers during teaching practice 8. HEAVY WORK LOAD Heavy workload is considered to be the most significant cause of stress during teaching practice. Data revealed from the study that major cause of student-teachers’ stress was heavy workload during practicum as 80% of the respondents reported it as the highest level stressor. Stephens in his research pointed out how student-teacher can sometimes be inundated by heavy tasks everyday (30). No doubt, student-teachers have to prepare lesson plans, arrange teaching aids, assessment of the previous work given by them as home work in the class. All these activities exhaust them. Students-teachers informally reported that they had spent several sleepless nights during Teaching Practice, as they had to prepare lesson plans and teaching aids for two/three subjects every day. 9. BEING OBSERVED AND EVALUATED BY SUPERVISOR/TEACHER Student-teachers have a lot of concern about their evaluation (6). It was a major factor causing discomfort to student-teachers. This refers to stress influenced by being observed by one’s teacher of school or supervisor. 76% of the student-teachers in this study were of the view that evaluation by supervisor/teacher keep them stressed during their classroom teaching. A study conducted by Capel on student-teachers in England reported that main cause of stress for student-teachers was being observed, evaluated and assessed (14). Student-teachers often complained researcher as incharge teacher education program that they forget the content matter and feel nervous when teacher sits at the end of classroom and observes. It is usually seen that the confidence level of student-teacher gets shaken, comfort level becomes low and they find themselves in artificial situation where their main consideration remains to get good remarks. Pressure of doing things correctly and managing classroom activities properly make them tense and apprehensive while teaching. Some of the student-teachers overcome this within few days but for others it acts as a barrier to gain full confidence. Cole and Knowles emphasize the use of adequate preparation and support rather evaluation of the student- teachers (31). 10. INADEQUACY IN CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT Another area of concern of student-teachers was their feelings of inadequacy in managing classrooms that cau- sed stress amongst them, as it was reported by 74% student-teachers. Discipline problem with the pupils was a definite challenge for the student-teachers. A study by Preece conducted at Exeter University showed that discipline problem en- hanced stress amongst student-teachers at their career’s start (10). It was found that it became difficult to maintain discipline in the classroom when the topics or lesson to be taught were already been shared and taught by the regular teachers. No matter, theoretical understanding of the student-teachers’ was of a satisfactory level after qualifying the course work but it appeared that student-teachers were less able to materialize theory into practice while dealing with the class management issues in the natural settings. Similarly, teaching methods studied during course work need to be implemented subject to the situation which was less often done with expertise. Skills are acquired and polished over time. These skills almost never "jell" until after a minimum of few years of teaching experience. Effective teaching requires considerable skill in managing the myriad of tasks and situations that occur in the classroom. Teachers require more than one way in understanding the psychological and developmental levels of their students. Effective classroom management skills are only be acquired with practice, feedback, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Lack of 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Mostly Some times Never
  5. 5. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 21 management no matter is a cause of stress for the student-teachers but they must be aware of the knowing of the fact that it is always a step towards learning and one can not overstep. Writing detailed lesson plans and preparing resources accordingly (e.g. charts, worksheets, handouts, etc). A usual practice is that student- teachers are supposed to prepare at least two lesson plans every day that have to be signed by the university supervisor and cooperating teacher at least one day in advance. Comments to improve lesson plans are also provided by the supervisors, wherever needed before its execution in the classroom.Majority of the student-teachers (57%) found writing detailed lesson plans along with appropriate teaching aids and then following it in the classroom accordingly the most stressful factor for them. It is a fact that paper planning sometimes fails to match actual classroom situation. Such situations make student-teachers nervous as they have to execute a lesson with hands on expertise which he/she does not feel comfortable with, then becoming a source of tension and stress which multiplies when unanticipated questions are asked by the students. Endorsing teaching with lots of audio-visual aids all the time is not valuable, some lesson needs to be taught best with the use of better communication skills and exemplification in abstraction where as, a general trend followed by the supervisors of the teacher education programs is to require as many audio-visual aids as one can afford. This practice not only creates stress but also put a financial bar on the student-teachers which catalyses the stress effects. These were deemed as being the main types of stress causes that were raised during student-teachers’ school experience. 11. COPING STRATIGIES ADAPTED BY STUDENT-TEACHERS DURING TEACHING PRACTICE Coping behavior is described in terms of efforts to manage (i.e., master, reduce or tolerate) a troubled person environment relation (32). The term coping strategies is used here to describe the strategies that student-teachers evolve in order to get their stress relieved. In the third part of the questionnaire, student-teachers were asked to mention the remedial strategies they generally use to overcome their stress during teaching practice. Following table shows three coping strategies that majority of the student-teachers use out of ten given in the questionnaire. Table 3. Coping stratigies (percentages, n = 91) S No Strategies Mostly Some times Never 1. Communication with supervisor/teacher and getting guidance/feedback 58% 24% 18% 2. Talking to the friends/family 54% 27% 19% 3. Use of self-management skills such as preparation, planning and organizational skills 49% 33% 18% Fig. 3. Graphic representation of coping strategies for stress Communication with supervisor/teacher and getting guidance/feedback The support and time of the supervisor (other then instructional time) provides a great help in stressful situation. Data indicated “communication with supervisor/teacher” was the most important strategy as 58% student-teachers got 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% Mostly Some times Never Communicationwith supervisor/teacher and getting guidance/feedback Talking to the friends/family Use of self-management skills such as preparation, planning and organizational skills
  6. 6. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 22 relieved when they discussed their problems with their university supervisor and got guideline from them. This is in agreement with previous findings in other studies (9,33). Smith and Lev-A r i also found from their study that the most important support for the student-teachers during their teaching practice was teachers supervising the teaching practice, and feedback sessions students had with them (33). This proves that that there is more need to create opportunities for meaningful feedback and constructive criticism on student-teachers’ performance. Experiences can work as the foundation for learning (34) only if they are together with constructive feedback (35). Feedback from the teacher is a vital ingredient of school experience where the students learn about themselves through the eyes and ears of a more experienced person. Talking to the friends/family Student-teachers responses highlighted talking to the friends/family as (54%) used it stress coping strategy to get them relieved. Teaching is a compulsory component of pre-service teacher education whatever the situation student- teachers, undergo during practicum therefore, getting help from family and friends in times of difficulty is natural. As they are the people who know the situation that student-teachers facing, their sympathetic attitude and some of caring words may revitalize them to work again. Research study reveals that turning to family and friends in times of crisis or simply for conversation and reflection was a significant coping strategy (36). Use of Self-Management Skills Self management skills develop personal competencies and improve stress tolerance. Hence, an individual's ability to perform personal and professional activities strengthens. 49% student-teachers use self-management skills such as preparation, planning and organization as remedial strategy to reduce their stress level. They plan things more effectively and efficiently to complete one month of teaching practice and prevent them to be panic. They try to be well organized to prevent a last minute panic. Suggestions (given by student teachers) Forth part of the questionnaire contained an open-ended question inviting suggestions from student-teachers for the improvement and for the reduction of stress during teaching practice. Common themes which come out of this section are:  More guidance before start of Teaching Practice Majority of the student-teachers commented that prior to the commencement of their field experience, they need more guidance and support from the university. It appeared to them the most effective way of alleviating stress they face in their field experience and ultimately could enhance the quality of learning they provide to their future students and potentially reduce their own risk for stress. As one of the student-teacher commented: “A number of more specific briefings on what exact requirements are needed for school experience and how it should be planned need to be discussed in detail as this is somewhat a vague area."  More coordination between university supervisor and cooperating teacher is required The student teaching field experience is an essential component of learning to teach and supervision plays an important role (37). Lack of communication and collaboration complicates student-teachers practicing teaching process. Student-teachers were of the view that there was lack of coordination between university supervisors and cooperating teachers about their respective expectations of the goals of student teaching; the instructional approaches with which student-teachers should experiment. As a result, cooperating teachers and university supervisors often misunderstand each other, lack unity in front of the student teacher, and continue to teach and supervise the way they always have taught instead of working as a supervisory team. University supervisor may be limited in their interactions because of their teaching and research responsibilities but this highly demanding responsibility can not be ignored. Though, the cooperating teacher seems to be most influential because of her close interaction with the student (38). It is important that both create a working relationship based on mutual respect and understanding for each others' expertise, perspectives, and roles so that student-teachers can incorporate fully both the theoretical and the practical into their teaching.  Assigned schools should take student-teachers as internees Student-teachers suggested that they may be assigned jobs/duties according to the requirement of their training as most of the time they are assigned tasks with high expectations from their cooperating schools leaving them alone in the classes which messed up every thing thus increase the stress level and deviate them from their focus of training. One of the respondents viewed as “At times, assigned school did not know exactly what we were meant to be doing and gave us unrelated assignments and after having particularly long and hard day in school, we found it incredibly difficult to go home and plan lessons for the next day”.  Formative assessment instead of final lesson assessment According to majority of the respondents, the mode of teaching assessment may be shifted from summative to formative. As they further explained their views by saying that this training must be integrated with the theoretical aspect of teaching during course work. As doing theory in isolation and practicing that theory separately makes no sense. “I was nervous when supervisor came in the class, I found it very stressful. They are assessing you on one lesson and this does not reflect how you normally teach”. 12. CONTRIBUTION TO KNOWLEDGE The study attempts to reflect the teaching practice of teacher education programs in Pakistan which has some problems and issues regarding the stress factor. It is expected that the present study will provide a foundation for further studies in the area and will definitely contribute to the existing source of knowledge in this field which will further be helpful in improving the teacher education program run by different institutions with an ultimate hope for the betterment of future of teaching in Pakistan.
  7. 7. © Journal of Law and Psychology, ISSN: 2078-1083, September, 2010 23 13. CONCLUSION It is clear that student practical experience is vital to the preparation of qualified professional fractionators. The effectiveness of professional training program is closely linked to the quality of this practicum component. The researcher in this study concurs with what Pearcey and Elliott asserted: “Students views are necessary ...but more importantly these views need to be acted upon” (39). The study shows that most of student-teachers experience moderate level of stress during teaching practice. Stress experienced by students in their practicum has been reported in enough studies to indicate that it is not an isolated phenomenon. In order to maximize the benefits of the teaching practicum for student-teachers and for teacher educators, both need to address the concerns of students related to their teaching practice experiences. The best way to deal with stress is to try to prevent it occurring, and this research would seem to indicate the need for teacher education program and teachers/educators to include some stress identification and management courses in teacher training as, there is a need to provide additional support to pre-service student-teachers prior to the commencement of their field experience. This study provided us information about causes of stress experienced by student-teachers during teaching prac- ticum. This study also sought student-teachers’ views on important sources of support for coping with practicum stres- ses. Findings indicate the value of family and friends they experience during the practice teaching. Family, friends, cooperating teachers and university supervisors are recognized as vital sources of support, they use as coping with stress. Data also reveal that a substantial group of student-teachers use self-management skills as remedial strategy to reduce their stress level. Knowledge of how students cope with practicum stresses would have the benefit of informing teacher education programs of the most effective ways of providing them support. Student-teachers were of the opinion that they experience most of the time tension and get stressed regarding university supervisors' roles during field experiences. They further emphasized that university supervisor to provide suf- ficient training, facilitate professional development, and provide regular help instead of focusing on final evaluation only. The University supervisor is a link between the cooperating school and the University. The student-teacher, the cooperating teacher, and the university supervisor need to work as a harmonious team for implement effective learning procedures and create professional working relationships. 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