Seasons of instructional growth: Novice teacher development in residential environmental education settings

John Haskin (2003)

This is a study of the first-year development of 13 novice residential environmental educators in the Catskill region of New York State during the 2000-2001 school year. Residential environmental education is a situated and sustained 3-5-day, field-based experience. Study participants were instructors at three different private environmental education centers that delivered programs to public and private elementary and middle school students. All of the instructors had completed bachelor's degrees. Their average age was 23. Nine of the thirteen were women. The goal of the study was to reveal patterns in the participants' professional development over time and to better understand the factors that shaped these changes. I adopted a qualitative approach, taking field note data while observing the novice instructors and gathering data during three semi-structured interviews with each participant in the autumn, winter and late spring. Each interview was recorded and transcribed. The participants reviewed and made comments on the transcripts of their interviews. Five of the novices also volunteered to keep weekly lesson journals. Analysis involved a cross-participant, cross-interview review of transcripts and field notes. There were four main findings: I identified eight phases of novice development that were chronological and sequential, focusing on aspects of instructional skill and identity building. Additionally, during the early weeks of the year, novices had technical and practical concerns related to their work. Within three months, all expressed comfort in their role as teachers as well as a reluctance to adopt new ideas or approaches. This protective posture shifted toward creative instructional expression in the spring. I found that influences on development changed as the novices gained experience. I also found that the intrinsic, or purely subjective, rewards associated with teaching changed throughout the year. Lastly, I found that novice professional growth was a synergism of outer aspects of pedagogic skill with inner aspects of identity development. This study has implications for directors of residential environmental education centers and for researchers of novice classroom teachers. Recommendations include adopting a strategic, calendar-based approach toward novice development; nurturing novice learning communities; and building in structured opportunities for professional reflection.