Managing the three-ring circus : a study of student teachers’ understanding and learning of classroom management decision making
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Learning to manage a classroom of twenty-two elementary students is often likened to conducting a three-ring circus, particularly in the eyes of student teachers. As they enter the field, student teachers are given their first opportunities to observe and experience the delicate art of managing a classroom. They are faced with the challenges of handling the various aspects of teaching. Concurrently, they are enrolled in various methods courses as assigned by their university teacher preparation program, instructing them in various theories and best practices of their craft. In addition to enduring these challenges, student teachers must learn to think and make decisions as teachers. They are instructed to teach using explicit steps and procedures, yet the decision-making processes necessary for becoming a successful educator and manager are not addressed. Through qualitative case study, five student teachers share their observations and experiences as they met the challenges of learning to manage a classroom, focusing upon the need for sound decision making skills. Data for this investigation was taken from observations, interviews, reflections, and archived documents. Cross-case analyses revealed that participants felt anxious and unprepared when managing a classroom and lacked the decision-making skills necessary for successful management. The themes and findings derived from the data suggest that a great deal of management learning and decision-making skills come from time in the elementary classroom in conjunction with explicit teaching and conversations concerning these skills. Likewise, the relationship between the cooperating teacher and the student teacher, the authority the student teacher possesses in the classroom, as well as the teaching philosophies held by both greatly affect the successful acquisition of management decision-making skills. This study holds implications for the preparation student teachers receive, with regard to classroom management decision making, in their field-placement classrooms and university teacher preparation programs.