Novice foreign language teachers' teaching efficacy beliefs and perceptions of professional support : a mixed-methods study
Self-efficacy is an individual’s judgment of the relative probability of her or his likely success in attaining desired outcomes (Bandura, 1977). For teachers, efficacy beliefs serve as an assessment of their own abilities to promote student learning. Efficacy beliefs are content-specific and are believed to form early in teachers’ professional careers. While studies on teachers’ sense of efficacy have examined content areas such as math and science (Mulholland & Wallace, 2001; Riggs & Enochs, 1990), very little research has been conducted to explore the perceived efficacy beliefs of beginning foreign language (FL) teachers.
Using a mixed methods approach, this investigation explored factors influencing the teaching efficacy beliefs of FL teachers in a major urban school district in north Texas, as well as the potential relationship between their perceptions of efficacy and professional support. Quantitative data included surveys of FL teachers’ efficacy beliefs and perceptions of support. Qualitative data was comprised of case studies, including interviews, observations, and documents collected from four novice FL teachers, all of whom entered the classroom via alternative routes to certification.
Cross-case analyses suggest that FL teachers often felt their content area was devalued by administrators, colleagues, and students as a result of its status as a non-tested content area. The efficacy beliefs of the novice FL teachers were influenced in part by contextual factors of their respective schools, including professional isolation as a result of being the only FL teacher on campus, support of colleagues, and the availability of time and resources. Because the four case study participants lacked the benefit of traditional university-based certification, they demonstrated tendencies to rely on their “selected memories,” making sense of their role(s) as teacher via the perspective acquired when they were students.
Findings of the study suggest that FL teachers often experience “Stepchild Syndrome,” marked by professional isolation, a lack of relevant professional development opportunities, and a shortage of pertinent resources for FL teaching. The speculative nature of alternatively certified FL teachers’ efficacy beliefs is also examined. The study draws implications for supporting beginning FL teachers, particularly those who enter the profession through alternative routes.