Teacher socialization is a complex, communicative process by which individuals selectively acquire the values, attitudes, norms, knowledge, skills, and behaviors of the teaching profession and of the particular school or educational culture in which they seek to work. It is a widely held view that the effectiveness of teachers, and thus the quality of education, is related to teacher preparation and early teaching experiences. Unlike primary socialization, which occurs from birth, teacher socialization is a form of secondary socialization, a subsequent, ongoing process in which people continually socialize into new realms of their lives. Prospective and beginning teachers have been the main focus of teacher socialization research, on the assumption that socialization occurs during teacher training and the initial years in the teaching position. Researchers acknowledge, however, that teacher socialization also continues throughout the career as veteran teachers change roles and enter new educational environments.
Communication scholars have utilized various conceptual categories to describe teacher socialization. These include dimensions, phases, and intellectual traditions.
Dimensions of Socialization
Within the socialization experience of teachers are two distinct, yet interrelated dimensions: role or occupational socialization, and organizational or cultural socialization. Prospective teachers engage in a decision-making process during which they make a cognitive commitment to enter the teaching profession and become members of the occupational group known as teachers. To do so involves at least a tacit assent to learning the role or occupation (i.e., the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to teach effectively; the expectations, functions, and requirements of the teaching profession). This essential dimension is role or occupational socialization, which Sarbin and Allen (1968) termed role acquisition or role learning.
In addition to learning the teacher role, a newcomer must also socialize into an individual school organization and learn the culture of the particular school system. Cultural or organizational socialization, a second dimension of teacher socialization, involves learning the norms, social practices, collective understandings, and values of the particular teaching context and educational organization. In most societies worldwide, educational systems are structured as social institutions, on the assumption that individuals learn through interaction with others. Even as higher education increasingly occurs in online forums, most instruction of children and adolescents occurs within the context of schools, which are social organizations. Thus, not only does socialization involve learning the role or occupation of teacher, the process also requires an individual to become a member of the particular organization, to learn the culture of the individual school and school system in which she or he teaches or plans to teach (Louis 1980).
Role or occupational and cultural or organizational learning occur as individuals engage in a range of communication strategies that Berger (1987) termed passive, active, and interactive. Passive strategies are those such as unobtrusive observation, in which there is an absence of actual contact between individuals. Active strategies involve encounters with others, but with a third party rather than with the most direct source of information. Interactive strategies entail direct engagement between a person seeking to learn a role and a person who has the information or cultural knowledge being sought.
Phases of Socialization
Teacher socialization is often characterized as a process that occurs in three phases. Anticipatory socialization refers both to the choice phase of role socialization, during which a person decides to enter the teaching profession, and to the decision phase of organizational or cultural socialization, during which an individual considers becoming a member of a particular educational institution. An individual first decides to become a teacher, and then selects a school setting.
A second phase of socialization is that of entry or encounter, during which a novice experiences a new teaching situation, either the initial teaching role or the first entry into a new school. Continuance or adaptation is the third stage of socialization, during which a novice teacher or a veteran in a new situation makes whatever changes are necessary in order to remain in the profession and/or in the school setting. As the initial reality shock becomes the routine reality, teachers who want to stay in the role and in the environment make adjustments in order to continue. Although adaptation often involves acquiescing to the status quo, another way of adjusting is advocating and effecting change.
Three dominant paradigms or intellectual traditions have guided research on teacher socialization: functionalist, interpretive, and critical (Zeichner & Gore 1990). The oldest, most widespread is the functionalist tradition, which suggests a deterministic view of teacher socialization as a phenomenon that fits the individual to society, with teachers considered as passive objects of socializing agents. Research in this tradition focuses on outcomes of socialization and the agents who are influential as catalysts.
A frequently identified outcome is that of dramatic attitude shifts in beginning teachers from progressive and humanistic at the start of their first year to less permissive and more custodial by the end of the year. Agents identified as instrumental in effecting such outcomes include veteran teachers, administrators, and students. For pre-service teachers engaged in internships, critical agents are university supervisors and the cooperating classroom teachers. Inherent in the functionalist tradition is a view of communication as an action in which pre-service and new teachers are objects of socialization and recipients of messages sent from various socializing agents.
The interpretive tradition (also known as “conflict” or “dialectical”) stresses the importance of teachers as proactive, creative agents who shape their own roles and environments. Lacey conceives of socialization as going beyond the explanations provided by the functionalists, and presents it as “a more complex, interactive, negotiated, provisional process” (1977, 22) in which individuals engage in conscious choices about their own socialization. Thus, the focus is on understanding the process of socialization, the ways in which it occurs, and the perspectives of the individuals involved, rather than on the outcomes and agents of socialization. The view of communication assumed is that of a dynamic, interactive, transactional process in which novice teachers are active in shaping their own roles as well as the organizational and school culture. Unlike a functionalist tradition, the emphasis in the interpretive tradition is not on the socializing agents, nor on beginning teachers as recipients of communication messages, but on what happens between socializing agents and novice teachers. In this approach, socialization cannot be considered as something that “happens” to newcomers, but is viewed as a dynamic and complex process of communication.
The critical tradition is one that “addresses the interplay of micro and macro forces, inside the classroom and beyond, those that social actors are conscious of and those that are taken for granted” (Sprague 1992, 182). In this approach, teacher socialization is examined in the context of a person’s biography; in the social, political, and historical context; power; and in the context of ideology. The communication perspective inherent in the critical perspective is not inconsistent with the notion of teachers as active agents, yet also brings to the fore issues of power, gender, race, and class that are embedded in teacher socialization and are considered to be in need of transformation.
Although communication is considered to be central in the teacher socialization process, there are various theoretical and conceptual frameworks for examining communication in socialization. Three frameworks are communication functions, uncertainty reduction, and communication concern.
As a way of examining communication interactions at a micro-level, communication researchers have utilized Greenbaum’s (1974) descriptive typology of four communication functions or purposes. The informative are communication activities and talk related to the exchange of information about tasks – seeking, receiving, clarifying, elaborating. The regulative are communication activities and talk that involve the organizational hierarchy and are related to control, order, direction, and feedback between teachers and subordinates (students) and between teachers and superiors (school principal) in work-related activities. The integrative are communication activities and talk related to the social and relational sphere, maintaining morale, group acceptance, camaraderie, and developing a social support system. The innovative are communication activities and talk related to change, generating new ideas, doing things differently. Analysis of discourse utilizing a typology such as this provides a mechanism for identifying and understanding the process and development of role and cultural socialization.
Originally utilized in communication research by Berger and Calabrese (1975) as a perspective for understanding the early stages of interpersonal interaction in which strangers meet, the assumption of uncertainty reduction theory is that people seek to reduce their uncertainty about others through communication. Anticipatory and entry phases of socialization are times of uncertainty in which novice teachers face new situations, expectations, people, and environments. There is generally a high need to obtain information about both the teacher role and the culture of the new organization. An examination of communication strategies used to gain information to reduce uncertainty provides a lens for understanding socialization.
A variety of research on the communication concerns of pre-service and in-service teachers supports a conceptual model of teacher concern about self as a teacher, the task of teaching, and the impact of teaching. Communication concern is defined as a constructive frustration or anticipation of a future problem situation that involves interaction with others. Several studies indicate that during the anticipatory and entry phases of socialization, self and task concerns are of foremost importance to novice teachers. Self-concerns revolve around both role socialization (e.g., such aspects as their credibility in the teacher role, anxiety about their job performance), and socialization into the new organization (e.g., feelings of not being an integral part of the school culture).
Task concerns also center on both the teaching role (e.g., how to maintain discipline in the classroom) and socialization into the organization (e.g., how major disciplinary problems are handled in the particular school environment). It is through communication that newcomers learn the role expectations and the cultural norms. A communication concerns perspective is also a window for observing and understanding socialization.
Although teacher socialization generally refers to the socialization of pre-service or inservice teachers at the elementary and secondary levels, the experience is a universal one across the range of teaching positions, including community college instructors, graduate teaching assistants, and college or university professors. While the majority of research has been conducted on K–12 teachers, there are studies examining socialization within higher education. Regardless of the educational level or context, teacher socialization is widely considered to occur through communication.
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