THE ROOKIE TEACHER: A DESCRIPTION OF THE OCCASIONAL TEACHING EXPERIENCE AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF NEW SUPPLY TEACHERS
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The purpose of this project was to generate a set of actionable recommendations to assist school districts and school administrators and staff to support new occasional teachers during the early stages of their professional careers. This was done by giving voice to six elementary occasional teachers who were working at the Kindergarten to Grade 6 level in a single school board in southeastern Ontario who reported their shared “entry to the profession” experiences. This project describes the challenges faced by novice supply teachers, and the nature of support systems currently available to new occasional teachers (including their ease of access) and articulates practical suggestions to improve the unique induction to the teaching profession experienced by entry-level Ontario teachers. Phenomenology was used as a framework for this project’s research design which included six semi-structured interviews with participants who had at least one, but not more than five, years of experience as an occasional teacher. Qualitative inductive analysis was used for the interview transcripts to discover patterns, themes, and categories. The six participants in this study described how they approach managing student behaviour in their classrooms, the extent to which they see themselves as professionals, and their overall perspectives regarding occasional teaching in elementary education. Findings suggest that communication could be established or improved in the following areas: mentor/mentee programs, document accessibility, clear expectations for procedures and day plan formats and contents. The participants of this study suggested 11 different practical recommendations for the improvement of the occasional teacher experience. This research offers three main implications for practice in the field of elementary education. First, teacher preparation programs must work to ensure that prospective occasional teachers are aware of both the challenges that they may face in the field as occasional teachers and approaches for addressing those challenges. Second, supervisors such as principals, vice-principals, and lead teachers in the field of elementary education should be made aware of the challenges faced by occasional teachers. Lastly, schools and school districts should consider establishing formal or informal mentorship opportunities for occasional teachers who are entering the profession or encountering difficulties associated with being a new occasional teacher.