Pathways and perspectives
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In this research I seek to add to the body of knowledge on worker socialization, particularly teacher socialization, by examining how training and social context influences the nascent occupational understandings of beginning teachers. To investigate and explore the socialization of beginning teachers I conducted a qualitative study in which I interviewed forty-nine teachers, graduates of both alternative and traditional programs, working in urban, rural, and suburban school districts. I discovered a bifurcation of the teaching occupation, a division based primarily on the social context of the school setting rather than on the certification type. The findings of this research reveal how the social context of the school organization, specifically the level of poverty apparent among the students, has a stronger influence on the occupational understandings of beginning teachers than training programs. I discovered both traditional and alternative training programs promote a pragmatic understanding of teaching (classroom based and test-focused) leading to an occupation of white collar workers, not professional practitioners. Teachers located in suburban/more affluent schools found no challenges to training goals or the externally mandated requirements of testing. The social structure and control mechanisms in the schools reinforced a pragmatic perspective and teachers in such settings concentrate their efforts in the classroom. However, teachers situated in schools with high levels of poverty – urban and rural schools -- experience a shift in their nascent pragmatic occupational understandings because the personal circumstances of students (family issues, money problems and so on) permeate the classroom and affect the core task of student learning. Teachers in poor schools develop a holistic perspective to their work, one that reflects the altruistic goals of traditional professionals. The role of a teacher stretches beyond the classroom to encourage broader life goals and ambitions in students. The goals of academic success through standardized testing, while noted as important to students, are difficult to achieve in poor schools. Not surprisingly, teachers in poor schools found their work more contested and emotionally draining than did teachers in affluent schools.