Source of the “Geek Gene”? Teacher beliefs: Reading on Lijun Ni, Learning from Helenrose Fives on teacher self-efficacy
I discovered the below quoted post when I was looking up a paper by my former student, Lijun Ni. It’s nice to see her work getting recognized and reviewed! I talked a lot about her work when I was talking to PhD students at the University of Oldenburg program — Lijun has studied the beliefs of CS teachers, and that’s super important.
One of the other international guests at the Oldenburg program I attended last month (see post here) was Helenrose Fives who has literally written the book on teacher beliefs (see Amazon reference). Several of the PhD students who presented their research talked about student teachers having lower self-efficacy after actually being in the classroom, less commitment to ideals like inquiry learning, and less belief that students can learn. Helenrose said that that’s really quite common. Teachers have a high level of self-efficacy (“I can teach using novel approaches that will really help students learn!”) before they enter the classroom, and that sense of self-efficacy falls off a cliff once they face the reality of the classroom. The self-efficacy rises over time (up and down, but mostly up) but never reaches the optimism of before teachers enter the classroom.
I talked to Helenrose about what her work means for University CS teachers. In general, the work she describes is about school teachers, not faculty. She agreed that it’s possible for University CS teachers to have high self-efficacy even if they are not successful teachers, because University teachers define self-efficacy differently than school teachers. School teachers are responsible for student learning. They know individual students. They actually know if they are successful in their teaching or not (in terms of student learning and engagement). University teachers tend to have larger classes, and they tend to teach via lecture. They usually have little knowledge of individual student learning and engagement. Their sense of self-efficacy may arise from their ability to succeed at their task, “I can give great lectures. (Almost nobody falls asleep.) I can manage huge classes.” Where they do have knowledge of learning and evidence of ineffective teaching, they may simply decide that it’s the student’s fault. Perhaps this is where the Geek Gene is born.
Here’s a hypothesis: If a University teacher has high self-efficacy (great confidence in his or her teaching ability) and sees evidence of students not learning, it’s rational for that teacher to believe that the problem lies with the students and that the problem is innate — beyond the ability of the teacher to improve it.
In the first study, Ni interviewed teachers about their identity in order to establish what strengths and weaknesses are common in high school computer science teachers. She found that the teaching identity of computer science teachers is largely underdeveloped compared to teachers in other fields, and that often computer science teachers prefer to identify as a math teacher or a business teacher, rather than a computer science teacher.
Further, she found that high school computer science teachers generally do not have any sort of teaching support community to turn to, because they are often the only computer science teacher at their school.
All of these problems combine to keep computer science teachers from developing a strong teaching identity centered in the computer science field. Instead, we have teachers with low commitment levels to the field training our next generation of programmers in basic computing skills that are generally unrelated to the field of computer science itself.