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27 April 2012
PhD thesis presentations aren't exactly known for their drama and emotional power but Michelle Ludecke's presentation of 'The First Time' a performance of her investigation into the experiences of beginning teachers' first year on the job on Thursday, May 17 will be just that.
"It's actually a form of research called ethnodrama," Michelle explained, acknowledging the approach was 'a bit out there' and something of a departure for most PhD candidates.
"I suppose it's because my background is in secondary dance and drama teaching it was easy for me to see the research in this way.
"But ethnodrama is about looking at a particular culture and the epiphanies that take place in that culture and then presenting them to an expert audience, it goes beyond literary considerations and brings the research to a relevant audience to discuss it and then their discussions are incorporated into the final thesis."
Michelle said while the performance encapsulated the dramas and emotions the beginning teachers experienced during their first year the overriding impression from her research was that being a first year teacher was not all bad.
"My participants had positive experiences which combated that sink or swim feeling so often attributed to those in their first year," she said.
"The key for them was that they were flexible and creative and used their experiences to let go, or not, of the preconceived ideas of what a teacher should be."
Michelle said the research had demonstrated that more could be done to prepare beginning teachers for their first year.
"We need to help them understand that being flexible and being creative is going to help them combat the same negative attitudes that can lead to them wanting to leave the profession," she said.
"We also need to help them understand that they are dealing with people who are different every year and different every class.
"You can teach the same lesson to different people on the same day and have different experiences."
Michelle said more also needed to be done to prepare students for the different teaching environments they would face.
"My play looks at the experiences of one of the participants who worked at a school which was introducing one of the new flexible learning spaces," Michelle said.
"She had never experienced that before, not in a school, or on her professional experiences.
"In her new school they removed the doors from all the classrooms to prepare the teachers for the new environment and all she could think about was that there was so much noise, it's stressful and it's crowded.
"Then when they actually moved into the space which had been specially designed for teaching, the stress was removed and she was a different person.
"We really need to keep up to date with what is going on in schools."
Michelle said that beginning teacher's experience reflected the changes in the profession where teaching had been more of an isolated experience in a classroom.
Much of the earlier research reflected that experience.
"Five years ago I could walk into a school and everyone would be teaching in an individual classroom, whereas now you can have three teachers and 70 students, five teachers teaching across several year levels, break out rooms, flexible curricula, investigative programs and flagship schools," she said.
Michelle said this change had been reflected in her participants' experiences.
While she had expected to find similarities between the beginning teachers' experiences, it became apparent that the only thing that was similar was that the experiences were very individual.
"The vignettes of the participants' experiences in the performance reflect this," she said.
"There are aspects of your identity that come into your individual teaching but ultimately you have to find a balance between the expectations of teachers as set out by the various standards and your colleagues, who you are and what you can bring as an individual.
"It is my hope that by performing beginning teachers' "firsts" the performance can assist us to recall our own teaching "firsts" in order to help beginning teachers to understand the (often awkward and messy) transition to becoming a teacher."
The performance will start at 7.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1a, Building i, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood.
Registration via email to firstname.lastname@example.org is essential.
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The 'first year' teachers in rehearsals.
"First year" teachers rehearse for the performance