Postprint of: Hudson, P, Nguyen, TMH & Hudson, S 2008, 'Challenges for preservice EFL teachers entering practicum', paper presented to 2008 Asia TEFL International Conference: Globalizing Asia: The Role of ELT, Bali, Indonesia.
English as a Foreign Language (EFL) education has been of concern throughout the world and has prompted calls for reform to preservice EFL teachers' practices in order to raise the standard of teaching and learning (Aiken & Day, 1999; Cook, 1996; Velez-Rendon, 2006). This requires preservice teachers in countries where English is a foreign language to be prepared to meet the challenges and standards for EFL teaching (Lu, 2002; Wertheimer & Honigsfeld, 2000). However, preservice EFL teachers have additional challenges as they attempt to teach English while using this language as the mode of instruction. Field experiences or practicum have long been a central part of preservice EFL teacher development in many countries and is crucial for implementing EFL education reform (Anderson, 2004; Stewart, 2004). These field experiences allow preservice teachers to make the connection between current theoretical knowledge and school practices; yet understanding how to teach EFL effectively requires further investigation (Liu, 2005). Ninety-seven Vietnamese preservice teachers, completing a four-year undergraduate course, will finalize their education with a six-week field experience in upper secondary schools in Hanoi. An open-ended questionnaire was designed to gather data from these preservice EFL teachers at the beginning of their last field experience (i.e., practicum, professional experience). Ten open-ended questions aimed to investigate preservice EFL teachers’ thoughts and expectations before entering their practicum, and as a means of understanding respondents’ views. These questions also focused on their perceptions of potential difficulties related to learning about teaching EFL writing in their practicum. The completed responses (93 female; 4 male) provided descriptors of the participants (preservice EFL teachers). Most of these mentees (67%) were 22 years of age, 16% were at the age of 21 and the rest were between 22 and 24 years of age. In the data analysis, themes and categories were coded for each of the questions, and descriptive statistics were used to quantify the data (Hittleman & Simon, 2002). The preservice teachers were asked about challenges they perceived for learning how to teach EFL writing during their practicum. Expectedly, 41% of these preservice EFL teachers indicated they lacked confidence and knowledge for teaching writing at secondary schools. About 22% of respondents thought they would have difficulties in learning to teach writing due to the mixed-ability levels of students, boring writing topics at secondary schools. Differences in writing styles were listed as one of the challenges by 13% of respondents; however only 2% believed they would not have enough opportunities or time to practice the teaching of writing. These preservice EFL teachers appeared to underestimate the challenges they will face during their practicum. There was a gap between their knowledge of classroom practices from their university education and the reality of the classroom. Teaching materials and classroom issues related to teaching writing such as writing genres, writing topics, how to motivate students to learn writing need to be incorporated in preservice teacher coursework. Reform in preservice EFL teacher education must focus on facilitating practical university coursework and providing mentoring experiences that address the potential challenges preservice EFL teachers face.