Saturday, March 19, 2011

Importance of Teacher Self-Efficacy

By Jamie Zane
             According to the theory of Self-Efficacy, if a person perceives that they do not have the ability to do something (and have fears of accomplishment as a result), they will be less likely to participate in the behavior (Bandura, 1983). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of having high self-efficacy – that if I believe that I possess the capabilities of doing something, I have a much stronger chance of accomplishing that goal.
I have spent the last six months working on developing a curriculum for a community nonprofit organization. The primary role of this agency is to advocate for children survivors of sexual abuse. Because I have over six years of experience as a rape crisis counselor and have predominantly worked with adolescents and adults, I was drawn to work with this agency as a way of expanding my knowledge of sexual violence, the impact of sexual abuse on communities and families, and strategies for increasing the effectiveness of prevention education.
And now I have a confession to make. The agency has been working on a pilot prevention education program for third graders in our community since I started working with them in September. Here comes that confession: I am not excited about working with children.
I wondered to myself at the very beginning – how am I going to pull this off? I thought about all of the reasons why children have not been my preferred audience and many of these reasons are quite rational. I don’t have much experience with kids – other than the experience I had as a kid growing up around other kids. I was an only child of a single mom who is also an only child. Most of my friends have either decided not to have kids or have waited until later in life to start a family. I do have three different friends with kids, but I so rarely get to see them that I find myself feeling awkward around their children when I do get the opportunity to spend time with them.
I did babysit for a very brief period of time in high school, but decided that it wasn’t for me and went into the restaurant industry. As a waitress, I’ve worked in many different types of environments that ranged from casual, hip restaurants to extremely attentive fine-dining restaurants. Most places where I’ve worked have not been very kid friendly. In fact, I can’t even remember a time when I’ve worked at a place that offered a special menu just for children.
When I first began the process of assisting with the local community partner agency, I was allowed to participate in assisting with the presenters in the actual third grade classes. I found this to be interesting to be around the kids, but extremely overwhelming. My self-efficacy in regards to teaching children is very low – and simply knowing this about myself hasn’t been a strong enough motivator to create any change.
I do feel that sexual abuse prevention education is very important and should be taught to children in the classroom setting. Although studies have shown that many parents believe that child sexual abuse education should be taught at home, it is also evident in research that most parents are too uncomfortable to discuss sexuality with their children and lack the information or resources to properly conduct these conversations (Kenny, Vjolca, Thakkar-Kolar, Ryan, & Runyon, 2008).            
So how did I turn this low self-efficacy around, you may wonder? I realized that for the moment it is more important for me to work with an audience that I feel more comfortable around. Since I have much more experience with adolescents and adults, I focused on building a curriculum that is designed for adult learners. My self-efficacy is much higher in regards to teaching that population and therefore I have much more confidence in my abilities to plan lessons with appropriate rationales for participants who are not children.
According to child abuse prevention organization Stop It Now (2008), adults miss opportunities on a daily basis to prevent child sexual abuse because of stereotypes and misinformation about sexual abuse; therefore it is important for adults to learn to converse with other adults about this topic to better ensure the safety of children (p.2). I decided that I would focus on building a community coalition of adults who work with children in various capacities that could, with proper training, become advocates for children. The rationale is that if adults are working with children as child care providers, teachers, youth-service facilitators, and parents (especially), they have a vested interest in the well-being and protection of children.
There has been research on the topic of teacher self-efficacy, but I have found that most studies on this topic involve the impact of self-efficacy on the stress level and job satisfaction of teachers Klassen, R. M., & Chiu, M. (2010).             I would argue that for a teacher to increase effectiveness as an educator, it is important to know oneself first in order to gauge where they are high on the self-efficacy scale and where they may fall short. Gaining teaching experience over time increases self-efficacy in the classroom overall, but it is much easier to start with a population in which one is already comfortable working with in general. It is already nerve-wracking enough to begin a career as a teacher. Why make the job even more difficult?             
Bandura, A. (1983). Self-efficacy determinants of anticipated fears and calamities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 464-469.
Kenny, M., Vjolca, C., Thakkar-Kolar, R., Ryan, E., & Runyon, M. (2008). Child sexual abuse: from prevention to self-protection. Child Abuse Review, 17, 36-54.
Klassen, R. M., & Chiu, M. (2010). Effects on Teachers' Self-Efficacy and Job Satisfaction: Teacher Gender, Years of Experience, and Job Stress. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 741-756. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Stop It Now. (2008). Prevent child sexual abuse: facts about sexual abuse and how to prevent it. The Safer Society Press: Brandon, VT. Retrieved from:


  1. Jamie,
    I feel exactly the same. I have such a fear of teaching children. Well, not fear, because I like children, but I too have had very little experience with them. I would feel very shaky in front of a young audience as I feel like I am not sure how to speak to or act with young children. However, I feel uncomfortable with a lot of groups as I have had little experience with anyone. I have come to terms with the fact that "efficacy" in this field comes from experience. There's only so much you can learn in the classroom that will help you as an educator. I feel like experience is the real teacher all-in-all. So I will undoubtedly have to tank several classes before I learn how to teach that population.
    However, I do completely agree with the need for confidence. You may know nothing about how to teach a particular population, but having a mixture of confidence and humility seems to be one of the most important tools in our educator's toolbox.

  2. Karla:
    I am interested in diversity. This topic is especially appropriate for me as it looks like my practicum this summer will be in Bridgeport, Connecticut where I will be working with 10-12 year olds boys and girls who will be, according to population statistics, mostly African American and Latino youths. For me it will be the second time around that I will be working with a diverse population. My initial experience was my first year of teaching when I procured a job in Stamford, Connecticut, another extremely diverse neighborhood. I am white, and as I said in class, I am probably whiter than Don. I am sure they did not think much of me initially as most of the teachers at Stamford High School were white, but I became “a favorite teacher.” I owned up to knowing nothing - and I really did know nothing! I asked for help. I asked what they meant when they were using their language and their slang, and I asked for respect. I still have kids who email me on a regular basis to update me on their lives. One of my students I see every now and then as she is working at Forever 21 in Stamford while she puts herself through school.

    Eggen and Kauchak (2006) recommend direct instruction as especially effective for students with diverse backgrounds. Their rationale is that direct instruction provides culturally and linguistically diverse students with additional structure which facilitates learning. They believe that organization of ideas and procedures facilitates understanding especially where language is a concern. A direct instruction model provides opportunities for feedback between students and teacher where concepts can be clarified and culturally relevant examples can be elicited from the students.

    I believe I will be receiving lots of culturally relevant examples from the 10 - 12 -year olds I will be teaching this summer. The coordinator was estactic about having a volunteer in to teach a subject that might actually be of interest to these kids. I imagine I will have a very interesting summer immersing myself in the culture, the diversity, and the sexuality of African American and Latino youths. I look forward to what I will learn as much if not more than what I will teach.

    Eggen, P. D., & Kauchak, D. P. (2006). Strategies and models for teachers: Teaching content
    and thinking skills. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

  3. Jamie

    I applaud you knowing your limits and creating curriculum within a zone you felt comfortable. I feel that right now, in the sexuality field (and these are conversations that we have had within classes before, so I am repeating a bit) that we often feel it is our job to teach everyone and everything,

    When in reality, it takes time to gain mastery. And if your level of mastery is not with elementary aged kids (believe me, I feel you) then in my eyes you acted as a responsible sex educator. And that’s not to say that you’ll never gain mastery over this age level … or that folks who haven’t worked with a range of populations can’t gain mastery in regard to teaching different populations … it’s just that you admittedly don’t have it right now.

    And when creating curriculum, which is the focus of this course, I can’t help but feel that you have been enormously helpful to your community partner. They are the experts in little ones, and so in teaching them as adults, they can totally figure out how to teach the ankle-biter population. (Forgive my colloquialisms, but there are only so many ways to creatively say “Elementary Schoolers). I don’t know what you included in your curriculum, but I’m sure that whatever it was, it empowered them to take what they learned into their work.

    I love the idea of self-efficacy as related to curriculum development and teaching, and I think that it is incredibly important to keep in mind. That is not to say that someone who has never had experience with certain demographic *couldn’t* create curriculum for them, but someone who feels they can … might just do a better job…

    Thank you for this post! I think it brings up some excellent points.

  4. I think this is a very important part of what I learned from the experiences in 625/626. My self-efficacy as an educator was extremely low after 625...I was certain that I didn't know what population I wanted to work with but I knew that finding one niche was okay because, as we discussed, quality is better than quantity. So I really didn't need to worry that I was inadequate with most populations because there are other educators out there, including everyone on this blog, who have expertise in another population that I do not. And I have really begun to build my self-efficacy in 626 and narrow down my expertise with certain populations. I have learned to work with a population I was handed (in practicum) but I have continued to create curriculum for adult learners because that is where my "efficacy" lies. I applaud you, Jamie, for sticking to your guns. Sometimes I am not so sure I will able to say "no," even if I feel inadequate in teaching the audience. I hope, with experience, that it becomes easier and clearer but I think now is a hard time to stick to a certain population because I have such little experience.
    I also applaud thinking that the adults need the learning just as much as the children because I work with new parents and families and I think the same way. I want to teach these new parents about intimacy and sexuality because I want it to be valued and have the communication skills to pass onto their children. They will be advocates for themselves and for their children. Sometimes I feel parents/adults are looked over in sexuality education because we are so focused on schools, teen pregnancy, etc. There are plenty of other educators taking care of those issues so I am glad there are others out there concerned about parents and care providers because they need education just as much as the kids do.

  5. I've totally been dealing with the self-efficacy issue recently, so I feel you. My question is, what if you didn't have option to change your audience? You don't always have the choice. What I have done to combat my low self-efficacy is lean back on my schooling a bit - trust in what you have learned and apply it. You also might learn how to deal with a situation or get a different perspective by working with different groups, even if you don't do it very often. Even if is just to remind you how much more comfortable you are with adults, it has the potential for energizing you. Of you find yourself in that situation in the future, try and look at it that way.

    ~Rachel Girard

  6. Jamie – great way to tackle your problem! I agree with Emily – I think too often we forget that part of teaching children includes teaching parents/adults. If the parents of the children we are trying to reach are not on the same page as we are our message won’t be reinforced or it may become confused.

    I also agree with what others are saying – I think recognizing your limits is very important to ensure we are providing good quality education. Just because you lack experience does not mean you are incapable of accomplishing your goal, it just means you have to put more time, effort, and research into your lesson or think about things in a different way (e.g. thinking about what you are good at and how the skills you possess can help you accomplish a different goal).

    In another post I mentioned that I believe we need to be cognizant of when to refer. There are many sex educators who are very talented in specific areas – we shouldn’t be hesitant to reach out to others and network to help gather ideas and find guidance. Not to sound too “after-school special”ish, but there is so much we can learn from each other about specific topics and populations. We need to build our relationships with each other so we know where to go and who to ask for their expertise.