Newly Qualified Irish Primary School Teachers’ Experiences and Understandings of Reinforcement and Punishment

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Horan, Edel
Hyland, John
Issue Date
Dublin Business School
The Irish education system has had many considerable changes within the past two decades. Initial teacher education has considerably lengthened in duration. Behaviour management models utilised within the education system have also shifted, from punitive towards reinforcement-based procedures. There has been a significant amount of research regarding the preparation provided by ‘Initial Teacher Education’ (ITE) programmes in the Irish context. Much of this research highlighted findings regarding how underprepared teachers are in the area of behaviour management. Interestingly, however, there has been little research on preparedness since the ITE programmes have recently lengthened in duration. Therefore, this qualitative research aimed to answer the question: What are the experiences and understandings of Irish newly qualified primary school teachers (NQTs) in the area of punishment and reinforcement within the context of behaviour management? Four semi-structured interviews with newly qualified teachers were conducted. Thematic analysis of transcripts indicated four key themes: ‘Learning of behaviour management’, ‘Reinforcement’, ‘Punishment’, and ‘Establishment of behaviour management’. The findings indicate, though provided with various learning opportunities, newly qualified teachers lack in their understanding of the terms reinforcement and punishment, despite clear uses of both in the classrooms. The NQTs had a clearer concept of the term reinforcement, in comparative to that of punishment. Although participants were largely unaware of the definition of punishment, and often evidently disapproving of its use, there were clear uses of punishment procedures by NQTs in the findings of this study. This study indicated the need to scrutinise education in the area of behaviour management at both initial teacher education and newly qualified teacher levels. Further studies investigating the impact of varying methods of preparation for effective behaviour management may be beneficial. Further exploration of the causal links between NQT self-efficacy and the selection of reinforcement or punishment is also recommended.