September 2017
TESOL HOME Convention Jobs Book Store TESOL Community

Babak Khoshnevisan,University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA


The purpose of this article is to introduce the former theories concerning developmental stages of preservice teachers. I then make the case for judicious inclusion of field experiences in teacher education and propose a new theory in respect to developmental stages of preservice teachers. Finally, I closely scrutinize the validity of the proposed theory, reiterate its strength, and offer new suggestions for pedagogical purposes. More specifically, this article aims to provide adequate assistance for teacher educators once they gain insight into developmental stages of preservice teachers. This insight, if employed effectively, can help teacher educators facilitate teacher development processes.

There are multitudinous theories in the literature describing the process of teacher development, and the literature is interspersed with studies concerning the developmental stages of in-service teachers. However, there is sparse literature germane to the developmental stages of preservice teachers. Notwithstanding the pre/in-service dichotomy, theories have attempted to deconstruct and reconstruct developmental stages that shape a teacher’s identity. To understand and/or enhance our understanding of the developmental stages of preservice teachers, we are required to reconceptualize the concept of developmental stages and explore the inception of this process. In what follows, I discuss the existing theories and eventually propose my theory regarding the developmental stages of preservice teachers.

The Developmental Stages of Teachers

The developmental stages of teachers address distinct stages that teachers experience in their profession. It is deemed that these stages are hierarchical in nature. Developmental theories evolve from the concrete to craft the abstract theories. It is furthermore assumed that developmental theories follow the same tenets. Developmental stages have been proposed for both pre- and in-service teachers. Among these proposed stages, few theories have focused on preservice teachers.

One of the most prominent theories regarding preservice teachers’ developmental stages was proposed by Fuller and Bown (1975), who identified four distinct stages beginning with the preteaching stage in which preservice teachers are solely recognized as observers. The second stage deals with the survival issues when teachers distance from their ideal thoughts about their occupation and attempt to survive in the profession. The third stage attends to preservice teachers’ concerns regarding teaching techniques rather than the learning process. Eventually, teachers become concerned with the learning process and individualized teaching. This last concern shapes the fourth stage.Researchers have recognized preservice teachers’ field experiences as a pivotal element for enhancing teaching practices. Preservice teachers bring certain expectations to field experience partly formed by their prior knowledge and partly formed by ESOL courses they have passed. It then comes as no surprise that their expectations do not tally with the reality of teaching in a physical classroom. It is deemed that field experience can bridge this theory-practice gap. Khoshnevisan (2017) conducted a study to explore the perceptions of ESOL preservice teachers about their first field experience in a major Southeastern University in the United States. A multiple case study was employed to explore the differences within and between cases. In light of this, Khoshnevisan (2017) reported that the discoveries, through constant comparative analysis, centered on ESOL preservice teachers’ perceptions of their field experience, the teaching strategies they observed, and the developmental stages of preservice teachers. The results of this inquiry coupled with a 2-year experience in teacher education implied nonlinear developmental stages for preservice teachers. The findings were inconsistent with prior theories because they did not corroborate linear developmental stages. Conversely, this theory posits nonlinear and multilayer developmental stages. In this sense, preservice teachers might activate a layer at any stage to accommodate their needs.

Nonlinear Developmental Stages of Preservice Teachers

Figure 1 presents nonlinear and multilayer developmental stages of preservice teachers. This theory identifies five stages for ESOL preservice teachers’ developmental stages. In the first stage (hesitations and doubts), preservice teachers step into the process with uncertainty because of their lack of prior experience. Every assignment is a challenge during this stage. Arguably, this stage starts from the beginning of their enrollment in the course and may or may not continue toward the end of the process.


Figure 1. The Developmental stages of preservice teachers.

The second stage (recognition) begins with the first field experience. All preservice teachers (enrolled in this major Southeastern University in the United States) are required to complete field experience hours to receive ESOL endorsement upon graduation. As soon as preservice teachers are encountered with a physical classroom, they understand the hardships of class management. Observing different classrooms and recognizing different techniques they have already studied, preservice teachers enter into the next stage, called recognition.

As preservice teachers explore new techniques and teaching strategies, they smoothly move into the next level. All through this level, preservice teachers enrich their repository of techniques to employ them in their future teaching profession. The novelty of techniques may appear perplexing at first. Later, preservice teachers learn to absorb new techniques in action rather than solely learning them from books. There are three major subcomponents interacting in this phase. Learning new techniques does not take place in and of itself. It rather implicates learning culturally sensitive strategies and individualized teaching. The former is considered essential in respect to ESOL preservice teachers because culture is an integral part of ESOL teaching. With shifting demographics in the United States, preservice teachers need to enhance their understanding of students whose cultural and educational backgrounds differ considerably from those of the teachers. Accordingly, more observation during field experience may enhance their cultural understanding, which could culminate in learning culturally sensitive strategies. Being sensitive to different cultures and learners gives rise to individualized learning. Preservice teachers then learn that there is no one-fits-for all strategy in teaching ESOL courses. All in all, learning cross-cultural issues together with individualized teaching tailors a comprehensive view for preservice teachers.

At this point (Stage 4), preservice teachers seem to be ready to start teaching. Later, during their field experience sessions and/or practicum, preservice teachers find the opportunity to practice what they have already learned. This is the first practical stage and includes all the former stages combined. In other words, in-service teachers start their profession with hesitations and doubts (Stage 1), recognize strategies and techniques (Stage 2), and learn new techniques and strategies as they accumulate experience and skills (Stage 3). It is highly recommended to give preservice teachers an opportunity to teach to not only gain hands-on experience but also start this stage long before they become in-service teachers.

Building trust and confidence is the last stage (Stage 5). The output of this process is confidence. At this stage, teachers have successfully constructed their teacher identity. They may not be a master as Fuller and Bown (1975) hold, and it is not to say that they will not face hardships in their career. However, they are confident in their profession, and they accept hardships while moving toward mastery and competency. 

Ideas for Further Research

It is imperative to conduct further research to explore the perceptions and beliefs of the observed teachers. It is vital to undertake more inquiries regarding the role of mentors in developing teacher identity and pedagogical competence. Finally, the theory of developmental stages for preservice teachers must await further empirical research to either corroborate or disconfirm the findings of this study.


This article introduced the existing theories of the developmental stages of teachers and then detailed the importance of field experience in teacher education courses. As discussed, existing preservice teacher development theories portray a hierarchical concept, moving from concrete to abstract, beginning with being an observer and followed by a survival stage. The theories terminate with a master teacher. Having explained the existing theories, I proposed a nonlinear and multilayer theory.

Former theories consider the teacher development process as developmental and linear. In this sense, when preservice teachers move into the next stage, the recurrence of the same stage is unlikely. However, the new theory assumes that these phases are nonlinear and that the frequent recurrence of stages is likely. In this sense, teacher educators may witness in their preservice teachers the frequent wax and wane of different stages. Accordingly, it appears that these stages are cyclical. In short, the cycle waxes and/or wanes when the need arises.


Khoshnevisan, B. (2017, February). The first field experience: Perceptions of two ESOL preservice teachers. Paper presented at the meeting of the Tenth International Conference on Language Teacher Education, Los Angeles, CA.

Fuller, F., and Brown, O. (1975). Becoming a teacher. In K. Ryan (ed.), Teacher Education:

74th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II (pp. 25–52). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Babak Khoshnevisan is a PhD student in Technology in Education and Second Language Acquisition (TESLA) Program at the University of South Florida (USF). He is a teacher educator of ESOL courses at USF. His research interests include teacher education and CALL.

« Previous Newsletter Home Print Article Next »
Post a CommentView Comments
 Rate This Article
Share LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
In This Issue
Search Back Issues
Forward to a Friend
Print Issue
RSS Feed