Can mastery of Teacher Competences Determine Student Teachers’ Readiness for the Job?


This study looks into finding the level of “readiness-for-the-job” in student teachers about to graduate from teaching programmes, through exploring their mastery of the teacher competences that are presumably employed in teacher education. By conducting surveys and using questioning techniques like Likert scale, MSQ and vignette, 226 student teachers were invited to identify and reflect on their perceived and attained mastery of 11 international teacher competences, based on their personal experiences and individual views. Primarily, the study addresses the problem with the current curriculum of teacher education in many teacher colleges around the world where the emphasis on the practical component of their teaching programmes has resulted in a fragmented readiness-for-the-job. Thus, teachers are becoming quite competent in the practical divisions of teaching, such as managing the learning environment, and critically less competent in the knowledge of the subject per se and similar domains. 

Keywords: Teacher educationStudent teachersTeacher competencesNew-teacher readiness


It is quite established that teaching is a complicated profession. In part, this judgement is attributed to the very unique nature of teaching where the novices are expected to have a similar job outcomes and performance as the veterans (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005; F. A. J. Korthagen, 2004). Although this problem is in the core of teaching, it has become more critical in the past few years with the massive revamp of teacher education and the entire school system. In today’s teaching, the “unreasonable” demands have drastically escalated the reality shock that new teachers have already been encountering for several decades (Cochran-Smith, 2005; F. Korthagen, 2010; Liston, Whitcomb, & Borko, 2006; Tait, 2008). In response, many teacher education colleges took remedial actions so that their graduates are better prepared for the job, and more satisfied with it. These actions include; pursuit of core teacher competences (TCs) during teacher education, incorporating advanced technology in teaching and training, restructuring the practical experiences, introducing entry assessment to select the top candidates, and partnering with schools (Brouwer & Korthagen, 2005; Cochran-Smith, 2005; Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005; Day, 2010; Mayer, 2009; Zeichner, 2002).

Not far from that, a number of initiatives called for new knowledge and skills to cater for the teaching roles in the 21st century. Such knowledge and skills are labelled as teacher competences or teaching standards ((CEPPE), 2013; OECD, 2013; Swabey, Castleton, & Penny, 2010). What is particularly promising about developing teacher competences is that they can serve as a point of reference for job-entry and professional development throughout teachers’ career, and as a vital component of teacher education. With the correct set of competences and the right measurement tools, teacher competences have the potential to determine student teachers’ (STs) readiness for the job ((CEPPE), 2013; Hayes, 1997; Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012; Swabey et al., 2010). Importantly, new teachers ought to reach a sufficient mastery level of these competences to be competent and ready-for-the-job.

In this study we inspect student teachers’ readiness-for-the-job through outlining their mastery level of core teacher competences. To find out what STs perceive to be critical competences for the job readiness and what competences they obtained in teacher education, both dimensions of mastery; perceived and attained are studied. Also, we are interested to see if the perceived mastery can determine the attained mastery. A framework of 11 international teacher competences (ITCs) is specifically designed for this study to assess a large sample of female student teachers from four government teacher education colleges. In substance, the context of teacher education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the study took place, is explored in terms of the employment of the teacher competences, and to what extent STs mastered these competences.

Conceptual framework


Teacher education often relate to the process through which the university-level learners’ are educated to become teachers as the “preparedness” of student teachers for the teaching profession ((NCATE), 2008; O’Neill & Stephenson, 2012; Swabey et al., 2010). Though, a different term has quite recently been endorsed to specify such process, which is “readiness”. Readiness can be used to demonstrate student teachers’ competence with job-performance in general or with parts of the job in particular (Winterton, Deist, & Stringfellow, 2006). In this paper, we use student teachers’ perceived and attained mastery of core teacher competences to define the variable “readiness-for-the-job”.

Teacher Competences as a Reference Point to Indicate Readiness-for-the-job

Given that “competence” is a broad concept and fairly new to education, it is still used as an equivalent to standards ((CEPPE), 2013; Markowitsch & Plaimauer, 2009). Generally, competence is conceptualised in almost every profession (Haigh, Ell, & Mackisack, 2013). In the educational domain, it has steadily gained a growing popularity in different school and university systems and has been endorsed where such systems aspire to prove that their graduates are competent and adequately ready for the next level of education or for taking the first professional job (e.g., O'Reilly, Cunningham, & Lester, 2013; Walther & Radcliffe, 2007). Some conceptual differences between competence and competency do exist in the literature, nonetheless, they are still being used interchangeably (Haigh et al., 2013). Throughout this paper, we adhere to using competence and adopt the definition given by (Tigelaar, Dolmans, Wolfhagen, & Vleuten, 2004): “an integrated set of personal characteristics, knowledge, skills and attitudes that are needed for effective performance in various teaching contexts” (p. 255). It is hard to question that teachers need to have sufficient capacity of what they should do and also how to do it, for it is beneficial for quicker gains such as developing job-performance and improving self-confidence, as well as broader gains such as maintaining a better rate of teacher-retention (Rots, Kelchtermans, & Aelterman, 2012).

In many countries, teacher competences are constituted at local levels, however, most competence profiles are being constantly revised to conform with the international competences that are exemplified by some of the top organisations in this domain (e.g., OECD, 2004, 2013; Tatto et al., 2012; UNESCO, 2015). Along with the international competences, regional competences are also important to address the particularities of different contexts (e.g., "Competency Framework for Teachers," 2004; "Supporting the Teaching Professions for Better Learning Outcomes," 2012). For this study, we decided to build up a teacher competence framework that is compatible to the ones currently implemented in the sampled programmes, with an international perspective. Therefore, we scrutinised existing frameworks of several countries from the Far East through North America (See Appendix.1).

Building on these frameworks as well as the strategies presented in a recent OECD study ((CEPPE), 2013), we formed a list comprising of 11 international competences;

  • C1. Knowledge of curriculum and subject matter,

  • C2. Instructional planning and strategies,

  • C3. Effective use of teaching materials and technologies in facilitating students learning,

  • C4. Commitment to promoting the learning of all students,

  • C5. Managing students and learning environment,

  • C6. Knowledge of diverse students, including special needs, and how they learn,

  • C7. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils,

  • C8. Effective collaboration with colleagues and partnering with parents, social services and the community,

  • C9. Professional growth and development,

  • C10. Willingness to try new ideas and strategies, and

  • C11. Exercising personal integrity and legal responsibilities.

The list was then used in designing the teacher competence framework, implemented in this study.


Research Questions & instruments

To find out if student teachers’ mastery of the core teacher competences can determine their readiness-for-the-job, as a start, we study their perceived and attained mastery aside from one another. To achieve this, we put two research questions;

  • What is student teachers’ perceived mastery of core teacher competences?

  • What is student teachers’ attained mastery of core teacher competences?

To increase the reliability of the data, we examined STs’ perceived mastery in two different questions and the same is true for their attained mastery. By using surveys, firstly, a question was introduced to the participants to ensure that the 11 ITCs are actually dealt with in the context of their teaching programmes, and to indicate their perceived mastery of these competences. Through this question, participants were given statements to indicate their level of agreement against a 5-points Likert scale; 1- Totally disagree-, 2- Disagree-, 3- Neither agree/disagree-, 4- Agree-, and 5- Totally agree- (See Appendix.2). Participants were asked to fill in a sentence about their perceived readiness-for-the-job in a straightforward multiple-choice style with six options; “totally ready”; “ready”; “partially ready”; “not sure if I’m ready”; “not ready”; and “totally not ready”.

Secondly, student teachers’ attained mastery was sourced from two open-ended questions inviting them to; 1) reflect on their learning experience to identify some teacher competences in a standardised teaching case- vignette-, and 2) compose a list of teacher competences that are important for the readiness-for-the-job and should be developed in every student teacher. The vignette was collated from professional teachers from Ontario College of Teachers ("Living the Standards," 2007), reflecting on real life professional experiences with living the standards of teaching in the daily practice. The sample was rewritten to reflect the voice of one teacher only, stating how she applies different competences in her teaching. The sample was then reviewed and approved by the participating college heads to ensure it is a relevant case to the studied contexts.

2.2 Participants: Student Teachers (STs)

Four teacher education colleges were contacted to nominate approximately 50 of their student teachers- at bachelor level- to take part in this study. The colleges invited a total of 226 participants to answer the survey in regular classroom settings. There were no specific prerequisites for individual participants to be enrolled in the study once the institutions were included, except for being enrolled in a teacher education programme. It is important to mention that government teacher colleges in the UAE only enrol female candidates. Hence, the whole sample consists of female students.

2.3 Procedure

Data were primarily gathered through a paper-survey. The medium of instruction at all participating colleges was English, therefore, the survey was conducted in English. To answer the vignette-based question, participants were informed that there were five ITCs embedded in the vignette- some explicitly and some implicitly-, and that they were expected to extract at least four of them. To compose a list of the ITCs that are important for readiness-for-the-job, participants were asked to suggest as many competences as they deem necessary for any student teacher to become ready-for-the-job. To answer these two questions, participants were encouraged to reflect on their individual learning experiences at the colleges and placement schools.

2.4 Analysis

Responses to Likert scale were analysed using SPSS 21, by running frequencies tests to indicate the level of agreement to each of the 11 ITCs. Responses to the open-ended questions were analysed following Miles & Huberman model throughout the five stages of analysis of the results; narrative, coding, interpretation, confirmation and presentation (Miles & Huberman, 1994). All codes were developed prior to data analysis in accordance with the 11 ITCs.

To answer the main research question, responses to the first question on the perceived mastery of the competences were used in the final part of the analysis. This is because it is consistent with the other four statements on the Likert scale, and is directly linked to the ITCs, whereas the MSQ was introduced to cross-check the responses from the first question.

Results and Discussion

This study answered two research questions on student teachers’ readiness-for-the-job by examining a possible relation between perceived and attained mastery of 11 international teacher competences as an indicator of the readiness.

3.1 The ITCs in teacher education

Responses to the Likert scale show that at least two-thirds of the participants (Approx. n= 192) acknowledge that all of the 11 ITCs are employed in teacher colleges. 44.4% of STs chose “Agree” and 32.9% chose “Strongly Agree” for each of the competences, forming a combined agreement level of 73.3% (Figure. 1 ). This score means that the majority of student teachers perceive the ITCs to be introduced explicitly in lessons –taught-, covered in the curriculum, practised at placement schools, and modelled by teacher educators. More importantly, this corroborates the rationale to examine STs’ perceived and attained mastery of the ITCs.

Figure 1: Distribution of agreement level on the employment of each of the 11 competences at teacher education
Distribution of agreement level on the employment of each of the 11 competences at teacher education
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Building on student teachers’ responses, it appears that each and every ITC is employed in UAE teacher education. The majority of students perceive the 11 ITCs to be introduced explicitly in lessons –taught-, covered in the curriculum, practised at placement schools, and modelled by teacher educators. In general, students indicated a reasonably good agreement level to the aforementioned approaches in teacher education, ranging between 66% -“C6. Knowledge of diverse students, including special needs and how they learn” – and 79.2%- “C3. Effective use of teaching materials and technologies in facilitating students learning” - with an average of 74.1%. Hence, it seems student teachers were prepared to be evaluated on their mastery of the international teacher competences. Although in this specific context very little variation is shown in students’ responses, the framework can be used in different contexts to find out what teacher competences are especially obtained and what are being overlooked.

3.2 Student teachers’ perceived mastery of the ITCs

First, responses to the related statement on the Likert scale (n= 214) revealed that three quarters of the participants -75%- feel confident about mastering the ITCs in professional teaching settings by the time they graduate, with 40% participants “Strongly Agree” – point 5 on the scale- and 35% “Agree” – point 4 on the scale- with the statement. On the other hand, only 8% of the students disagreed to this statement (Figure. 2 ). Overall, limited variation is seen within the agreement levels across the 11 ITCs. To support this finding, we present the descriptives table (Table. 1 ).

Figure 2: presentation of agreement levels of student teachers, determining their perceived mastery of the 11 competences
presentation of agreement levels of student teachers, determining their perceived mastery of the 11 competences
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Table 1 -
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Second, responses to the multiple-choice question echoed the results of the first question. However, a small difference is seen where the number of participants feeling “totally ready” for the job by the time they graduate being reduced to 30.3% (Table. 2 ).

Table 2 -
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3.3 Student teachers’ attained mastery of the ITCs

First, in reflecting on the standardised case where participants provided responses to “What competence(s) are demonstrated in this statement?”; 205 (90.7%) participants mentioned a total of 463 competences that are compatible with the 11 ITCs, in addition to 97 competences that are marginally compatible or incompatible with the ITCs. Thus, on average, each of the 205 participants mentioned only 2.25 of the 5 competences embedded in the statement (Table. 3 ).

Table 3 -
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Second, in STs’ personal views and individual opinions where they provided responses to “In your opinion, what are the teacher competences that have to be developed in every student teacher?”; 204 participants (90.3%) suggested a total of 415 competences that are compatible with the 11 ITCs, in addition to 33 competences that are marginally compatible or incompatible with the ITCs. On average, each of the 204 participants suggested roughly 2 of the 11 ITCs. Interestingly, only three competences counted for more than 60% of all the suggested competences (Table. 4 ).

Table 4 -
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3.4 Student teachers’ perceived & attained mastery as an indicator of readiness-for-the-job

To find out if the perceived mastery of the ITCs can determine the attained mastery, the two indicating perceived and attained readiness-for-the-job respectively, only completed responses on both dimensions- perceived and attained- were included in this part of the analysis. Meaning, when individual participants responded to the related statement on the Likert scale and to the vignette at the same time, or they responded to the same statement and also suggested competences. Thus, the sample was reduced to 188 STs for the first part and 190 STs for the second part. Participants were grouped into 11 clusters of perceived mastery according to their response to the statement on the Likert scale, at an ascending order where the higher the number, the higher is the perceived mastery level. With reference to Mastery learning standard of 80% (Zimmerman & Dibenedetto, 2008), 8.8 is considered a minimal level of mastery. Next, responses to the open-ended questions were assigned to each cluster, resulting in Tables.5a and 5b. The two tables present student teachers’ perceived readiness-for-the-job, along with their attained readiness-for-the-job.

In general, the number of participants across different mastery clusters greatly varied- second column-, resulting in large differences between the responses of each cluster- third column-, however, there is no significant difference between the average response of each cluster- fourth column-. Thus, indicating that perceived mastery does not determine attained mastery.

Table 5 -
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Table 6 -
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In the survey given to student teachers, the concept of readiness-for-the-job was explicitly associated with the mastery of the 11 international teacher competences. Students have already been at placement schools, where they have been observing practices of professional teachers as well as practicing to teach in both public and private schools. Therefore, it is likely that they have acquired enough experience to develop a preliminary picture of real life teaching. Nevertheless, when students were directly asked about their readiness-for-the-job, both on the scale and the “fill-in” sentence, they indicated a relatively “unrealistic” good level of readiness. Unfortunately, this perceived readiness-for-the-job was not equally shown in their actual attainment of the ITCs, although they perceived the competences to be comprehensively employed in their teacher education.

In responding to the standardised case, student teachers were not very successful in transforming their perceived mastery of the ITCs into a meaningful and relevant response. Nearly 20% of their responses were mismatched to the ones embedded in the case, while the majority of students indicated less than half of the correct competences. Moreover, it appears that students have actually indicated the competences that are more related to the context of their own learning experience than to that of the teacher’s in the case. Half of the participants overlooked the most explicit competence in the case- “C1. Knowledge of curriculum and subject matter”-. Another half indicated a competence that was partly implicit; “C2. Instructional planning and strategies” as the most relevant competence. Similar results were found in STs’ responses in regards to the important competences for every new teacher. Although in many cases students provided some reasonable rationale for the competences they have mentioned, suggesting that there is no or limited randomness in their response, the majority of students provided only two competences. The average response is measured at 2.5, which is far below the minimal mastery level of 8.8. It is noteworthy that a large proportion of these responses centred on 3 competences; “C9. Professional growth and development, “C5. Managing students and learning environment”, and “C4. Commitment to promoting the learning of all students”. Conversely, as few as only six students found two ITCs important; “C7. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils”, and “C8. Effective collaboration with colleagues & partnering with parents, social services & the community”. To sum up, student teachers have a basic knowledge of the core teacher competences, though a poor mastery level of these competences, warning that they may not be sufficiently ready-for-the-job. Also, building on students’ response to the standardised case, it seems they to need to learn how to think independently to make decisions that fit the needs of different situations, not only those been dealt with during student teaching.

The aforementioned findings, however alarming, yield a number of insightful information and important implications for teacher education. To begin with, the data reflect a clear distinction between student teachers’ perceived and attained readiness-for-the-job, suggesting that it is possible to identify-and-bridge the gap between theory and practice, at least within a concise part of teaching. Furthermore, it seems that the huge emphasis on the practical aspects of teacher education, which is seen in many teaching programmes nowadays, has led student teachers to perceive the pedagogy of teaching certain subjects less crucial or at best, of secondary importance to the practical parts of the job. However, it is critical that new teachers know what they are teaching, beside knowing how to teach it.


The authors wish to thank the Department of Educational Studies at Ghent University in Belgium for partially sponsoring the study project


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Education, educational psychology, counselling psychology

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Mohamed, Z., Valcke, M., & Wever, B. D. (2016). Can mastery of Teacher Competences Determine Student Teachers’ Readiness for the Job?. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), ICEEPSY 2016: Education and Educational Psychology, vol 16. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 371-383). Future Academy.