Society has changed on many fronts in the last few decades. The rise of social issues, like cyber-bullying, disrespect for authority and teenage pregnancies, among youth and children have led to parents and the community wanting schools to take a tougher stance in developing the social and moral capabilities of the young (Lickona, 1991). This has prompted the Ministry of Education (MOE) to implement changes to the education system by emphasizing on Character and Citizenship Education (CCE). The shift from being skills and knowledge transmitters to ones that incorporate moral considerations into the teaching practice is expected of teachers today (Hansen, 2001). In this era of change, it has been very pressurizing right from the start of the job for beginning teachers as they have to familiarize themselves with all the wide-ranging roles and responsibilities of experienced teachers (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Lortie, 1975). With such demanding conditions, beginning teachers need to have a clear sense of purpose and uphold the core values of the profession in order to succeed.
Teachers must serve as mentors and good role models to their students. According to Bandura (2002), teachers are expected to regulate their behaviour with respect to professional standards. Teachers, being important adults in youths' lives, have an impactful influence on their student's character growth and development (Park, 2004). As beginning teachers aspire to fulfill their different identities when they join the teaching workforce, they seek to build up good rapport with their students but then find it difficult to draw the line between being strict and friendly with them (Zoe, 2011). Beginning teachers will not only require the necessary skills and knowledge to manage students effectively in the emotional and affective domains, but also a strong ethical compass to professionally cultivate their students' minds. Students will thus be able to overcome social dilemmas and champion morally responsible causes (Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi & Damon, 2001).
With the rapid influence of social media, some beginning teachers are conducting themselves unethically when they fail to distinguish the student-teacher boundary on cyberspace (Cindy, 2011). The technologically-savvy beginning teachers are getting into more trouble when they befriend their students using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (David & Patrick, 2012). Such sites often blur the student-teacher professional lines. Beginning teachers, being new in their profession, may be used to expressing their opinions, posting inappropriate photos or even using explicit language on such social networks without realizing that the public and even their students they are friends with in the virtual world can view their posts. This would have detrimental consequences on the young, impressionable minds that they are entrusted with.
The teaching of non-examinable subject like CCE will be a dire concern for beginning teachers who strive to make efficient use of time to prepare their students for tests instead (Darling-Hammond, 1997). A survey conducted among teacher trainees found that only 26.5% of them supported the idea of teaching this non-examinable subject. Many of them felt the idea of teaching the citizenship component of CCE as propaganda and challenging to incorporate them into everyday teaching (Wang, 2008). Research has shown that when teachers are less enthusiastic about the subject matter, students' intrinsic motivation to learn will decline (Patrick, Hisley & Kempler, 2000). This definitely gives beginning teachers a hard time when they try to strike a balance between the school's emphasis on academic achievements and to foster character and citizenship values.
With such huge roles in shaping the future generation, teachers are seen as key figures to maximize the potential of every student holistically (Gregory & Clark, 2003). It is not surprising why MOE has constantly focused on teachers' development by providing them with appropriate training and support to empower them with essential life-skills so that their students can also benefit (Murray, 2002). Schools also engage in Professional Learning Communities to get experienced teachers to share their expertise on dealing with problematic students with beginning teachers. However, the heavy workload beginning teachers struggle to cope in schools has made such additional enrichments to be chores for them. Recent initiatives, like the Holistic Health Framework and Form Teacher Guidance Period which aim to develop good social, emotional learning competencies in students, will also increase the burden for beginning teachers who have to learn and quickly adapt to the new policies.
The present generation of students is more eloquent and educated as their attitudes and worldviews have been shaped by the economic prosperity and internet revolution over the years (Derfel, 2011). The stable economic environment has caused them to be less afraid of change, while the ease of information available on the internet has made them more expressive in their views. Students may be less fearful of authority and become rebellious. Most beginning teachers will find it a challenge in managing them and will have to earn their respect from students by setting good examples, listening and treating them equally, regardless of their genders, races and classes (Whitney, 2000). Appropriate and fair punishments should be given out to students where necessary. In most cases, naughty students, usually boys, get more attention by their teachers (Brophy and Good, 1970). However, beginning teachers should also learn not to neglect praising the well-behaved students for their exemplary conduct. This ensures every student receives equal treatment and is able to differentiate between good and bad behaviour in class.
Classroom diversity can also pose serious challenges for beginning teachers, especially since it involves relating to groups of students who may have differing viewpoints, backgrounds and temperaments (Holmes Group, 1986). A study by Goddard and Foster (2001) revealed that while beginning teachers may have noble aspirations to effectively teach a diversified class of learners, they are unaware of the real world demands on their practices. Beginning teachers are frequently in for a 'reality shock' as students tend to articulate out varying perspectives or experiences. Teaching students to be empathetic, sensitive and accepting of one another's opinion is pivotal during CCE lesson. This allows students to be more engaged in national issues through active flow of innovative and enriching thoughts, and make them respect the cultural diversity. In addition, beginning teachers may encounter students who come from poor family backgrounds without proper parenting support. They have to give more supervision to these students so that they will not feel neglected and become a menace to society.
As parents play an increasingly impactful role on the educational lives of their children, a productive relationship with them will enhance the teacher's abilities to develop good character and citizenship values in their students (Fleming, 1993). As Henderson and Berla (1997) wrote, when teacher-parent ties are close, students not only benefit in school but also throughout life. Ironically, research shows that many beginning teachers fail to understand the need to establish such relationships as they view parental involvement not integral to their teaching and student's learning (Canter & Canter, 1991). This perspective among novice teachers has to be changed as parental involvement brings positive impacts on the child's holistic achievements (Epstein, 1995). Beginning teachers are often challenged when they have to deal with ill-disciplined students. By collaborating with cooperative parents, teachers will be able to encourage good behavior in the students both in school and at home. If parents are unreasonable and demanding yet disagreeing with the handling of their child's behavior, it will further hamper the teacher's efforts in building good character in the student.
It is also crucial for teachers to actively seek interactions with parents and maintain good relationships with them (Howe & Simmons, 1993). However, many beginning teachers are lacking these skills to promote such two-way communications between parents and the school (Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, & Lopez, 1997). Communication is essential as it facilitates dissemination of vital information on student's attitude in school to their parents. Concerned parents will heed the advice from teachers and pay more attention to their child if needed, while nonchalant ones will just create more responsibilities for the teachers. With effective communication between both parties, the student's character growth and development can then be closely monitored.
In conclusion, beginning teachers have to rise up to the challenges when they take on the responsibilities of developing character and citizenship values in students. To overcome such difficulties, they have to be adapted with new educational policy changes through undergoing professional development training constantly to acquire the requisite skills to build good character in students. In order to gain the respect from students, beginning teachers have to maintain an ethical image within the profession and set good examples for their students while treating them equally regardless of their cultural diversity. Looking ahead, beginning teachers should also take a leap forward and start working closely with parents and the community to nurture and develop these values in the students. Through partnerships with various stakeholders, students will be more exposed to good cultural and societal values, making them better citizens for the future.