Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.9, 74-77
Published Online Septe mber 201 3 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Metaphors Used by Malaysian Teachers-in-Training:
Implications for Language Teacher Education
Zuwati Hasim1, Tunku Mohani Tunku Mohtar2, Roger Barnard3, Abd Razak Zakaria1
1Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2Faculty of Education, Sultan Idris University of Education, Perak, Malaysia
3Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
Email: zuwati_hasim@u my, mohani_ mohtar@ ho t,,
Received May 2013
Over the past 20 years, there has been increasing interest in exploring what language teachers believe
(Borg, 2006). Often these beliefs are expressed in terms of metaphors (Richards, 1998; Woodward, 1991),
but there has been little recent research connecting the two strands. The present study is based on the per-
sonal reflections of a group of 72 trainee teachers in a Malaysian University after a three-month practicum
in local high schools. In these reflections, as well as currently fashionable constructs such as facilitator
and motivator, these students often described their perceptions of the role of the language teacher using
various metaphors. The wide range of metaphors volunteered by these trainee teachers were coded into
various categories, such as terms relating to facilitating, mentorship, entertaining and kinship. This pres-
entation will discuss a number of these, and also quote some of the trainees’ comments in support of their
chosen metaphor, which thereby reveals their underlying beliefs about teaching and learning. Relating
their professional activity to other roles illuminates not only what teachers themselves believe, but also
reinvigorates notions of (language) teaching itself. One of the implications of this study is that teacher
educators, both in the specific setting and in relatable contexts elsewhere, can incorporate such metaphors
into their programmes and in this way reimagine, refine and redefine the role of the language teacher for
the benefit of their students, and themselves.
Keywords: Teachers; Language; Education; Roles; Beliefs
What one does usually emanates from what one believes.
Beliefs often exist in theory or in the mind. Nevertheless, if
activated they can provide motivation to achieve what one as-
pires to do. The beliefs that individuals create and develop form
the basis of their actions. In most cases, teachers apply what
they believe about teaching in their classroom practices. Yoshi-
hara (2012) claims tha t “teacher s’ teaching beliefs play a critical
role in their teaching practices” (p. 41). Studies (Golombek &
Johnson, 2004; Nishino, 2009; Woods, 1996; Yoshihara, 2012)
have shown that teachers applied their beliefs about teaching to
their classroom practices. These are often expressed by using
metaphors (Elbaz, 1983; Handal & Lauvas, 1987; Thornbury,
1991; Michael & Katerina, 2009). Metaphors expressed by tea-
chers provide a means for understanding their thinking (Munby,
1986) about the teaching process (Earle, 1995) and they can
play an important role as vehicles for reflection (De Guerrero &
Villamil, 2002; Chen, 2003). Metaphors can be used to repre-
sent beliefs regarding the various teacher roles. According to
Wright, Sundberg, Yarbrough and Wilson (2013: p. 7), “The
use of teaching metaphors along with a reflective process can
help in-service and pre-service teachers identify conflicts be-
tween their beliefs and their roles as teachers”. In the light of
the above, it was felt to be of great interest to examine the me-
taphors used by potential teachers in order to understand their
attitudes and approaches towards professionalism.
The main aim of this research was to identify the use of me-
taphors among the trainee teachers to reflect their roles as be-
ginning ESL teachers based on their personal teaching expe-
rience gained through a 3-month teaching practicum. Hence,
this paper tries to answer the following research questions:
1) What are the metaphors used by the trainee teachers to re-
flect their roles in ESL classrooms?
2) To what extent do these metaphors align with convention-
al conceptions of learning?
A case study method (Duff, 2010) was adopted to investigate
the pre-service teachers’ perceptions of their roles as language
teachers. Data were collected through reflective journal writing
(Nayan, 2003; Richards & Ho, 1998; Richards & Lockhart,
1994). The qualitative data were subjected to a process of the-
matic and content analysis (Burns, 1999; Charmaz, 2006; Ryan
& Russell Bernard).
Parti ci pa nts
Participants of this study were 72 trainee teachers of English
as a Second Language (ESL) who completed their practicum at
local Malaysian government schools in the district of Selangor.
These trainee teachers received their teacher training at a se-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
lected higher learning institution in Selangor, Malaysia, major-
ing in the Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL).
Research Procedure
For the purpose of this study, the trainee teachers were ga-
thered in a classroom and asked to write an essay of between
500 to 1000 words to reflect on their role(s) as ESL language
teachers during their teaching practicum.
The findings of the study revealed four main metaphors re-
presented many of the participants’ conceptions of teaching and
learning: facilitators, motivators, and e dut ai ners and family me m-
bers. These categories are described further in the following
Teachers as Facilitators
26 participants adopted facilita tor as depicting their teach-
ing roles. They realized the role of facilitator by implementing
several teaching and learning conceptions that they believed to
represent their chosen metaphor. In this case, the trainee teach-
ers conceptualized that teaching and learning in an ESL class-
room are collaborative and student-centred in nature, where tea-
cher provides guidance and feedback to let the students be ac-
tive participants throughout the learning process. The following
are some of the excerpts taken from their reflective journals:
During that stage, I always went from one group to another
group and saw their progress while they doing their works.
Then, if they found difficulties in completing the activity, I
would give them some clues and absolutely, not the answer.
Then, based on the clues given, they could generate their own
ideas. (Teacher trainee # 1)
In terms of teaching and learning, a teacher who facilitates
his or her students learning will guide his or her students to
construct their understanding of the lesson. As for me, during
my practicum session, I use more group works during my les-
son. My role then is to observe and give guidance for them to
complete the tasks given. I had implemented more student-
centered teaching approach. I want my students to play active
role in my lesson. (Teacher trainee # 21)
I realized that teaching alone was not enough. My students
need to be guided along each lesson was carried out… I would
ask a few questions in order to test their understanding. The
next step would be providing them with appropriate practice on
what they had learned. For example, I would give them task
sheets to be completed and normally, I would facilitate and
guide my students so that they are on the right track and no one
is left out. (Teacher trainee # 51)
Teachers as Motivators
“Motivator” was another metaphor used by 18 of the trainee
teachers to display their conceptions of teaching and learning.
Below are some of the excerpts taken from their reflective
journal writing:
I adopted the student-centred learning approach in my
classroom and I encouraged more student participation in the
classroom. My role during the teaching and learning session is
as a motivator. (Teacher trainee #2)
The word that best describe my role as teacher when I was at
school is motivator. In order to help them to boost their motiva-
tion, I had varying the activities, tasks and materials. This is
because same routines, patterns and format will increase the
students boredom. Varying the activities, tasks and materials
can help increase students interest level. I also use cooperative
learning activities. I found that this technique help to increase
the self-confidence of the students, including the weaker ones.
(Teacher trainee # 16)
For me, the best word to describe teacher role is motivator”.
Teachers give motivation and spirit to their students that can
build the confidence from the students. A teacher as did not
give a punishment if their student made a mistake in answering
or doing exercise. But the teacher will continue to support and
motivate students to repair the mistake. Teachers must be able
to build the character their students through a variety of activi-
ties that can enhance student creativity in building self-motiva-
tion in students. (Teacher trainee # 18)
Teachers as Entertainers
Below are some of the excerpts that described the teachers’
My role as a teacher is best described with the noun edu-
tainerMy role was to teach in a fun and creative way. One
of the ways was to use action songs in my teaching. I used
songs mostly as set induction to capture students attention and
set their focus on the topic of the day. (Teacher trainee # 72)
as a teacher, we need to be good in making tricks”. In
other words, we need to be very flexible and creative in our
teaching style and should make the classroom alive”. In my
opinion, the best way to make students to fall in love with Eng-
lish language is by using stories such as fairytales and fables.
(Teacher trainee # 49)
I could entertain my students with a lot of interesting activi-
ties, jokes and games as planned in my lesson plans. … you
must be natural and confident. I could act as a doctor to treat a
patient (Occupation), I could wear a Cheongsam to introduce
Chinese New Year (Beautiful Malaysia) and I could dress up
like a bee and show them what a bee does (Plants and Insects).
(Teacher trainee # 35)
Teachers as Family Members
A number of the participants used ‘occupational’ metaphors,
such as captain, manager scientist and planner, but many others
used family metaphors. For example:
I would regard my role as a big sister rather than a teacher
when I had my teaching practicum as I was teaching in a girls
school. The reason why I said so was because a sister is the
best friend a girl can have. (Teacher trainee # 4)
I view myself as a brother. A brother who is always there to
help, to assist, to facilitate and to guide the young ones within
his reach. Let the students embrace the language by feeling the
comfort of home-like learning as family. Both parties benefit
the most out of this brother-like relationship. Students will not
be afraid to approach the teacher and the teacher will find it
easier to communicate with them. (Teacher trainee # 60)
We know that mothers always look for the best for their
children. This situation is also applied to teacher. (Teacher
trainee # 70)
As for me, the best role that can refer to a teacher in school
is parent. Why? It is because a teacher can do everything like a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
parent does to their children. A parent is a motivator who al-
ways motivates their children, a doctor who treats the children
well when they are sick, a facilitator who always facilitates
their children and many more. (Teacher trainee # 37)
The metaphors used by teachers can be incorporated into the
design of professional development programs because, as it is
shown in Table 1, metaphors can be connected to conventional
theories of teaching and learning. In the first place, such meta-
phors provide insights to teacher developers as to how teachers,
whether novices or more experienced professionals, perceive
their roles as teachers in terms of other relatable roles. Secondly,
these metaphors can be shared and discussed by teachers to
further develop their own theories and insights; this may be
particularly interesting when unusual metaphors (for example,
“edutainer”) are used. Thirdly, teachers can be encouraged to
think of metaphors for other aspects of teaching: for example,
students (adventurers?), learning (a difficult journey?), and the
classroom (a prison?)—And thus extend the range of possible
ways of freshly conceiving and theorising the profession. It
could be useful to compare the metaphors used by Malaysian
language teachers with those of teachers of other subjects, or in
other countries, to see the extent to which they converge or di-
verge. Finally, teachers might discuss the extent to which they
can encourage their students to use metaphors as a way of ex-
pressing their perspectives on language learning; if they were to
do this, it would be enlightening to compare the learners’ meta-
phors (for the teacher, for example) with their own.
The results of the study indicated the changing trends of the
teachers’ conceptions of teaching and learning. A steady shift
from teacher-centred classrooms to student-centred learning was
revealed. The elements of collaborative, participatory, and co-
operative learning are the key principles toward successful tea-
ching and learning. In addition, the freshness and flexibility in-
dicated in the metaphors they used to illustrate teaching and
learning are highly conducive to motivating students.
Table 1. Summary of metaphors and teaching & learning concep-
Metaphors Teacher Conceptions
Conceptions of teaching Conceptions of learning
Facilitate and guide
learnin g
Cooperative learning
Hands on
Variety of tasks
Fun learning
Entertai ner s
Fun learning
Particip ator y
Facilitate and guide
learnin g
Particip ator y
Fun learning
We would like to thank University of Malaya, Malaysia, for
the research grant awarded and for their support to make this
research possible. Our sincere gratitude goes to the research
participants for their willingness to participate in the study.
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