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Becoming a Teacher and Staying One: Examining the Complex Ecologies Associated With Educating and Retaining New Teachers in Rural Australia?

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The problem of teacher retention has intensified in Australia, particularly in rural areas, with a number of studies suggesting that beginning teachers are not entering the profession with a commitment to remaining there. This paper reports on a study of 102 new teachers graduating from a rural campus of a major Australian university. Utilising a self devised survey over a 3 year period, graduate reflections were captured on what it meant for them to become a teacher. The research sought to determine graduates’ goals and aspirations for working in the profession in both the long and the short term. Participants reported that while they were looking for stability and would like to remain in their current positions, they were hampered by the present contractual system which eroded any sense of permanence. It is argued that contractual employment disrupts the development of a sense of belonging to the profession and the building of meaningful connections between teachers and their schools, a factor that will require attention if retention issues within rural Australia are to be seriously addressed.
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Australian Journal of Teacher Education
|Issue 1Volume 36 Article 3
2011
Becoming a Teacher and Staying One: Examining
the Complex Ecologies Associated With Educating
and Retaining New Teachers in Rural Australia?
Margaret Plunkett
Monash University
Michael Dyson
Monash University
This Journal Article is posted at Research Online.
http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol36/iss1/3
Recommended Citation
Plunkett, Margaret and Dyson, Michael (2011) "Becoming a Teacher and Staying One: Examining the Complex Ecologies Associated
With Educating and Retaining New Teachers in Rural Australia?," Australian Journal of Teacher Education: Vol. 36: Iss. 1, Article 3.
Available at: http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol36/iss1/3
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
32
Becoming a Teacher and Staying One: Examining the Complex
Ecologies Associated With Educating and Retaining New Teachers in
Rural Australia
Margaret Plunkett
Michael Dyson
Monash University
Abstract: The problem of teacher retention has
intensified in Australia, particularly in rural areas,
with a number of studies suggesting that beginning
teachers are not entering the profession with a
commitment to remaining there. This paper reports on
a study of 102 new teachers graduating from a rural
campus of a major Australian university. Utilising a
self devised survey over a 3 year period, graduate
reflections were captured on what it meant for them to
become a teacher. The research sought to determine
graduates’ goals and aspirations for working in the
profession in both the long and the short term.
Participants reported that while they were looking for
stability and would like to remain in their current
positions, they were hampered by the present
contractual system which eroded any sense of
permanence. It is argued that contractual employment
disrupts the development of a sense of belonging to
the profession and the building of meaningful
connections between teachers and their schools, a
factor that will require attention if retention issues
within rural Australia are to be seriously addressed.
Introduction
This research investigated the perceptions of new teacher graduates
in rural Victoria as they began their careers in the teaching profession. It
was anticipated that the data obtained in this study would clarify the
perceptions of new teachers in relation to teaching as a long-term profession
and add to the sparse body of research that exists specifically in relation to
rural teachers in Australia. While the research was conducted in the state of
Victoria, it is recognised that the issues are similar to those of the other
Australian states indicating that much of the research in this field is national
rather than state based. This paper reports on only a small section of a larger
project which examined teachers’ perceptions about how they learnt about
the places and communities in which they began teaching (Somerville,
Plunkett & Dyson, 2010). The survey developed for this three-year study
included a section on goals and intentions about remaining in the
profession, which provides the basis for this paper.
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
33
The initiation for the research was in response to a question posed
by a local school principal about how to attract and retain new high quality
teachers in Gippsland, which is part of regional Victoria, Australia. While it
is conceded that not all teacher attrition is problematic, and in fact a certain
level is desirable within the teaching profession, the issue of retaining
beginning teachers is one that has caused concern in recent years both
within Australia and internationally.
Literature Review
Although Ingersoll (2001a, 2001b) found that teacher turnover was
higher in teaching than in other professions, research by Harris and Adams
(2007), Henke and Zahn (2001) and Stinebrickner (2002) produced different
results, suggesting that teacher attrition rates were not dissimilar to those of
comparable occupations. Unlike Ingersoll, the latter three studies compared
only workers in the specific professions who were college graduates rather
than the broader workforce. According to Harris & Adams (2007), “our
results suggest that the average rate of teacher turnover is very close to
similar professions, contrary to the conventional wisdom. It is slightly
higher than that of nurses, but lower than accountants and social workers,
even after controlling for various measurable differences among workers”
(p. 336).
Yet it could be argued that the potential associated repercussions
differ considerably for the teaching profession. In addition to the general
productivity costs associated with staff turnover in any profession, there is
the added concern of possible compromisation of student learning. Recent
research by Guarino, Santibañez, and Daley (2006) indicated that “attrition
is generally costly to schools and may be detrimental to learning” (p. 186).
Other negative implications that have been found as a result of a lack of
teacher employment stability include high levels of uncertainty in
educational settings and organizational instability (Ingersoll & Smith,
2003); impediments to school reform (Fullan, 2001); funding that could be
spent on resources and facilities instead being directed into recruitment and
replacement (Minarik, Thornton, & Perreault, 2003) and the loss of
potentially excellent teachers (Podgursky, Monroe, & Watson, 2004).
According to a recent study by Swars, Meyers, Mays and Lack (2009), the
problem is one that needs to be taken seriously and “educators need to
consider teacher turnover as an inherent and universal problem, where all
teachers are at risk for leaving” (p.180).
The National Commission on Teaching and America’s future (2007)
indicates that more than fifty per cent of those entering the profession will
leave within the first 3-5 years. The Australian pattern appears to be very
similar. Two recent national surveys illustrated the perceptions that
beginning teachers have in relation to the longevity of a career in education.
The first, conducted by the Australian Primary Principals Association
(APPA), surveyed 1,351 beginning teachers and found that “although 93%
of the survey respondents enjoy teaching, 24% indicate that they will be
leaving the profession within 5 years” (APPA 2006, p. 8). Even more
concerning, from a rural perspective, are the findings from a follow up
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
34
study by this Association, which suggests that 86% of respondents sought
teaching positions in urban areas because of the lack of incentives to attract
new teachers to rural areas (APPA, 2007). Another study by the Australian
Education Union (AEU) surveyed 1200 beginning teachers and found that
45% did not intend to be teaching in 10 years time (AEU, 2006).
Internationally, a similar picture emerges, with Guarino et al.’s,
(2006) review of recent empirical literature illustrating that “one very stable
finding is that attrition is high for young or new teachers and lower for older
or more experienced teachers until they reach ages at which retirement is
feasible” (p. 185). Ingersoll and Smith, (2003) found that approximately one
third of new teachers left the profession within their first 3 years and only
40% to 50% remained at the end of 5 years. Other studies have also
highlighted the need for new ways of attracting and retaining new teachers,
particularly in light of increasing levels of retirement as the teaching
population ages (Ramsey, 2000; Ingersoll, 2001a, b). An interesting slant
has arisen as a result of recent research indicating that the first three to five
years of teaching involves significant factors which may impact on
decisions to leave the profession. A study of 50 beginning teachers in
Massachusetts found different approaches and attitudes between teachers
who had commenced teaching in the 1960s and 1970s and the new
generation of teachers, such that while some did expect education to be a
long term career, few envisaged remaining in the classroom (Johnson,
2004).
The investigation of attitudes of the generation to which many new
teachers belong has produced some interesting insights (Peske, Liu,
Johnson, Kaauffman, & Kardos, 2001). Indeed the majority of the
beginning teachers in this study (71%) belong to Generation Y. Defining a
generation is an imprecise science but Gen Y is generally identified as those
born between 1980 and 2000 (McCrindle, 2006; Wyn & Woodman, 2006).
Henry (2006) suggests that “each generation has its own distinct set of
values, view of authority, orientation to the world, sense of loyalty, and
expectations of leaders and the work environment” (p. 5). The uncertainty
and instability of working and family patterns suggests that young people
have to work at creating long term relationships that may in the past have
occurred through more stable and assured life patterns. According to
Mackay, (1999) the present youth culture has “the desire to reconnect with
‘the herd’, [original emphasis] so that individuals obtain a stronger sense of
identity and of emotional security from recreating communal connections
that stimulate the ‘village life’ to which so many Australians aspire” (p. 3).
Associated with, and directly related to, their education is Gen Y’s
understanding and concept of what leadership is, or should be, for them.
They do not relate to traditional styles of leadership centred on ‘the
superior’ or ‘the adult’ being in control. According to McCrindle (2006),
“traditional leadership stresses structure, hierarchy and control - they are
looking for relating, mentoring, and guidance….they want direction,
feedback and good communication channels” (p, 5). However if the existing
patterns of employment continue, this will not be what they receive.
In terms of more traditional analyses of reasons for teacher attrition,
a substantive body of research has been developed suggesting that
underlying contributing factors are many and varied. Swars et al., (2009)
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
35
found “that the most common reasons related to teacher mobility were (a)
finding a better teaching assignment (40%), (b) dissatisfaction with support
from administrators (38%), and (c) dissatisfaction with workplace
conditions (32%)” (p. 169). Other studies suggest relationships between
attrition and teacher demographics including gender (Gritz & Theobold,
1996) and age (Adams, 1996; Ingersoll, 2001a); school and classroom
factors generally (Ingersoll, 2001a; Podgursky et al., 2004) and specific
workplace conditions (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004; Kukla-Acevedo, 2009).
With regard to workplace conditions, while not directly related to
teaching, it was Pfeffer’s (1995) contention that employment security was
one of the most significant factors in organisational success as it signalled
the long-standing commitment of the organisation to its workforce. As such,
Norms of reciprocity tend to guarantee that this commitment is
repaid, but conversely, an employer that signals through word
and deed that its employees are dispensable is not likely to
generate much loyalty, commitment or willingness to expend
extra effort for the organisation’s benefit (p. 31).
In relation to the higher education sector, a study by Barnes and
O’Hara (1999) argued that contractual status affected performance and
reduced commitment. Within Australia, there is a dearth of research into the
impact of employment conditions on teacher attrition or the practice of
teaching yet research from the UK suggests
there is mounting evidence in England that rapid changes
in the external and internal conditions of schools and the
changing nature of teaching, similar to those articulated
for the Australian context, have produced conditions of
extreme uncertainty and identity crises within what
historically has been for many teachers a stable profession
(Day, Elliot & Kingston, 2005, p. 565).
An issue that has received little attention in the research is the
current system utilised in many Australian Education Departments,
involving a contract system whereby the employment of new teachers is
mainly based on short term contracts (usually 12 months but can be as short
as one school term). Contract teaching was introduced in 1993, creating a
two-tier system within the schools. Contract teachers have no
permanency—they are forced to repeatedly apply for their jobs. The
Australian Teacher Education Union (2007) claim that attrition rates quoted
in Annual Teacher Supply and Demand Reports do not include “the one in
five teachers who are employed on a contract. They are not counted.
Contract teachers are leaving the profession at a much higher rate - why
should they stay? And it is in the governments interest that they not be
included in the attrition rate”. According to Mary Bluett, Victorian Branch
President of the AEU, "the level of contract employment is extremely
discouraging for new entrants, and with less teachers delivering consistent
education across the board, you have to question what effect this has on the
quality of education students receive" (Bluett, 2007). The situation with
regard to graduate positions is even more alarming with recent figures
illustrating that less than one third (29.3%) of appointments under the
Graduate Recruitment Program for Government schools in 2008 were for
ongoing positions and over half of all appointments were 1 year contracts.
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
36
Ongoing appointments to non-metropolitan schools, under the program,
were less common than to metropolitan schools and two thirds of all
appointments to non-metropolitan schools were for 1 year or less (DEECD,
2008, p. 30).
The problem is further magnified in rural areas where there are
major teacher shortages to begin with. For example in the rural area of
Gippsland, where the current study was conducted, a recent report by the
Teacher Supply and Demand Reference Group (Department of Education &
Early Childhood Development, Vic, 2008) illustrated the significant
problem of filling positions in schools, particularly those designated as
‘hard to staff’. The report stated that while many non government schools
paid above award salaries to attract teaching staff, in regional areas they
experienced difficulties attracting suitable candidates since many teachers
were reluctant to relocate to rural areas. In the year that this research project
began, data provided by the Teacher Recruitment Census for 2006 indicated
that 90 out of 151 schools in Gippsland responded that they had vacancies
for the start of the school year, equating to 263 full Time equivalent (FTE)
Teaching Service staff or an approximate shortfall of 20 percent (Howell,
2006). The situation had not improved by the final year of this project, with
2009 Census data reporting an even higher shortfall with 100 of the 149
responding schools having vacancies at the beginning of the 2009 school
year, equating to 269 full time equivalent (FTE) vacancies for Teaching
Service staff (Nieuwenhuizen, 2010). This ongoing shortage was occurring
despite a yearly graduating population of approximately 100 primary
teachers from the rural Gippsland campus of Monash University.
Within rural Australia there appears to be ongoing concerns about
the current methods of attracting and retaining staff and with future
predictions of projected national teacher shortages in many rural schools
(Tomazin, 2010), it is timely to seek feedback from new graduates about
how they perceive the teaching profession as a career choice in both the
long and short term.
Methodology
The survey instrument was specially designed to obtain descriptive
data and some richer qualitative data using a range of open-ended questions.
Graduating students of the Graduate Diploma of Education (Primary) or
Bachelor of Education (Primary) in 2006, 2007 and 2008, who had left
contact details, were sent a survey by mail with a return envelope.
Approximately 310 students graduated over this 3 year period, not all of
whom were contactable after graduation. Of the 250 surveys distributed,
102 valid responses were received, representing a 41% return rate. A further
16 responses were not used as they did not meet the criteria – either the
graduate was not working as a teacher (7) or the survey was incomplete (9).
Each year a sample of graduates were also invited to participate in an in-
depth interview, resulting in approximately 30 interviews over the 3 year
period. This paper concentrates on the open-ended survey responses as the
interview data has already formed the basis of another publication
(Somerville et al., 2010).
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
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The 101 survey responses resulted in a large amount of data, with
surprisingly detailed written responses to the open-ended questions. This
data was transcribed and then coded for analysis using the qualitative data
analysis program NVivo7 and following guidelines proposed by Guba
(1981) and then later Guba and Lincoln (1982) for meeting the criteria of
trustworthiness as measures for validity and reliability. To ensure
credibility, multiple analytical perspectives were utilised by the researchers
with international colleagues acting as critical friends to confirm the
accuracy of the conclusions drawn (Yin, 1994). Purposive sampling was
employed to ensure the “context-relevant” nature of the sample (Guba,
1981, p. 86). Finally, steps were taken to increase the level of confirmability
through multiple data collections over a three year period and the
involvement of researchers and critical friends with different backgrounds
and perspectives.
The initial analysis involved the establishment of general tree nodes
and then more specific child nodes emerged as responses were further
analysed and reclassified. This process was developed with the initial data
set from 2006 graduates and then refined for the larger data set including
the 2007 and 2008 cohorts. Despite the refinement, the themes generally
remained constant as first outlined in Somerville et al., (2010). Themes
emerged as mainly categorical, using content analysis, which according to
Berg (2007), involves “a careful, detailed, systematic examination and
interpretation of a particular body of material in an effort to identify
patterns, themes, biases, and meanings” (pp. 303 -304). After initial
categories were chosen, the data set was sent to two colleagues for their
input, with those categories that overlapped then forming the basis for
thematic development. A similar process was conducted in relation to the
quotes that were chosen as representative of each theme. A body of quotes
for each category or theme were selected and then ranked according to a set
of criteria, with the top five quotes for each theme highlighted for inclusion
in publications. The criteria included a range of variables such as gender,
age, locale and terminology used to ensure that quotes were as
representative as possible of the range of respondents across the 3 years of
the project. These processes which were developed in consultation with
colleagues acting as critical friends helped to establish credibility and
trustworthiness in the analysis of the data.
Results & Discussion
Background
Altogether 102 graduating teachers responded to the survey, 33 from
the 2006 cohort, 36 from the 2007 cohort and 33 from the 2008 cohort.
Eighty four percent of respondents were female, which is representative of
the student cohort undertaking primary education courses at the campus and
the primary school teaching population within Australia (ABS, 2009). The
majority were young graduates, with 71% in the 20-29 years age bracket,
while 18% were between 30-39 and 11% between 40-49 years of age.
Just over half of respondents (51%) indicated they had been born in the
Gippsland region, with 87% indicating they were living in Gippsland and
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
38
72% were teaching in Gippsland schools at the time of being surveyed.
While this represents a substantial gain in terms of drawing people into the
region for both residency and teaching, it is not clear how long they remain
in the area, without reference to longitudinal data. The next stage for this
project is to conduct follow-up research with the 102 participants to find out
where they are in 2011.
Results for the next sections are presented utilising tables to provide a
general picture of the frequency with which themes were mentioned but
interspersed with commentary to highlight the nature of the responses
within the emergent themes.
Choosing and remaining at first school
Participants were asked why they had chosen to apply for their
current positions and about their desire to remain there. According to
Guarino et al., (2006), the reasons for choosing to enter the teaching
profession in the first place balance the practicalities with the esoteric and
this was certainly evidenced in employment choices made by participants in
the current study. Reasons provided were numerous and varied with many
respondents listing more than one. Generally these fell into two main
categories - the more pragmatic or logistical reasons such as locale or
established connections with the school; or philosophical reasons such as
the ethos/culture of the school. Interestingly it was the latter that made up
the majority of responses (76%) to this question, as outlined in Table 1.
Themes: Why did you apply for this job?
No. of
times
mentioned
Community focus
14
Size of school
18
Ethos religious/special needs/culture
26
Already established a relationship with
the school
22
Positive relationships with community
16
Philosophical
milieu
School had a good reputation
19
Close to home
13
Had contacts there
10
Logistics/
pragmatics
The position was advertised and a
vacancy existed
12
Table 1: Reasons for applying for position
The following comments are illustrative of reasons graduates
provided for applying for their current positions:
Because I live in the area and have had a lot of contact & involvement
with the school, its staff members and students and felt that it was a very
promising position” (Ann, 2006).
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
39
I was in the right place at the right time. The job was not advertised. It
was more about who I knew, not what I knew” (James, 2007).
I wanted a job in a Catholic primary school. It was an ongoing position
and I felt like I needed to teach somewhere new and different from what I
have experienced and am comfortable with in my home town” (Claire,
2008).
Because it’s a small school in a country town with a big community focus.
During prac I did placements in a small school and a large school and
found a small school much more desirable” (Ian, 2008).
I really liked the emphasis that was placed on acceptance or tolerance of
difference – often this is missing in rural schools, or at least that’s what I’d
previously thought” (Jan, 2007).
In response to the question relating to how long they intended to stay
in their current school, more than two thirds (69%) of the sample indicated
that they would like to stay for at least 3 years and 44% of those for 5 years
or more. Figure 1 illustrates the results which suggest that the majority of
this cohort of graduates were looking for at least a reasonable period of
stability in their initial years in the field, with only 18% indicating they
intended to stay for 2 years or less in their current position and a further
13% unsure.
Figure 1: Respondents intentions about length of stay in current school
While these figures appear to support other Australian and
international research suggesting teachers are not looking at teaching as a
long term profession (APPA 2006, 2007; AEU 2006), it needs to be
reiterated that this response only related to remaining in current positions,
not to remaining in the profession, which is discussed later in this paper.
Interestingly, although the majority of respondents indicated a
preference for remaining in current positions, it appears that the high level
of ‘contract employment’ experienced was a disrupting factor in the process
of becoming a teacher and the concomitant attachment to schools and
communities in which these graduates began teaching. As outlined in the
literature review, the sentiments expressed by both the AEU (2007) and
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
40
more specifically AEU spokesperson Mary Bluett (2007) in relation to fixed
term contracts were echoed by the new teachers in this study. The impact of
the contractual system was raised in each of the three cohorts, with almost
half (45%) of respondents making specific reference to the associated
negative aspects, including;
“I feel it is very important to be connected to school but I feel
contract works scares us into distancing ourselves in case we do
not receive further employment there” (Pauline, 2006)
It would be so much easier to make longer term plans about the
direction I want to take in my teaching if I knew I was going to be
here for more than 1 year” (Mary, 2006)
“Currently it is not possible to outline any long term career
plans beyond each contract. This is an issue that requires further
attention” (John, 2007)
The issue of contracts is always there – I feel I can’t really make
any solid plans as there are no guarantees. I try to not let this
impact on my teaching as I absolutely love my class/school etc but
it must have some influence in the long run” (Pam, 2008)
There is so much I want to do .. so many ideas....but I don’t
know where I will even be in 6 months if they don’t renew {the
contract} so I just take it day by day....what else can I do? At least
a lot of others are also in the same position so it is not just me ... I
know that sounds harsh but it makes me feel better” (Paulo, 2008)
Future Directions: Short and long term goals
Respondents were very forthcoming in their answers to this section
and listed a number of goals for both the short and longer term. From the
large list of responses, a number of themes emerged and these are outlined
in Tables 2 & 3. Following each table is a representative sample of the
associated comments made by respondents. Not surprisingly there was a
degree of crossover between the long and short term goals of some
respondents, while others were quite divergent. However, there was a
definite pattern of an initial focus on consolidation rather than career
building in the shorter term. This may help to explain the strong focus on
short term contracts as the expectation may have been that it would not be
as problematic in the longer term. This has potential repercussions because
the opportunities for developing the positives associated with relationship
building and connectedness that result from stable employment conditions
(Pfeffer, 1995; Barnes & O’Hara, 1999), may still be undermined in the
long term as contract employment is not solely restricted to new teachers.
Interestingly there was only one reference made to changing careers
in the short term and that was by a student who had been unsure about their
suitability for teaching but had decided to complete the course anyway,
stating, “I sort of knew after my first prac, that I didn’t really want to be a
teacher – it’s funny because I’ve worked with kids so much in my career, so
I knew what it was about and now I am wondering why I even
contemplated going into a classroom” (Sam, 2008). Although they did
teach for a very short period of time, the return to their previous occupation
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
41
was seen to be enhanced by the knowledge and skills gained through the
attainment of a teaching qualification, It will never go to waste [the
teaching qualification] – I am definitely a lot more confident in my dealings
with kids so while it cost me time and money, I gained a lot of other things
that will help me so much in the future”.
Themes: Short term goals
No. of times
mentioned
Remain at current school
48
Gain VIT accreditation
17
Consolidating
Gain ongoing position
22
Professional development
8
Further study
8
Different type of setting
4
Leadership positions
4
Principal
5
Professional
Career building
Change career
1
Travel within Australia
6
Movement
(related to teaching)
Travel overseas
6
Lifestyle
Family
Start a family or add to
family
6
Table 2: Short term goals of participants
Many comments articulated a desire to stay in the one school for a period of
time (at least 3 years) in order to build up skills and confidence – i.e. to help
in the journey of becoming a teacher,
“Get my teaching under control. When I'm more confident in
this area start to experiment with ways of teaching that I am
passionate about” (Rae, 2008)
To stay at my current school and develop my skills to the
highest level whilst providing the students the best education
possible” (Mike, 2007)
“I want to make a difference in my student’ lives. I want to
make them happy and keen to learn in the environment that I
create for them at school” (Jan, 2007)
Perhaps one of the most interesting comments was, “to become a
teacher however I feel that this goal is still a long way off perhaps it
should be in my long term list (Lisa, 2006). It is of interest to note from
these comments that these beginning teachers did not appear to see
themselves as complete in their role of teacher at this early stage in their
career. A number indicated the need for further growth and development in
order to hone their skills so that they could become the kind of teacher they
aspired to be. This is consistent with research by Dyson and Hutchinson
(2008) who found,
Despite the positive effect that powerful pre service teacher
education programs can have on in-service teaching and
subsequently quality education, no teacher education program can
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
42
equip a beginning teacher with everything they need to ‘know’,
learn and ‘be’ in their role as a professional teacher (p. 47).
As expected there was an increased focus on career building in the
articulation of the long term goals, with indications of a greater desire to
specialise and take on leadership roles, although surprisingly only twelve
participants (8 of them males) mentioned specifically working towards
becoming a principal. Table 3 outlines the themes that emerged in relation
to long term goals and is followed by some representative comments on
those themes.
Themes: Long term goals
No. of times
mentioned
Reduce to part time or CRT
6
Career modifications
Change career
4
Professional development
4
Further study/specialisation
23
Leadership positions
16
Professional
Career building
Principal
12
Travel within Australia
9
Movement
(related to teaching)
Travel overseas
12
Lifestyle
Family
Start a family or add to family
6
Table 3: Long term goals of participants
A number of comments indicated a desire to remain in the
profession,
At the moment I think I will remain teaching in LV for many
years to come, buying a house, having kids etc. I think teaching
will definitely be a career I will stick with” (Jenny, 2006)
I will return to work after children when the time is right. I
love being a classroom teacher and I plan to do it forever.
Can't see myself changing roles” (Mary, 2008)
Others indicated a desire to return to study after a period of
consolidation,
Further postgraduate studies I definitely have academic
aspirations” (Paul, 2006)
“Maybe one day I'd love to study again. As long as it didn't take
over from the children I teach” (Meg, 2008)
“I plan on teaching for the rest of my working life. I am
considering going back to uni to complete my Honours degree”
(Karen, 2007)
Interestingly, only 4 references were made to career change,
suggesting an overall intention to remain in the profession in the longer
term. This is not surprising due to the small amount of time respondents had
spent in the profession and perhaps it could be viewed as concerning if
many were already discussing career change alternatives at such an early
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
43
stage. However, this contrasts with much of the Gen Y literature suggesting
that career change is high on the agenda (McCrindle, 2006).
One of the more interesting comments on this topic was from a male
in the 2008 cohort who stated he wanted to stay in the profession as long
as I am still enthusiastic and doing a good job for my kids. Work at a
university doing teacher training or work with future teachers and then
become Premier of Victoria”
Other interesting comments included;
“Following this (period in Melbourne), I will probably eventually end
up back in Gippsland (you can take the girl out of the country but you
can't take the country out of the girl)” (Jill, 2008)
“My long term goals are non-existent because I don't know if I will
still be enjoying what I am doing. If not I will leave teaching. I prefer
to take a short term view in relation to my career and just enjoy the
moment. (Ben, 2008)
“I have no idea until I have grown closer to the future” (Con, 2007)
These comments illustrate the range of perspectives held by the
participants, with each beginning teacher experiencing their entry to the
profession from an individual lens, which makes it important to exercise
caution with regard to broad generalisations. Nonetheless there were some
commonalities particularly in relation to commitment to the profession in
both the short and longer term, which have not always been evident in the
research literature. Obviously the large emphasis placed on the contractual
employment situation in Victoria indicated the level of concern for this
practice, which has not previously been identified as a mitigating factor in
teacher retention.
Conclusion
Teacher retention is an issue that has been receiving more press both
nationally and internationally and appears to be particularly problematic for
rural areas, at least in the Australian context. While a level of attrition
within the profession is both necessary and healthy, losing new teachers
early in their career is neither desirable nor sustainable. In rural Victoria,
Monash University’s Gippsland campus graduates approximately 100 new
primary teachers each year, most of whom choose to remain and teach in
the area. In a three year study of new teachers, these graduates reported that
they were not only keen to establish themselves in the profession, but to
remain in it. Yet issues around the contractual nature of employment within
Victoria, and particularly in regional areas were continually raised,
suggesting that this is perceived as a disruptive influence in the
development of connections between new teachers and their schools and
ultimately their profession. This supports findings by both Barnes and
O’Hara (1999) and Pfeffer (1995) regarding the unsettling influence of less
than adequate employment conditions. If the contractual nature of
employment is, as suggested by this study, hindering the development of
relationship building and ultimately impacting on decisions to remain in the
profession, then it is argued that there is a need for rethinking of current
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
44
processes if Education Departments are serious about meeting the
challenges involved in educating and retaining teachers in rural Australia.
Australian Journal of Teacher Education
Vol 36, 1, January 2011
45
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