Sustaining hope and possibility: Early-career English teachers' perspectives on their first years of teaching

Publisher:
Hyde Park Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
English in Australia, 2016, 51 (1), pp. 91 - 103
Issue Date:
2016
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This paper reports on the findings from a study with 22 early-career secondary school English teachers in New South Wales, Australia. Against the backdrop of increased attention to the patterns of teacher recruitment, retention and attrition, the present research sought beginning teachers' perspectives on the extent to which their initial motivations for entering the profession had been sustained, affirmed, challenged or modified by their teaching experience. A questionnaire was utilised to gather data on initial motivations to teach; beliefs and values informing the decision to teach; the challenges and rewards of early-career teaching experiences; attitudes to the current official state English curriculum; levels of personal and professional satisfaction with the role; and career intentions. An analysis of the questionnaire responses identified the primacy of altruistic and intrinsic factors in the initial decision to become a teacher. Responses to questions about their early-career experiences revealed that for a significant proportion of teachers, their initial aspirations, expectations and goals had been disrupted to a greater or lesser degree by a range of contextually-contingent forces. Half of the sample indicated that their sense of professional agency had been undermined by the pressures associated with preparing students for high-stakes external examinations and their marginalisation from decision-making processes that impact upon their classroom practice. More than a third of the sample disagreed or were 'unsure' that they would be teaching for another five years. Given the reported rates of early-career teacher attrition of between 20 and 50%, the findings from the present study offer additional evidence of the factors that can influence early-career teachers' decisions about their career futures and are therefore of value to ongoing revisions of teacher recruitment and retention policies and practice.
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