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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Retaining effective early career teachers

Sandy Schuck
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Technology Sydney. Email sandy.schuck@uts.edu.au

Studies of teacher retention indicate that newly appointed teachers often find the workload and complexity of their roles to be overwhelming. In their early career, many feel isolated and experience disjuncture between their expectations and the realities they encounter. Recruitment and retention of beginning teachers have emerged as areas of significant concern in research literature both within Australian and overseas.

In New South Wales, a number of initiatives targeting teacher recruitment are already being implemented by the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET). However, attracting teachers through recruitment policies is only the first step. Ensuring that effective teachers remain in the profession is essential for creating a sustainable teacher workforce.

In response to a call for tenders by NSW DET, the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has commenced a new and important study into teacher retention. The newly formed Designs for Learning Research Cluster (DfL) in the Faculty of Education will conduct the research project, with support from UTS Centre for the Study of Choice (CenSoC). The project follows earlier UTS research studies on the experiences of newly appointed teachers, which have contributed to the formulation of DET policy in the past.

The study will explore the factors that lead early career teachers to leave or stay in teaching, with a view to developing strategies for retaining teachers in schools. Commencing in October 2005 and ending in June 2009, the project will track the experiences of hundreds of students from the 2005 cohorts from all NSW teacher education programs. At this point, approximately 320 graduates across NSW have volunteered to participate.

Findings from previous UTS research have informed the development of an effective research design for the project. Earlier studies have shown that telephone-mediated interactions are the most successful way of collecting journal narratives from early career teachers. Participating teachers will be encouraged to keep notes on any important incidents in their professional experiences, and discuss them with researchers over the telephone. An important aspect of these telephone interactions is the support they provide to beginning teachers. This aspect of the research has generated a high level of interest and a large number of volunteers.

Telephone-mediated journal narratives will also incorporate methods from previous UTS research that have proven effective for evoking deep responses and rich qualitative data. These methods include the use of metaphors to describe beginning teachers’ journeys. A challenge-support grid will also be used to chart how teachers perceive the levels of challenge and support they are experiencing in their job at various stages of the project.

A notable element of the research design is the innovative and unique methodology developed by CenSoC that will be used to predict and understand teachers’ career choices. A survey will be issued to all participants that presents various scenarios incorporating the elements they have previously identified as important in their work. CenSoC and DfL team members will collaborate to analyse responses and gain insight into the reasons behind teachers’ decisions to leave or pursue the teaching profession.

In addition to the methodologies already described, mentor teachers will be invited to contribute in the second and third years of the study, to provide a different perspective on beginning teachers’ needs and experiences. The methodology will also include two conferencing opportunities. These will serve both for data collection and for the provision of support structures for participants.

The outcomes of the study will include extensive quantitative mapping of beginning teachers’ career paths in the first three years after graduation, as well as the choices that have shaped them. Qualitative journal data will provide further insights into teachers’ experiences early in their careers, and the choice surveys will elucidate the decisions they make about their future in teaching.

The research will enable NSW DET and other employing authorities to identify, adjust or re-evaluate their strategies to best increase retention among beginning teachers. The research team comprises Associate Professor Sandy Schuck (team leader), Associate Professor Peter Aubusson, Professor Laurie Brady, Dr John Buchanan and Dr Anne Prescott from DfL and Professor Jordan Louviere and Paul Burke from CenSoC.

Information for those interested in participating in the study can be found on our website.

Further enquiries about the project should be directed to: Associate Professor Sandy Schuck, Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sydney.


Subject Headings

New South Wales (NSW)
Teachers' employment
Teaching profession