It’s an all-too common story. An early career teacher walks into the classroom on their first day full of inspiration only to leave the profession a few years later, crestfallen and jaded.
Numerous studies have shown that these teachers often suffer a loss of confidence in their ability to do their job well when they transition from training to the workplace.
However, a recent study of Victorian teachers shows that if they stick around long enough (five years, according to the researchers), they gain confidence.
The study’s lead author, Dr Sindu George of Monash University, says that teachers’ self-efficacy – their confidence in their professional skills – is a major determinant of their job satisfaction, student engagement and workplace achievement.
Further, it affects whether they remain teachers, at a time when burnout is a widespread issue, and nearly 40% of teachers in Australia quit the profession within their initial five years.
“Common problems reported by early career teachers include classroom management, student motivation, classroom resources, curriculum changes, organization of classwork, and excessive work demands,” Dr George said.
Improvements across the board
The study showed that after five years in the profession, the 74 participants’ self-efficacy in classroom management, instructional strategies, and student engagement had all risen significantly.
This was true whether participants were female or male, secondary or primary teachers, working in the public or private sector.
The study included a mix of teachers from Government, Catholic, and Independent schools, and surveyed them in their first year in the workplace, then five years later.
Dr George pointed out that her study has important implications for teachers’ professional development.
“Teachers who hold high self-efficacy are likely to adopt more student-centred than teacher-centred approaches, to develop new approaches and strategies for teaching, promote student autonomy, and cater to students’ individual differences,” she said.
“Given that the initial years seem critical for the development of teachers’ self-efficacies, professional development programs need to be implemented early.”
Dr George added that once self-efficacy is consolidated, it could be resistant to change, even if teachers are exposed to workshops and new teaching methods.
A 2010 study in Australia by her co-authors, professor Helen Watt and professor Paul Richardson, showed that self-efficacy changed differently for different types of teachers.
The most positive, idealistic type showed declines in all measured areas of self-efficacy.
The authors attributed this to “the high idealistic motivations this group of teachers held at the outset of their career, which may have been difficult to achieve during early years”, and caution against “one size fits all” approaches.