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Stayers, leavers and shifters: A longitudinal study of teacher attrition and retention
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
2014 (English)In: ECER 2014, The Past, the Present and Future of Educational Research in Europe. Network: 10. Teacher Education Research, 2014Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

A growing international trend in policy emphasizes the relationship between the competitiveness of a state and the quality of its educational system. Excellent teachers are a fundamental requirement in such reasoning and increasing efforts to provide students with such have become a challenging world-wide quest. The Unesco Institute for Statistics (2009) claims that half of the world’s countries need to expand their teaching forces by 1.9 million in order to be able to enroll all primary school-age children by 2015. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have by far the greatest need for additional teachers, but also Western countries such as Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the USA are pointed out as facing teaching gaps, although these can be considered as moderate in comparison (ibid.). In the case of Sweden, prognoses indicate that the number of certified teachers in the compulsory school will be too low to cover the demand during the next 20 years. In 2020, the Swedish educational system will, according to national statistics, lack roughly 22 000 teachers, approximately 20 % of the teaching workforce (Statistics Sweden, 2012; Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, 2012).

The most common measure to overcome such a shortage of teachers is to try to increase recruitment into the profession. Hence, a number of campaigns to attract young people to teaching have been launched during recent years and alternative routes into the profession have been put on the agenda by governments around the world.         

However, statistical findings also indicate that the major problem for schools is not a shortage of teachers coming into the system. The real problem is that, even in countries where sufficient numbers of teachers are trained, it appears as if many of the newly graduated choose not to go in to teaching at all (Luekens et.al, 2004) or to leave after just a few years (Cooper & Alvarado, 2006 ). This observation has been developed in the scholarly literature, notably in the works of Ingersoll (2003; 2007) and hints at a different kind of measure to remedy the shortage of teachers. The alternative it suggests is that it may be a more efficient strategy to put in an effort to retain and support active teachers, or to attract teachers who quit or never started teaching to return to the profession. Putting it metaphorically, it is better to patch the holes in the bucket before trying to fill it up.

In the case of the Swedish teaching “bucket” there were 235 878 teachers (including pre-school teachers) working in Sweden 2010 (Swedish Government, 2010). Compared to the number of graduated teachers at that time, one can logically conclude that 37 500 of the graduated (16 %) were working outside the educational system. If these “missing teachers” were re-recruited to the teaching profession they would, to a large degree, fill up the future shortage of teachers, especially in certain categories.

The ambition in this presentation is to take a closer look at the holes in the bucket by presenting data from a longitudinal study of Swedish teachers.What do the holes look like? When do they occur? Is there a flow in-and-out ? Can we detect possibilities to plug the leaks? Since we know that the proportion of graduated teachers who drop out often correlates with the number of years in the profession and we will set our focus on the first five years, which seems to be a particularly critical period in teachers’ decision to stay in or leave the profession (e.g. Hammerness, 2008), but we will also have an unique possibility to add a twenty-year perspective to our results.

Method

Based on a material consisting of correspondence between 87 teachers and their former teacher trainer, from their graduation 1993 -2008 and continuing up to the present (2008-2013) with us in charge, we have had the opportunity to follow a cohort of Swedish teachers during their first 20 years after graduation. The informants have, regardless of whether they have been sick, been on parental leave or just have quit working as teachers, continued to deliver data around where they work and what kind of work they are doing (including non teaching work). Over the years they have also recurrently described experiences of and expectations on their work as teachers.. The number of teachers in this longitudinal study is small relative to the sample sizes available in teacher-specific databases on which results – as the ones mentioned above – are based. However, our material allows analyses and comparisons that have not previously been possible Results from research on teacher attrition are generally on a one-shot basis, drawn from a wide target population of teachers, producing general overviews of a population from a long distance at a particular point of time. More rarely attrition is considered as a process over time where cohorts of teachers are followed in longitudinal studies, through extensive parts of their careers, in order to identify typical patterns of development and examine individual variations (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011). With a mixed method approach we have had the possibility to combine particularity with generality, to make quantitative and qualitative data “mutually illuminating” (Cohen et. al., 2011, p. 24). The mixed design of the study is sequential in which qualitative and quantitative procedures run one after the other, in order to sufficiently answer the research questions. In the first stage of the analysis, parts of the mainly qualitative data have undergone basic qualitative analyses in order to be transposed into quantitative variables (examples are: working as a teacher, in what subjects and grades, movements in and between schools). These variables have been analyzed by means of STATA 12.1 and SPSS 19

Expected Outcomes

In the presentation we follow our 87 newly graduated teachers through the first five years. The trajectories during this period are described with the help of mixing quantitative data with individual narratives. What happens to them? Data from the cohort is also discussed in relation to general statistical overviews on teacher attrition. The analysis indicates that caution is advised in interpreting and making use of general statistics when trying to understand and suggest local remedies in relation to predicted teaches shortages. Teacher attrition is a more non-linear, complex and context-related phenomenon than what is typically proposed and our results show that the early leavers consist of a small and heterogeneous group of individuals. In many cases drop-outs are temporary. Individuals leave, but also return to, the profession over time and their out-of-school experiences can sometimes be understood as individual initiatives to enhance teaching ability in the long run. The analysis of the longitudinal non-retrospective data from the early leavers makes us also wonder if career decisions are as rational as we often seem to suppose. Finally we discuss if there is reason to believe that we should abandon the image of teaching as a long-term career, and look upon it as a temporary profession? Are we returning to Lorties’ classical description (1977) of the teaching profession as a low paid, temporary job for young women prior to their real career (of child rearing)?

References

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. New York: Routledge. Cooper, J.M. & Alvarado, A. (2006). Preparation, recruitment and retention of teachers. UNESCO, IIEP Education policy series No. 5. Hammerness, K. (2008). “If You Don’t Know Where You are Going, Any Path Will Do”: The Role of Teachers’ Visions in Teacher’ career Paths. The New Educator, 4:1, pp. 1–22. Ingersoll, R.M. (2003). Is There Really a Teacher Shortage? Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington. Ingersoll, R.M. (2007). Misdiagnosing the Teacher Quality Problem. (CPRE Policy Briefs No. RB-49), Consortium for Policy Research in Education. University of Pennsylvania. Lortie, D.C. (1977). Schoolteacher: a sociological study. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. Luekens, M.T., Lyter, D.M. & Fox, E.E. (2004). Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the Teacher Follow-up Survey, 2000-2001. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Statistics Sweden (2012). Trender och Prognoser 2011 [Trends and Forecasts 2011]. Statistics Sweden. Swedish Government (2010). Tillgången på behöriga lärare [Supply of certified teachers] (Report 2010:7). Utredningstjänsten. Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (2012). Högskoleutbildningarna och arbetsmarknaden [Higher education and the labor market] (Report 2012:22R). Unesco Institute for Statistics (2009). Projecting the Global Demand for Teachers: Meeting the Goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015. Technical Paper No. 3.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
National Category
Pedagogy Educational Sciences
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-43849OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-43849DiVA: diva2:818573
Conference
ECER 2014, The Past, the Present and Future of Educational Research in Europe, Porto, September 1-5, 2014
Available from: 2015-06-09 Created: 2015-06-09 Last updated: 2016-04-08Bibliographically approved

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