To ensure career change teachers remain in the profession, teacher educators must develop support strategies and consider the specific needs of career-change teachers.
- Career-change teachers, namely those who have transitioned or are currently transitioning from other professions or fields into teaching, constitute about a third of the teaching workforce internationally.
- Career-change teachers can make significant contributions to the teaching of young people through their real-world experiences from the labour market and their up-to-date knowledge, which can help make learning more engaging for students.
- A long-term strategy is needed to attract and retain the most qualified and passionate career-change individuals into the teaching profession.
- The fast growth and diversity of alternative pathways into teaching has made the need for research on these programs ever more urgent with the aim to identify effective curriculum, pedagogical, and professional practices within such programs.
The Federal Government review of Initial Teacher Education has re-invigorated debates about how we can attract high-quality candidates into the teaching profession and how we can prepare them to be effective teachers.
In response, the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review 2021 Discussion Paper has highlighted a number of issues including ways to attract high-performing mid-career professionals into the teaching profession to increase teacher supply.
Workforce planning for schools: putting the cart before the horse
The review of Initial Teacher Education provides an opportunity to rethink the current workforce planning strategy for schools. It has, among other things, brought attention to how we can better capitalise on the contributions that diverse, passionate and qualified individuals with other career backgrounds can make to the teaching profession.
Yet, workforce planning for schools in Australia has traditionally relied on short-term, inconsistent and at times one-off initiative to staff schools, especially those that suffer from teacher shortage problems. Recruitment bonuses, incentives and special entry pathways into teaching have been central to government strategies. This reactive approach has prioritised teacher recruitment to teacher retention.
A more comprehensive workforce planning strategy needs evidence-informed decision-making to not only recruit, but also prepare and retain qualified career change teachers.
Career changers in the teaching profession
While career change teachers have always been part of the Australian education landscape, we know little about them, the challenges they face, and the supports they need in their career transition into the teaching profession as we outlined in an earlier article. We’ve done a new study including interviews with 17 career change teachers and our new industry Report (LINK) uncovers the motivations and challenges facing these career changers.
What do we know about career-change teachers?
"I got made redundant, which was the catalyst for a career-change from my previous role. I could have probably quite easily gone and gotten a job in my same career somewhere else, but I just decided to use it as an opportunity to make a more significant change. One of the reasons that I wanted to go into teaching was because I wanted to work in a field that was more connected to the community rather than in a corporate environment."
Career change teachers make unique contributions to the profession as they bring practical experience and specific skills. Based on their previous experience, connecting abstract knowledge to real life applications is natural for career change teachers. This can make learning more engaging and meaningful for students. They also come equipped with interpersonal and organisation skills from their previous careers.
What we found in our study was that many career-change teachers are driven by a sense of ‘calling’ and a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.
"I was doing chartered accounting and then banking for about the last 12 years. That was my sort of pathway for a bit and I was increasingly finding it not very fulfilling. I was very busy and stressed and all those sort of things, but not feeling like I was actually contributing to a community and people as much as I wanted to."
Supporting career change teachers in their transition
A common thread in the responses of our participants were the challenges they faced in their transition which affected their morale and job satisfaction.
- Adjustment to professional identity as teachers
- Transfer of skills from previous occupation to teaching
- Establishing collegial relationships in the new workplace
- Maintaining work-life balance
- Meeting financial commitments
- Developing self-efficacy and professional confidence in the new career
- Mismatch between expectation about and reality of teaching
The support provided by initial teacher education programs is integral to a positive transition to teaching and long-term teacher retention. In their adjustment from their previous career to studying and teaching, the support provided by university-based mentors, familiar with the needs of career change teachers, is the first step in this direction and vital in bridging the gap between study and teaching.
Retaining career change teachers
Understanding the challenges that career change teachers face in their transition and the support that they need is the first step in making sure our schools are staffed with the most qualified teachers. Tailored, adequate and ongoing support is essential in preparing and retaining the most passionate career change teachers. It helps reduce loss of investment due to the revolving door of teacher recruitment and teacher attrition.
While career change teachers can be drawn to the profession as a part of a larger solution to teacher shortage problems, these problems are likely to persist if education systems fail to address systemic issues that impact teachers’ sustainability within the profession including issues relating to relatively low pay, insecure employment, heavy workloads, inadequate ongoing support and ever-increasing administrative duties in teaching.
- To ensure that career change teachers remain in the profession, universities must support them through their initial teacher education. Specific support of career change teachers must be continued by school administration through induction, transition and adjustment to teaching.
- Funding is required to research the motivation, transition and retention of career change teachers; this is critical for the success of investment made to recruit, train and induct career changers into the teaching profession.
- Teacher education providers must develop support strategies, which include evaluation, and consider the needs of career-change teachers, recognising and working with the professional motivation and expectations of career-change teachers, while capitalising on the knowledge and skill sets that they bring with them to the teaching profession from their previous careers.
- Schools need to provide school-based teacher mentors who can provide pedagogical advice and develop the social-professional networks of career change teachers. This support is crucial and helps career change teachers navigate the challenges that arise during early years of teaching. The benefits of providing support at the start of the teaching journey far outweigh the costs.
Dr Merryn Dawborn-Gundlach
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
University of Melbourne.
Professor Jan van Driel
Professor of Science Education
Co-leader of the Mathematics, Science & Technology Education Group
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
University of Melbourne
Dr Babak Dadvand
Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy, Professional Practice and Teacher Education
School of Education, La Trobe University
Research Fellow, School of Human & Social Science, Deakin University
Doctoral candidate, Deakin University
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First published on 19 August 2022.
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