Teacher career trajectories and aspirations in context: A mixed methods study of second-stage teachers in New South Wales

Natalie Johnston-Anderson

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

The aim of this thesis is to describe, interpret and explain the career trajectories and aspirations of second-stage teachers in New South Wales and to identify the key contextual factors influencing their careers. Successive government reforms targeting teacher quality and professionalism have significantly shifted the work landscape for teachers. The concept of ‘career’ provides a useful conceptual lens through which to analyse teachers’ work patterns and goals. Recent studies suggest that some teachers are redefining what it means to have a teaching career and seeking alternative trajectories that may expand their job roles (Peske, Liu, Johnson, Kauffman, & Kardos, 2001; Rinke, 2009, 2011; Rippon, 2005; Smethem, 2007). Whilst levels of teacher attrition are described as having “reached epidemic proportions” in Australia, the U.S and U.K (Gallant & Riley, 2014, p. 562), current research has given insufficient attention to the within-career issues that shape teacher career decision-making (Buchanan, 2009b; Clandinin et al., 2015; Lindqvist & Nordänger, 2016).

Whereas beginning teachers have been given considerable research attention, this thesis examined ‘second-stage teachers’ in their fourth to tenth year of teaching (Kirkpatrick & Johnson, 2014). Having overcome their early survival concerns, second-stage teachers shift focus to the future and contemplate how, if at all, they might develop a teaching career. This study used a convergent parallel mixed methods design, wherein both qualitative and quantitative data were collected in parallel, analysed separately and finally integrated. This study had three data sets: policy documents, workforce statistics and semi-structured interviews with twenty-four second-stage teachers representing a range of ages and school levels, sectors and locations. This cohort of teachers is the first generation for whom compulsory Standards and accreditation has applied under the New Scheme system.

This thesis offers two original contributions to the knowledge base. Firstly, this thesis identifies six specific career trajectories that second-stage teachers aspire to, recognising these as different roles that teachers may shift between rather than pre-determined pathways. The model presented here offers a more nuanced understanding of teacher retention/attrition that extends beyond classifying teachers as stayers/leavers. Secondly, this thesis brings to light three key contextual factors that influence second-stage teachers’ careers: professional cultures amongst teachers, the current status of teaching and the practical implementation and enactment of policy agendas. The thesis concludes by highlighting points of convergence and divergence within the data to show how the current policy context is not well aligned with second-stage teachers’ lived career experiences.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Dianne Bloomfield