Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching

Article excerpt

Guided by information from their interviews with 50 first- and second- year teachers in Massachusetts, the authors propose a mixed model for the teaching career - one that would be responsive to the needs of both teachers who envision long-term careers and those who envision short- term stays in teaching.

IN RESPONSE to projections that the U.S. will need 2.2 million new teachers in the next decade,1 states and districts have introduced an array of innovative and aggressive recruitment strategies, including offering teachers subsidized mortgages, job-sharing arrangements, laptop computers, and health club memberships. As competition for new teachers intensifies and local districts scramble to fill classroom vacancies, there are legitimate worries about who will staff the nation's schools and whether those hired will be of high quality. Faced with this recruitment challenge and frenzied environment, we must recognize that the next generation of teachers will surely differ from the generation that is about to retire.

Today's prospective teachers find themselves in the midst of a career context that differs strikingly from the conditions experienced by the retiring cohort of teachers when they were hired some 30 years ago. At that time, fewer professional opportunities were open to everyone, and choosing a lifelong career was the norm. Today, candidates have multiple, attractive career options, and they hold different expectations about career mobility and job security. New conceptions of career are emerging in our society, and many individuals now regard the notion of a single career or loyalty to a single organization as obsolete. In public discourse and imagination, the archetype of the entrepreneur and free agent has replaced that of the company man or woman.

Amidst this change, teaching appears to be one of the few lines of work that has maintained a static conception of career. Prospective teachers are still expected to identify their career interests early, undertake extensive preservice coursework, and, once licensed, take jobs that will remain virtually unchanged throughout their careers. Indeed, Public Agenda's recent report, A Sense of Calling, portrays the new teachers they surveyed - who committed early to a teaching career and "consider teaching [to be] a lifelong choice" - as being quite similar to the retiring cohort.2 The report characterizes the new teachers as individuals who have "responded to a calling," who love their work, and who are by and large content with their choice of profession. One might question whether this conception of career will hold in the current career context, and if it does, whether teaching will attract the best possible candidates, many of whom are likely to have other employment options that offer better working conditions, higher pay, and a greater likelihood of success.

In our research, we set out to explore the possibility that the generation of teachers now entering the profession might bring with them new and varied conceptions of career. We assumed that by coming to understand the range of their views better, we might productively inform approaches to recruitment and retention. Therefore, we interviewed 50 first- and second-year Massachusetts teachers to learn how these individuals conceive of a career in teaching. We wanted to know their reasons for entering teaching, the pathways they took to the classroom, their satisfaction with their work and workplace, and their plans for the future. We sought to learn what drew them to teaching and what it might take to keep them there.

We deliberately selected a sample that would allow insight into the attitudes and choices of a wide range of teachers. Of particular interest were the pathways these teachers took to teaching.3 Thirty-six of our respondents followed well-established routes, having earned their state teaching licenses through college- or university-based teacher preparation programs. …

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