Ranee Boyd Tomlin, Arapahoe Community College
In the March 2008 issue of Academic Advising Today, Kem encouraged advisors to participate in “ Avoiding Teacher ‘Dropouts ' (p. 8). This article began with the same concern that sparked my recent doctoral dissertation research (Tomlin, 2008): “Weaver (2002) noted that ‘almost a third of America’s teachers leave the profession sometime during their first three years of teaching, and almost half leave after five years” (p. 8). Despite current widespread attention toward workplace retention efforts for beginning teachers, my study focused on the role teacher education programs play in training preservice students who will bring career persistence to their new profession.
Kem’s (2008) connections between attrition and teacher dispositions, inadequate content knowledge, and lack of fit for the profession were important research approaches I encountered in material that discussed challenges to teaching persistence. Yet as I considered the professional identity construction that takes place in programs of professional education, my comprehensive literature review strongly suggested a link between professional identity, persistence, and Bandura’s (1989) social cognitive framework of self-efficacy. My project became one of collaboratively constructing a narrative of professional identity that included the self-efficacy elements of personal performance accomplishments, vicarious experience and modeling, social persuasion, and physiological and affective reactions.
Over the period of 11 months, I collected in-depth stories of teacher education experiences from eight women who were either currently attending or had recently completed initial teacher licensure programs at the post-baccalaureate or graduate level. As I explored the above four sources of self-efficacy identified by Bandura (1989), I heard narratives that transcended issues of teacher dispositions, content knowledge, and fit for the profession.
In fact, consistent with Savickas’ (2002) narrative theory of career construction, the preservice or novice teachers of my research had storied their own self-understandings of teaching dispositions and professional fit. They were highly self-aware and brought to their programs a deep sense of vocational purpose and commitment. Further, their teacher education experiences were not those of inadequate functional preparation. Almost every research participant was in the process of developing or had successfully constructed a belief in her classroom-specific teaching efficacy.
Nevertheless, regardless of these women’s levels of self-confidence in the classroom, they described other efficacy gaps in their teacher education experiences that negatively impacted the formation of professional teaching identities which could contribute to career persistence. Their stories confirmed that although isolation is common to classroom teaching, the autonomy of teachers has been deeply eroded by current environmental pressures on public K-12 education. In today’s politically complex educational climate, classrooms do not exist in a vacuum. Teachers are constantly subjected to a barrage of challenges thrust upon them from both within and outside school buildings, demands that require efficacy well beyond mastery in classroom content-knowledge, management, and instruction.
My research participants thus narrated the theme that preservice education did not provide experiences of developing the highly specific career efficacy or the collective efficacy that new teachers need to survive and thrive in a profession so personally and politically perilous. Career efficacy is a crucial—yet often overlooked—contribution to professional identity construction, developed when programs of professional preparation intentionally and systematically structure self-efficacy interventions targeting vocational success. In their social cognitive theory of career development, Lent, Brown, and Hackett (1994) wrote, “Long-term career adjustment requires a great variety of skills that extend beyond subject-specific competence” (p. 117).
Such domain-specific career efficacy, then, addresses organizational behavior, supervisor/employee relations, and self-management, rather than being limited to functional techniques of professional practice. Specifically, Bandura’s (1989) efficacy development model can be used to provide training in anxiety management, relaxation, self-talk, assertiveness, and seeking social support, as well as in developing effective cognitive and behavioral coping strategies (Betz, 2005). Lent (2005, p. 118) additionally encouraged deliberate “efficacy-building efforts” in the workplace issues of conflict management, decision making, and goal setting.
With regard to collective agency, my study upheld the hope that soon new teachers will rise to challenge the public education status quo and its prevailing structures of power (Kozol, 2007). However, as one professor pointed out during my research observations, resisting and reforming can come at great cost for K-12 teachers, including early career attrition.
Social cognitive theory has addressed the risks of reform and resistance by extending “the conception of human agency to collective agency... People’s shared belief in their collective power to produce desired results is a key ingredient of collective agency” (Bandura, 2001, p. 14). In facing a K-12 teaching culture of isolated-yet-not-autonomous classrooms, preservice teachers must be actively prepared to approach their careers through the empowerment and agency of intentional collective action.
I agree with Kem (2008) that advisors can help reverse the dropout rate of new teachers. However, based on my research, I would add a supplemental advising approach that incorporates aspects of Bandura’s (1989) four sources of self-efficacy.
- First, actively listen to and participate in the stories through which teacher education students narrate self-understandings of dispositions and professional fit.
- Next, become aware of the unique career challenges that today’s novice teachers face within the public education environment. Discuss these distinctive vocational pressures with teacher education students, and contribute to their construction of career efficacy by encouraging, facilitating, and modeling mastery experiences that will empower new teachers to face the many distinct professional pitfalls of teaching that fall outside classroom competence. In particular, emphasize the importance of knowing how to quickly build effective relationships with administrators and colleagues.
- Finally, affirm emerging professional identities that value relationships, self-reflection, and purpose, all of which can provide a solid basis for creating a sense of collective agency. Advisors can then encourage education students to utilize this relational, reflective, and purposive foundation in deliberately designing their own preservice experiences of aggregate solidarity and collaborative effort. These shared student experiences would establish collective efficacy as integral to the professional K-12 teaching identity construction that takes place within initial teacher licensure programs.
Ranee Boyd Tomlin
Arapahoe Community College
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Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26.
Betz, N. E. (2005). Women’s career development. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.),Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 253-277). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Kem, L. (2008). Avoiding teacher “dropouts.” Academic Advising Today, 31 (1), 8, 18. Available online at www.nacada.ksu.edu/ePub/ AAT31-1.htm #8.
Kozol, J. (2007). What’s next. NEAToday, 25 (8), 27.
Lent, R. W. (2005). A social cognitive view of career development and counseling. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 101-127). Hoboken, N : John Wiley & Sons.
Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Monograph: Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122.
Savickas, M. L. (2002). Career construction: A developmental theory of vocational behavior. In Duane Brown & Associates (Eds.), Career choice and development (4 th ed., pp. 149-205). San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
Tomlin, R. B. (2008). U.S. Graduate Teacher Education and Early Career Persistence of Women K-12 Teachers: Co-Constructing a Social Cognitive Narrative of Professional Identity. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Denver.
Cite this article using APA style as: Boyd Tomlin, R. (2008, September). Reducing new teacher attrition, Further thoughts. Academic Advising Today, 31(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]