Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 4 August 2009 , pages 441 - 457.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Whilst much research on teachers' lives has focused on their early years in the profession, much less attention has been paid to those in their later years, so called 'veteran' teachers. Yet, many of these are likely to hold positions of responsibility in the school, receive greater remuneration and have experienced the impact of more policy and social change in their work than many of their less experienced colleagues.
More importantly, their resilience and effectiveness are likely to have been subject to more sustained challenges.
Drawing upon a range of research, this article seeks to explore how and why teachers in the third and fourth decades of their professional lives sustain or do not sustain their beliefs and sense of commitment to teaching at its best.
The authors address the challenges regarding veteran teachers' commitment and resilience by illustrating the stories of two teachers.
Story 1. Restoring lost commitment - the key role of leadership
In the first portrait, the authors illustrate the influence of school leadership upon a veteran teacher's ambition to remain in teaching and, in doing so, to continue to strive for improvement.
Story 2. Tired and trapped - holding on but losing motivation
In this second example, the authors show how a combination of challenging student behavior, national reform and ill-health can serve to challenge the commitment and motivation of the most dedicated teachers - despite the positive support of colleagues.
This article has explored the nature of veteran teachers' professional lives, defining 'veterans' as those with substantial (24+ years) experience. It argues that sustaining their commitment, resilience and effectiveness in the profession is a quality retention issue and that provision of appropriate in-school support is the key to securing the professional quality of veteran teachers. The illustrations of two veteran teachers provide three important messages for researchers, school leaders and policy-makers interested in understanding teachers' work, lives and effectiveness and raising and maintaining standards.
1. There are associations between teachers' commitment and effectiveness. These two stories show that there are likely to be a combination of factors (poor leadership, changes in the social dynamic of classroom teaching, working conditions, challenges to long held notions of professional identity, and well-being as well as generational and ageing factors) which may erode teacher commitment, causing either early burnout or gradually declining health.
2. Attending to the broader personal well-being of staff - through building trust through genuine regard and sustained interaction - must go alongside the raising of expectations and continuing pursuit of standards. This message is intent to school leaders and those who recruit and provide training programs for teachers
3. To ignore the specific commitment and resilience needs of this large group of veteran teachers is to fail to realize the long-term investment that they and their employers have made to teaching. This message is intent to policy-makers.