Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, (January 2011), Pages 136-146.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The goal of this study was to examine the lived experiences of teachers newly appointed to rural or remote schools in Western Australia to understand their experiences and responses.
The study’s general research questions were:
What are the experiences of teachers in their first years of appointment to rural/remote government schools?
How do teachers deal with their experiences?
Methodology and design
A longitudinal, multiple site, collective case study design examined the perspectives of 29 teachers commencing employment at 17 rural/remote DET schools in WA. Their experiences were examined from appointment for up to 15 months.
Data were collected through: an initial questionnaire; ongoing telephone interviews; site visits; and email contact for up to 15 months.
Rural/remote teachers reported a high incidence of stress and coping strategies. Teachers who successfully integrate into rural/remote teaching environments predominantly demonstrate direct-action and palliative coping strategies, developing a sense of self-efficacy and internal locus of control. Teachers who rely on avoidant strategies are more likely to experience continuing disequilibrium within their workplace or withdraw.
Direct-action coping strategies
In this study, participants demonstrated direct-action coping by: getting information; seeking assistance; connecting with others (networking, mentoring); accessing professional development; reflecting; reframing; developing goals; creating perspective; and establishing work/non-work boundaries.
Participants in this study used palliative strategies such as positive self-talk; accepting; goal focusing; establishing psychological boundaries; use of humour; spiritual or religious beliefs; engaging in health promotion activities (often with colleagues); and managing emotional responses to promote coping.
Avoidance and distancing strategies
In this study, some individuals who successfully integrated into environments still employed avoidance strategies. Participants used physical breaks away from work and geographic locations; psychological withdrawal; avoidance of attention and workload by maintaining a low profile; rejection and denial of problems; and substance use.
Three critical phases can be identified for intervention to support integration into new environments. These phases are: first weeks of immersion and familiarisation; the first semester for feedback on competence and provision of support; and career continuity and certainty occurring in the last months of the year. Intervention by personnel within the organisation, workplace and/or community during the three critical phases could improve rural/remote teachers’ quality of worklife.
It is essential that teachers are supported in diverse ways to enable the development of person–environment fit, leading to retention and improved learning experiences for students.
By understanding the critical time periods for teachers commencing new appointments in rural/remote schools and the coping strategies used by teachers, colleagues and leaders in workplaces can take action to improve within-school support structures, specifically induction and mentoring strategies, and point of crisis intervention strategies.
Further, school leaders need to develop their emotional intelligence so that they can recognise and plan early intervention strategies to support teachers.