The Role of Self-Confidence in Learning to Teach in Higher Education

May. 10, 2013

Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 50, No. 2, 157–166, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this study is to consider the role of self-confidence upon the approach to teaching and development as a teacher for a group of new academics.

The participants were eleven new academics. All participants had less than two years experience of teaching in either a part-time or full-time role and were from a range of higher education institutions and settings. The teachers were from the subject areas of Sport, Physiotherapy, Psychology and History. The institutions within which they taught included traditional research-intensive universities, new universities and a further education college that delivered higher education qualifications.

Three interviews took place, over a two-year period.
The first phase of analysis was the creation of detailed cases studies for three of the participants, of which one is reported in the current paper to illustrate the role of self-confidence in teacher development.
The second phase used a thematic analysis of all interview transcripts.


The new teachers’ self-confidence appeared as a key influence in the use of teaching strategies that actively involved the students. There were instances in the data from the current investigation, where individuals reported taking quite teacher-centred approaches in a particular setting if they perceived their content knowledge and confidence to be low. Use of more teacher-centred approaches often occurred despite a teacher appearing to hold more learning-orientated conception of teaching.

An important aspect of self-confidence, which is evident in the current investigation, is the critical role that the teaching context plays. Data from the current participants suggest that in different contexts the teachers selected quite different approaches and this often appeared to be related to their confidence. If the teachers were in an unfamiliar setting and perceived their content knowledge of the topic to be relatively low, confidence was also described as being low. Particularly in the first interviews, when many of their experiences were new, the majority of the teachers spoke about the fear of being asked a question that they would not know the answer to. Despite a greater concern for the student, self-confidence still played a key role in the way in which these individuals taught and developed as teachers. In other words, concern for self and concern for the students were not separate constructs. More recently, conceptions of teacher development that focused upon comfort and confidence have been associated with teacher-focused view of teaching and student-relations-and student-engagement-focused conception of teaching.

Summary and implications

Confidence emerged as one of the dominant themes in a wider longitudinal study, which investigated the influences upon new teachers’ development in higher education. The current paper has aimed to illustrate the different ways in which confidence manifests itself in the participants’ experience of developing as a new teacher. The findings indicate a number of interrelationships between: confidence and content knowledge; confidence and approach to teaching; and experience and confidence. What was also apparent in the relationship between confidence and approach to teaching was the importance of richer and fuller incidental feedback from students, as a result of the use of more interactive approaches, upon an individuals’ confidence. In addition, development of the way in which the teacher thought about teaching appeared to be associated with a change in the perceived importance of personal content knowledge and self-confidence.

The current study would suggest that confidence and perceived content knowledge are inherent in an individual’s decision to teach in a particular way and the reflection that takes place. This would indicate a need for teacher development programmes to be sensitive and supportive of confidence and the content knowledge of new teachers. Finally, managers of new teachers in higher education also need to be aware of the implications of self-confidence upon teaching and to where possible provide a stable environment in which new staff have the opportunity to teach in their specialist area of study.

Updated: Mar. 26, 2017


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