Why Do Some Beginning Teachers Leave the School, and Others Stay? Understanding Teacher Resilience through Psychological Lenses

August 2012

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 18, No. 4, August 2012, 417–440
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigated the differences between leavers and stayers in terms of the process of their resilience responses. The author focused on major psychological factors such as value, self-efficacy, beliefs and emotions in order to understand how leavers and stayers are similar or different in negotiating and interpreting external environments.

The participants had gone through the Secondary Science Teacher Certificate Programme at a large south-eastern university in the USA. They had five years of teaching experience or less. The participants included seven leavers who already left the teaching profession, and seven stayers who are currently teaching and had never considered leaving the profession.
The study employed semi-structured interviews with the participants.

Discussion and implications
The findings revealed that both leavers and stayers had intrinsic interests in working as a teacher. However, the ways that leavers perceived and interpreted challenges were different from those of stayers. When leavers faced the challenges of managing the classroom and handling students’ misbehaviors, they often experienced diminished self-efficacy beliefs. They attributed the difficulty to their own personality or characteristics and experienced emotional burnout. However, under the same situation, stayers could still maintain strong self-efficacy beliefs with the help and support of administrators.

Furthermore, this study showed how teachers’ values, self-efficacy, beliefs and emotions are nurtured or hindered due to the school and classroom environments. For instance, stayers who had better support from school administrators developed stronger self-efficacy beliefs than leavers. Additionally, stayers reported their strategies to prevent them from being burned out by setting boundaries establishing relationship with students.

These findings have implications for professional teacher development.
First, the author argues that there is a need to pay close attention to the meaning of ‘interests’, and how deeply it is integrated with their sense of identity. As leavers showed, even if they showed interest in teaching science, it did not function as a sustaining motivation in the face of challenging circumstances.
Second, the findings highlighted that leavers’ low self-efficacy in handling disruptive behaviors should be considered more seriously in teachers’ professional development. Hence, a teacher who doubts their ability to handle students’ misbehaviors may have a hard time developing into an effective and resilient teacher. However, verbal persuasion is one of the contributing factors in boosting a person’s self-efficacy beliefs.
Finally, this study demonstrated that teachers’ emotions play a significant role in the way teachers respond to challenging circumstances. As the stayers showed, setting emotional boundaries with students can be a useful strategy for teacher resilience.

Thus, the author argues that it is important to foster an environment where teachers can develop a more resilient and committed identity.
The author concludes that this study provides avenues to better understand teacher resilience and related psychological constructs, which deepen the perspective about beginning teachers’ career decision-making. 

Updated: Feb. 21, 2018