From troops to teachers: changing careers and narrative identities

June, 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:3, 335-347

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author states that the purpose of this narrative study is to explore the range of previous experiences and associated attributes and skills that ex-service personnel identify that they bring into teaching.
Alongside, is an exploration of anticipated teacher identities and career change processes, facilitated by the Troops to Teachers (TtT) programme.
The study is situated within and seeks to contribute to debates relating to meeting future teacher recruitment needs in the UK (House of Commons Education Committee 2017) and the potential for the TtT strategy to meet governmental aims and address perceive needs in the classroom.
This study is also intended to provide a platform for a longer study into the re-professionalisation of TtT career changers.

Focus and method
The approach taken in this narrative study (Clandinin and Connelly 2000; Goodson 2013), was to develop a series of individual portrayals arising from the reflections and developing self-identities of a sample of TtT recruits at the onset of their training.
The approach used by the author in this study is a collaborative process of narrative co-construction.
Data collection (participants reflecting on their motivations and experiences) and data analysis (further collaborative analysis of the narrative), at times, interweave through the dialogical relationship.
Such narrative analysis ‘views life as constructed and experienced through the telling and re-telling of the story’ (Etherington 2004, 213). Hence, in telling their story, the participants narrate their developed analysis and identified reality.
An opportunistic sampling approach was adopted.
During their induction week, new TtT trainees were invited to join the study and 12 (approximately 10% of the total cohort) subsequently confirmed their consent to participate, including permission to use as research data, a 500-word autobiographical pen portrait, written as a pre-course task.
Within four weeks of the start of the training, all 12 trainees (placed in schools across England and Wales) were interviewed by telephone for approximately 45 minutes each.
These semi-structured interviews focused on two broad areas of questioning:
● Tell me about your route into teaching. Why do you want to become a teacher?
● What do you imagine you’ll be like as a teacher and what kind of teacher do you hope to become? In what ways do you think your previous role and profession will influence or play a part in you as a teacher?
Portrayals were developed for each participant from analysis of the interview transcription, email exchanges and pen portrait.
An overarching meta-analysis of the 12 individual narrative portrayals was subsequently developed.

Key findings and analysis across the narratives
Each participant’s co-constructed narrative is individualised and personal, with a diversity of motivations, aspirations and changing professional identities evident across the 12 trainees interviewed.
The approach taken here is to look at overarching themes, including emergent issues, which give some indication as to the potential for further research into the narrative development of TtT career changers.
The themes presented are refinements of the themes used in coding and initial text analysis:
● motivations to become a teacher
● transferable experiences, attributes and skills
● the teacher I want to become
● challenges for the future

The author concludes that all the participants in the study appear well motivated and have an articulated sense of the teachers they wish to become, including challenges to be faced along the way.
This reflects levels of self-efficacy of second career teachers more generally (Wagner and Imanuel-Noy 2014).
The author notes that whilst there was no obvious consensus regarding an ex-service skill set being readily transferable into teaching, the dispositions of being organised and self-disciplined were often mentioned.
However, a distinction was clearly made between being self-disciplined and being able to engender discipline as a teacher.
To the contrary, several identified classroom management and maintaining discipline as an anticipated challenge.
The author notes also that the participants, and particularly those with previous roles in military instruction and training, do regard teaching as a potential career progression.
This reflects implications of Wagner and Imanuel-Noy’s study (2014), that second career teachers can be regarded as undertaking perhaps less of a career change but more a career evolution.
Those interviewed, regard teaching as fulfilling a desire to continue to work with others, and with children in particular, echoing a significant motivation among second career teachers more generally (ibid), utilising associated inter-personal skills and dispositions (Williams 2010).
The author also found that what appears interesting though as an emergent theme is the desire participants expressed that following their military service, they wished to continue to be in service or of service to society.
It is suggested that this motivation reflects something of a professional, narrative ‘refraction’; that troops see teaching as means or opportunity to continue to serve, reflecting a fundamental, defining feature of their professional military identity.
For the trainees to become teachers, this commitment to service potentially shapes future constructions of teacher professionalism, as they experience the culture and practices of schools and the classroom.
The author states that the intention is that this emergent theme particularly, alongside the themes which framed the study, will inform future research, following this cohort of ex-service personnel, as they develop their practice, identities and careers as teachers.
Such research will locate these themes again within the concept of an evolving individual narrative capital (Goodson 2013), as the novice teachers, mediate developing professional practices with previously held perceptions, values and beliefs.

Clandinin, D. J., and F. M. Connelly. 2000. Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Etherington, K. 2004. Becoming a Reflexive Researcher: Using Our Selves in Research. London: Jessica Kinglsey
Goodson, I. F. 2013. Developing Narrative Theory: Life Histories and Person Representation. Abingdon: Routledge
Wagner, T., and D. Imanuel-Noy. 2014. “Are They Genuinely Novice Teachers? - Motivations and Self-Efficacy of Those Who Choose Teaching as a Second Career.” Australian Journal of Teacher Education 39 (7): 31–57. doi:10.14221/ajte.2014v39n7.5
Williams, J. 2010. “Constructing a New Professional Identity: Career Change into Teaching.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26: 639–647. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.09.016 

Updated: Jan. 05, 2020