Teacher candidates’ intentions to teach: implications for recruiting and retaining teachers in urban schools

December, 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:5, 525-539

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Through the lens of critical pedagogy, this study addresses how teacher candidates, committed to a social-justice -oriented initial teacher education (ITE) programme, articulate:
(1) Why they want to be teachers in high-need public schools?
(2) What they expect from teaching so as to ascertain what they expect to do?

This qualitative study employed a case study design, an empirical approach that examines the ‘case’ in-depth within its contextual conditions, and relies on the prior development of theoretical propositions to guide data analysis (Yin 2014).
Accordingly, this case study takes place within the context of an urban residency model of teacher education that has been implemented in a private, highly selective, research-intensive university.

The urban teacher residency (UTR) in this study is a U.S. government funded, 14-month programme that culminates in a master’s degree and certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or Teaching students with Disabilities (TSWD).
The programme blends theory and practice by aligning intensive coursework with the yearlong placement of candidates in classrooms of experienced teachers within the local partnering district in a large, north-eastern urban US city.
Upon certification, candidates are required to teach for three years in a high-need school (i.e. 45% or more poor pupils) within the same partner district.
In their first two years of teaching, candidates receive formal induction support. However, graduates continue to receive informal support from programme staff even after formal induction concludes.

The study sample included 77 graduates from four cohorts of UTR from 2010 through 2014.
Collectively, the 77 candidates represent multiple diversities across certification areas (TESOL 42%; TSWD 58%) as the programme successfully attracted racially and culturally diverse candidates.

Data sources
For this case study, the authors analysed 77 admissions essays completed as part of the UTR admissions process.
The application included candidates’ personal statements in which they articulated their interest in TESOL or TSWD and the impact they hoped to make in the classroom, plus their answers to two UTR-specific supplementary essay prompts:
(1) discuss a critical issue facing urban schools today and how this issue would affect your experience as a teacher, and
(2) examine past educational, professional, or personal experiences that fuelled your decision to become a teacher of TESOL or TSWD for urban high-need schools.
Through these three essays, candidates communicated their beliefs and assumptions about education, schooling, and the role of teachers.
The authors decided to focus deeply on the admissions essays because, the performative aspect of the task notwithstanding, they reveal prospective candidates’ views about teaching and learning at entry to the profession and suggest the underpinnings of their perspectives.

Data analysis
A team of three researchers undertook data analysis using inductive coding which afforded a recursive and reflexive process of generating codes and larger themes reflecting the overarching research questions (Bogdan and Biklen 2007; Marshall and Rossman 2012).
The authors coded admissions essays and identified patterns in relation to candidates’ reflections on their intentions to teach in high-need urban public schools.
The authors compared the patterns and identified two major themes: ‘beliefs in the role of a teacher’ and ‘beliefs in the role of education.’
The authors then generated four prominent codes into their findings: ‘teacher as activist,’ ‘building pupil activism,’ ‘providing opportunities and advocating for the marginalised,’ and ‘tensions in activism and contextualisation.’

Freire’s (1970) critical pedagogy framework was used to examine closely the main themes:
(a) their role as a teacher and
(b) the role of education, suggesting that these teacher candidates see themselves as part of the active process of working with pupils in forwarding social change.

Beliefs in the role of a teacher: teacher as activist and building pupil activists
In their intentions to be teachers in high-need public schools, teacher candidates forefronted their expectations of what this means.
First, candidates believed that teachers play an agentic role in enacting change in schools and communities.
Further analysis of these beliefs indicated that they perceived their roles as teachers in two main ways:
(1) being a teacher activist and
(2) building pupil activists.

Teacher as activist
The authors found that about half of the candidates expressed their commitment to social justice and ensuring quality education for all pupils through identifying themselves as a teacher activist. Of the 77 admissions essays, 36 excerpts were coded for ‘teacher as activist,’ indicating that many candidates envisioned themselves as change agents in the larger educational system.
In seeing themselves as preparing to be a ‘teacher as activist,’ candidates believed that ITE would give them the ‘tools, training, and support’ needed to teach pupils in the classroom categorised as ‘minority’ or ‘disabled’ or ‘low-income’ in high-need schools.
They characterised this activism as ‘doing everything in [my] power’ to promote ‘equality,’ to dismantle ‘injustices,’ ‘raise expectations,’ ‘raise academic achievement,’ and ‘bring about positive change.’
These articulations suggest that candidates expect to bring about social change by raising critical consciousness (Nieto 1999).
Yet, candidates did not see this work as easy. In outlining challenges to this crucial role, many candidates voiced readiness to confront obstacles that hinder opportunities in education.
The authors found that most candidates consider teachers as activists who dismantle injustices and create opportunities for pupils.
In line with studies that express how urban teachers’ beliefs help them to develop a framework that contributes to equity (Dover 2015; El-Haj and Renda 2003) and to construct a greater knowledge of self to critically care for their communities (Camangian 2010), the authors felt that the candidates took this belief a step forward in adopting an identity as a teacher activist who accepts a role in ensuring equity.

Building pupil activists
The authors found that candidates not only embraced the teacher as activist identity but also aimed to build pupils’ participation in social change.
Even before the residency began, candidates believed that being an activist was insufficient for social change; in fact, building activists was an aspect of why they wanted to teach in high-need schools

Activism: contextualisations and tensions
Teacher candidates did not separate teacher-pupil and pupil-teacher activism from their urban context but saw this context as one that demands joint activism and the development of a critical consciousness (Freire 1970).
The authors acknowledge the tensions, contradictions, and assumptions in the admissions essays that shape teacher candidates’ beliefs and expectations as initial wonderings. Indeed, as stated in many essays, the candidates intend to grow from their beliefs as part of what they expect to learn from ITE.
In fact, many candidates expressed that because they recognise that the most critical issues facing urban schools today are ‘the systematic approach to improving underperforming schools,’ ‘the academic achievement gap due to socioeconomic status,’ or ‘the issues of inequity in urban communities,’ they want to join the residency programme to learn to address these issues and become teachers of influence in urban schools.

Beliefs in the role of education: providing opportunities and advocating for the marginalised
The authors report that the second theme focused on teacher candidates’ beliefs in the role of education, particularly in an urban context.
Recognising that candidates will work in a high-need, diverse environment with 55% of pupils identified as poor, the results showed that candidates desired to teach in order to support the mission of education to provide opportunities for all pupils.
In articulating how to accomplish this, teacher candidates focused on providing individualised experiences and advocating for marginalised and underserved pupils.
Yet, when candidates wrote about fostering this inclusive environment for pupils, or their advocacy for marginalised pupils, the authors noticed that they explicitly did so within the context of their particular specialisation, both shortage areas in the district.
In expressing their advocacy for marginalised populations in high-need schools and their intention to attend to individual needs, candidates saw the role of the teacher and the purpose of education as going hand-in-hand.
This finding demonstrates that teacher candidates expect that learning and teaching within their certification area offers them the opportunity to advocate for marginalised pupils.

The authors conclude that after seeing that 96% of the 93% of their candidates/graduates are still teaching at the time of this study, choose to do so in high-need, urban schools, hold positions as teacher leaders and mentors, are achieving positive results with urban, minoritised youth and have maintained their stance as social justice educators, they believe that naiveté aside, there is something to be learned about teacher recruitment from their early teaching expectations and intentions.
Examining their intentions in relation to their retention as teachers up to seven years post-qualification mitigates the level of performativity and increases the level of trustworthiness in what they reported.
The authors note that they contribute to the broader research on the motivations behind teaching.
Their research and data show that recruiting teachers with an intrinsic belief in the role of the teacher and the role of education as drivers to dismantle social inequities in high-need areas helps to reduce the attrition rates in the early years of teaching and offers commitment to the profession.

Bogdan, R. C., and S. K. Biklen. 2007. Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods. Boston: Pearson.
Camangian, P. 2010. “Starting with Self: Teaching Autoethnography to Foster Critically Caring Literacies.” Research in the Teaching of English, 45(2), 179–204
Dover, A. G. 2015. “‘Promoting Acceptance’ or ‘Preparing Warrior Scholars’: Variance in Teaching for Social Justice Vision and Praxis.” Equity and Excellence in Education 48 (3): 361–372. doi:10.1080/ 10665684.2015.1056710
El-Haj, A., and T. Renda. 2003. “Practicing for Equity from the Standpoint of the Particular: Exploring the Work of One Urban Teacher Network.” Teachers College Record 105 (5): 817–845. doi:10.1111/ 1467-9620.00269
Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum
Marshall, C., and G. B. Rossman. 2012. Designing Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Nieto, S. 1999. The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities. New York: Teachers College Press.
Yin, R. K. 2014. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications 

Updated: Jun. 14, 2020