Does teenage interest in a teaching career lead to becoming a teacher? Evidence from Australia

May 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 101

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper has four objectives:
1) To examine youth plans to enter a teaching career at ages 16, 23 and 26 and to identify the stage at which these plans and their predictors, including the impact of gender, stabilize.
2) To assess whether the data are consistent with a possibility that a vocational plan to become a teacher at age 16 encourages students to opt out of (high level) mathematics in Year 12
3) To determine how well a teenage plan to become a teacher predicts entry into a relevant tertiary education degree by age 23
4) To compare how well a plan to be a teacher at age 16 versus a plan at age 23 predicts entry into the profession before turning 26

Data, measurement and method

Australian participants of the 2006 PISA survey were invited annually for a period of eleven years to participate in the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY 2006).
Of the initial sample involving 14170 adolescents, 3343 participants continued until the final eleventh survey wave in 2016.
The analyses of occupational expectations are for the 3343 respondents who participated in 2006, 2013 and 2016.
The analyses of school subject choices in Year 12 are for the 6492 students who completed Year 12.
The analyses of university majors and entry into the teaching profession between 2014 and 2016 involve over 3600 participants, who commenced university study before 2013.
All analytical samples have been adjusted for attrition and sampling design to represent the relevant populations.


Dependent variables
Respondents’ occupational expectations, mathematics subject choices in Year 12, choices of university majors and occupations entered between 2014 and 2016 are the dependent variables.
Occupational expectations were measured when students were 16, 23 and 26 years of age by the following question: What kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?

Independent variables
The independent variables match those used by prior PISA based literature that explored expectations of a teaching career among secondary students (Han, 2018; Han et al., 2017; Park & Byun, 2015).
Gender is a dichotomous indicator (0 ¼ male, 1 ¼ female) that aligns with sex, as more detailed data on student gender identity is not available.
Three measures related to intrinsic motivation were included.
Family background was indicated by parents’ economic and socio-economic status (ESCS) created by the OECD.
This comprehensive measure relates to the concept of social class.
Maternal and paternal employment in education in 2006 was captured by dummy variables created using steps identical to those used for student expectations.
The analysis also controls for students’ science literacy indicated by the PISA plausible values.
Science scores, rather than reading or mathematics scores, have been used, because science is the only domain in PISA 2006 on which all students were tested.

Findings and discussion
This analysis reveals a considerable amount of change that occurs in youth expectations of a teaching career between adolescence and young adulthood.
This change is best understood using the metaphor of “revolving doors” (Jacobs, 1989).
Out of every 100 adolescent girls, 13 want to become teachers, while 87 prefer another career.
By age 23, only 4 of these 13 girls retain their primary career interest, 9 change their mind, but another 7 make up their mind to teach before they turn 23.
So in total, 11 out every 100 young women aged 23 are interested in teaching.
By age 26 more changes occur.
Four young women in that group switch to different careers but three, who were previously not interested in becoming an educator, join the group.
In consequence, about 10 out every 100 women intend to pursue teaching at age 26.
Thus, aggregate stability in the vocational interest at the group level hides a considerable amount of individual change.
A similar degree of fluidity is evident in intentions to teach among young men, with the only difference being a much lower initial interest in education as a career, with only 6 out of every 100 teenage boys giving it serious consideration.
The dynamics of these vocational interests have implications for PISA-based studies on student interest in teaching but also for designing teacher recruitment strategies in Australia.
The findings of this paper suggest the need for more caution in cross-national research before assuming that what positively correlates with higher teenage interest in teaching is also what increases the supply of teachers.
At a cohort level, teenagers and young adults who plan a teaching career are mostly different people, even though they make up almost identical proportions in their respective peer groups.
Moreover, despite some 40% of Australian secondary teachers recalling that they were interested in teaching as teenagers (OECD, 2018), the proportion of adolescents who retain their plans till adulthood in a recent cohort of Australian students is considerably lower.
Cross-sectional PISA studies usually identify cultural and institutional correlates of aggregate preferences of adolescents and assume that the same correlates matter at later stages of young people’s lives.
But this study demonstrates that readiness to embark on a teaching career is quite fluid across life stages for most youth.
Not only do expectations vary, but some students who pursue an education degree do not intend to work in the profession, as shown by the independent effects of expectations and university qualifications on entry into relevant employment.
Teaching as a lifelong career becomes less of a norm in Australia (Dinham et al., 2008) while occupational expectations related to teaching fluctuate.
Therefore, factors that differentiate individuals with a long-term vocational interest in education from those who develop such interest at specific stages of their life, perhaps for a few years only, need more attention.
In light of this analysis, it seems worthwhile to target teacher recruitment efforts also at older youth.
As shown here, most young people in the 2006 PISA cohort who studied education at university and became teachers in their mid-twenties developed an interest in teaching later than at age 16.
So far, it appears that later recruitment is successful among candidates with slightly lower Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATARs) who were less likely to take mathematics at school. Thus, there is scope to intensify endeavours to increase interest in teaching careers also among youth with other academic characteristics.
Because preferences can change significantly at all life stages, efforts ought to continue to target young people in their early and mid-twenties.
Future research should explore the stability and consequences of teenage career plans in other countries to understand the potential cross-national variation in the impact that youth expectations have for adult careers in education.
These plans are more fluid and have less straightforward implications than what recent PISA research has assumed.
As shown by this research, the determinants of stability and fluidity in vocational orientations among potential teachers deserve more attention.

Dinham, S., Ingvarson, L. C., & Kleinhenz, E. (2008). Teaching talent: The best teachers for Australia’s classrooms. Retrieved from¼1010&context¼...
Han, S. W. (2018). Who expects to become a teacher? The role of educational accountability policies in international perspective. Teaching and Teacher Education, 75
Han, S. W., Borgonovi, F., & Guerriero, S. (2017). What motivates high school students to want to Be teachers? The role of salary, working conditions, and societal evaluations about occupations in a comparative perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 55(1)
Jacobs, J. A. (1989). Revolving doors: Sex segregation and women’s careers. Stanford University Press.
NCVER. (2017). Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) 2006 cohort user guide. Technical Paper No 55, Version 8. Retrieved from
OECD [The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development]. (2018). Effective teacher policies: Insights from PISA. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Park, H., & Byun, S. Y. (2015). Why some countries attract more high-ability young students to teaching: Cross-national comparisons of students’ expectation of becoming a teacher. Comparative Education Review, 59(3) 

Updated: Sep. 02, 2021


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