Intentions of early career teachers: should we stay or should we go now?

September 2021

Source: Teaching Education, 32:3, 309-322

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors report on a study that built on research conducted in Alberta, Canada, with 40 second- and third-year teachers (Clandinin et al., 2015). In the Alberta study, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 40 early career teachers around their experiences of teaching. Using thematic analysis, they identified seven themes that emerged from their experiences.
Because different geographical contexts can make a difference in how teachers experience their first years of teaching (Schaefer et al., 2012), the authors conducted a second study using the same semi-structured interview process with 15 second- and third-year teachers in Saskatchewan.
Using the same thematic analysis, with participants from a different geographical location, similar themes emerged.
While they report on these findings from a different geographical context, they also explore how Edwards’ concept of relational agency (Edwards, 2005) adds to what became visible using narrative conceptions of knowledge (Schaefer & Clandinin, 2018; Schaefer et al., 2019) in order to provide further insight into the experiences of early career teachers.
Participants and recruitment in the second study
Fifteen second- and third-year teachers in Saskatchewan were recruited: eight participants worked and lived in urban areas; seven participants worked and lived in rural areas.
Participants taught in elementary and secondary schools.
In the first study, many participants were concerned about their responses reflecting poorly on their school or school board and they did not want their boards to know they had participated; thus, the authors used a snowball sampling method.

The same semi-structured interview protocol (see Clandinin et al., 2015) was used with an intention to understand participants’ experiences of coming to teaching, teaching, and their intentions to stay in, or leave, teaching.
The interview structure provided some opportunities for open-ended responses.
In constructing the interview guide the authors worked from narrative understandings of place, temporality, and sociality and included questions around experiences that were considered important in other studies around early career teachers’ experiences (Clandinin et al., 2015; Schaefer et al., 2012).

Findings and discussion
The authors’ intention in conducting this second study in Saskatchewan had the twofold purpose of validating the results of the Alberta study and exploring new insights that might be gained from a different geographical, cultural, and political context.
The two emergent themes of ‘It’s the Kids’ and ‘Relational Support’ both highlighted the relational aspects of the beginning teachers’ experiences.
These relational aspects of their experiences turned them to notions of relational agency as important to narrative conceptions of teacher knowledge and as part of understanding early career teachers’ experiences.
In earlier work, the authors (Clandinin et al., 2014) showed ways that living within their personal and professional knowledge landscapes shapes early career teachers’ stories to live by, their identities as early career teachers, and, in turn, how they are sustained in teaching.
In this study, teachers’ stories of their relationships with students and colleagues were important in their early careers and may offer insight into their how relational agency is interwoven with their personal practical knowledge.
The authors draw on a conception of relational agency as both within the individual as well as between the individual and their practice (Taylor, 1977).
Working with a narrative conception of knowledge in which a teacher’s personal practical knowledge is expressed in practice, relational agency could be both within the knowledge of an individual and between an individual and their professional knowledge landscape.
Edwards’ work pushed them to think more deeply about how teachers’ experiences in their knowledge landscapes interact in ways that allow teachers to create relational agency.
The concept of relational agency helped reaffirm that conceptualizing knowledge as located in individuals and in landscapes creates the possibility that knowledge, much like agency, exists between persons, that it can be produced through, and live in, relations.
From the participants in the two studies, it was clear they knew they were being shaped by their professional knowledge landscapes.
However, when participants spoke of trying to shape their environments, they were challenged by the demands placed upon them and by the lack of opportunity to shape the professional knowledge landscape in ways that resonated with their purposes; what mattered to them did not matter in the professional knowledge landscape.
In both studies, participants who experienced belonging had been able to form relationships with teams at school; that is, they experienced belonging as part of teams of parents, staff, administrators, and students.
Perhaps, belonging allowed participants to express their relational agency and to bring forward what mattered to each teacher at the same time as it was part of an experience of belonging, perhaps validated by the others who also lived within the professional knowledge landscape.
The professional knowledge landscape appeared to have supported their search for spaces to build relational agency.
Working within contexts that foster relational agency and working with early career teachers to develop their personal practical knowledge as relational agents, may assist early career teachers to manage the multiplicity of teaching tasks and to live out their imagined stories of themselves as teachers which shaped their entry into the profession.
They are then allowed to engage with the kids in ways they find sustaining, that is, in ways that enable them ‘to align [their] actions’ with others in collaborative work and can develop ‘a capacity for engaging in these micro-negotiations.’ (Edwards, 2005, p. 171).

Clandinin, D. J., Schaefer, L., & Downey, C. A. (2014). Narrative conceptions of knowledge. London: Emerald.
Clandinin, D. J., Long, J., Schaefer, L., Downey, A., Steeves, P., Pinnegar, E., . . . Wnuk, S. (2015). Early career teacher attrition: Intentions of teachers beginning. Teaching Education, 26(1), 1~16.
Edwards, A. (2005). Relational agency: Learning to be a resourceful practitioner. International Journal of Educational Research, 43(3), 168–182.
Schaefer, L., Downey, A., & Clandinin, D. J. (2019). Narrative conceptions of knowledge, relational agency and teacher attrition: A narrative inquiry into the experiences of an early career teachers who left teaching. In M. Flores (Ed.), A vida e o trabalho dos professores. Lisbon: Almedina.
Schaefer, L., & Clandinin, D. J. (2018). Sustaining teachers’ stories to live by: Implications for teacher education. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 25(1), 54–68.
Schaefer, L., Long, J. S., & Clandinin, D. J. (2012). Questioning the research on early career teacher attrition and retention. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 58(1), 106–121.
Taylor, C. (1977). What is human agency. In T. Mischel (Ed.), The self: Psychological and philosophical issues (pp. 103–135). Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.

Updated: Jan. 05, 2022