Entering, Staying, Shifting, Leaving, and Sometimes Returning: A Descriptive Analysis of the Career Trajectories of Two Cohorts of Alternatively Certified Mathematics Teachers


Source: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 9

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study is to examine the career trajectories and decisions of recent college graduates and career changers who became mathematics teachers in 2006 or 2007 in hard-to-staff schools through the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) program, a nationally prominent selective alternative certification program.
The goal is to understand the main patterns in individuals’ careers before, during, and after NYCTF and, as part of that, what draws people with varying degrees of career experience to teach mathematics in hard-to-staff schools, what keeps some in teaching, and what drives others out of the field.
This study addresses questions about the career trajectories of mathematics teachers who entered teaching more than a decade ago through a nationally prominent selective alternative certification program, namely, NYCTF.
It examines their reasons for entry, staying, and leaving and how this relates to their prior work experience as recent college graduates and career changers.
As such, the study is designed to answer the following overarching research question: What were the main patterns in the career trajectories of NYCTF mathematics teachers and, in particular, those who entered as recent graduates and career changers?
It also answers the following sub-questions:
• What were the teachers’ characteristics and backgrounds, including their prior career experiences, and how did the characteristics and backgrounds of recent graduates and career changers compare?
• What were the recent graduates’ and career changers’ reasons for entering teaching?
• When and why did the teachers decide to leave, stay, or move into school leadership and administrative positions, and how did the career transitions and decisions of recent graduates and career changers compare?
• What educational roles and noneducational occupations were the recent graduates and career changers working in a decade after entering teaching through NYCTF?

This study incorporates survey and retention data collected as part of a longitudinal research project on the recruitment, training, induction, and instruction of hundreds of NYCTF mathematics teachers (Brantlinger, 2020; Cooley et al., 2019).
That project began with an exploratory, qualitative-to-quantitative mixed-methods design (Creswell & Plano-Clark, 2017).
The current study draws on the project data to provide a descriptive portrait of the teachers’ career trajectories. The analysis is illuminated by descriptive statistics and qualitative analyses of teachers’ open-ended survey responses.
It uses exploratory factor analysis to transform the numerous survey measures about teachers’ reasons for entry, staying, and leaving into a manageable number of psychometrically desirable measures. The current study does not use statistical modeling, but Kruskal–Wallis tests, chi-square tests, and t tests to examine whether different teacher subgroups (e.g., career changers, recent graduates) leave or stay in teaching at different rates and for different reasons.

Sample and Context
Launched in 2000 by the NYC Department of Education in collaboration with The New Teacher Project (TNTP), NYCTF was the flagship Teaching Fellow program.
At that time, policy makers expressed concern about teacher shortages and quality (Levy, 2000).
Through the targeted recruitment of selective college graduates and professional career changers, Teaching Fellows programs promised to improve teacher quality while addressing shortages of certified teachers (Brantlinger, 2020).
The project sample includes 635 secondary mathematics candidates who entered NYCTF in either summer 2006 or summer 2007.
According to NYCTF lists, this included 98% of the teachers from those two cohorts who began paid teaching in NYC public schools.
Six-hundred-seventeen (617) of them became teachers of record after completing 120 hours of university coursework, 40 hours of NYCTF-delivered training, and a minimum of 40 hours of practice teaching in a summer school classroom (Brantlinger & Smith, 2013).
In their first two years, the teachers taught full time while also taking in-service master’s certification courses at one of four NYCTF partner universities for secondary mathematics.
In exchange for the subsidized master’s certification coursework, NYCTF teachers committed to teaching in the district for two years.

Service History Data
The NYC Department of Education provided service history data for the 617 teachers who began paid teaching in NYC public schools.
Spanning the period from 2006 to 2016, the service history data included information about their school assignments, roles (e.g., mathematics teacher, assistant principal), and employment status (e.g., excessed, temporary leave), and whether their attrition was considered voluntary or involuntary.

Survey Data
In 2016, 389 NYCTF mathematics teachers—approximately 63% of the 617 NYCTF mathematics teachers who began paid teaching in NYC public schools —completed a “career trajectory” survey.
The survey collected information about their college experience (e.g., graduation date, major) and their career activity before NYCTF.
It included two tables that collected information about the professional positions (e.g., department chair, assistant principal) they held annually in NYC public schools and, if applicable, other K–12 settings.
The survey also included a “reasons for entry” inventory with 24 Likert scale items.
The teacher leavers, those who had left K–12 teaching before 2016, were prompted about their post-teaching occupations, including titles, dates, and salaries.
The stayers were prompted to complete a 29-item “reasons for staying” inventory and an open-ended item that asked them to list personal attributes that they believed had contributed to their retention.
An open-ended prompt asked those who had become school leaders to explain that transition.
All the survey inventories were informed by prior study results (Brantlinger & Smith, 2013; Foote et al., 2011; Meagher & Brantlinger, 2011) and existing surveys (e.g., SASS).
To validate these inventories, the project researchers conducted cognitive interviews with a dozen mathematics teachers not in the study.
Experts in mathematics education and teacher preparation also reviewed the survey inventories.

Sample and Subsample
The Results section integrates findings from the full sample of 635 NYCTF teacher candidates, the 617 who became paid teachers of record, and the 389 who completed the 2016 survey.

Qualitative Analysis and Career Subgroup Categories
To understand the teachers’ career decisions, the author conducted qualitative analyses of the teachers’ responses to a series of open-ended survey prompts.
In particular, the teachers responded to different, but parallel, prompts depending on their 2016 status as either district leavers or district stayers.
Parallel prompts asked the stayers and leavers, respectively, about the school and district characteristics that they believed explained their retention or attrition.
A follow-up item inquired about the personal attributes that the district stayers believed had contributed to their retention.
Additional parallel prompts asked the stayers and leavers about the “critical incidents” that they believed factored in their career decisions.
Using 2016 survey data on their self-reported career activity before NYCTF, another colleague and the author assigned the teachers to one of three career subgroups.
In particular, those who reported entering NYCTF within three years of having received their undergraduate degree were labeled recent graduates.
Just over half of the remaining teachers reported five or more years of career experience —generally work in a single field or position—before entering NYCTF.
They were labelled career changers.
The other half, labeled career explorers, generally held one to three full- and part-time jobs (e.g., bank teller, waiter) for one to three years before entering NYCTF.
Finally, the NYC service history file distinguished between voluntary and involuntary attrition from a school and district (from the district perspective).

Quantitative Analysis
Exploratory factor analyses were conducted to address questions about the teachers’ career decision-making and to reduce the 24-item “reasons for entry” and 29-item “reasons for leaving” inventories to a manageable number of psychometrically desirable factors.
This process generated four reasons for entry factors and five reasons for leaving factors.
Based on the item loadings, the reasons for entry factors were labeled altruism, meaningful job, alternative certification, and job benefits.
The reasons for leaving factors were labeled dissatisfaction or concerns with administration, job benefits, course assignments, standardized tests, and school safety.

Results and discussion
This research makes three main contributions.
First it adds to a small number of studies that show that the career trajectories of new generations of teachers range from the straightforward to the complex (e.g., Lindqvist et al., 2014; Quartz et al., 2008) and, in so doing, challenges several widely held assumptions in the retention literature.
On the straightforward side were the teachers who taught for a few years in one district school and then left to work outside education.
On the complex side were the district leavers who returned after a long hiatus, and the district stayers who moved in and out of leadership positions.
Second, the study also deepens our understanding of teachers’ career decision making as it unfolds over time.
For example, it documents that the district leavers emphasized different reasons for leaving, depending on when they left.
Further, while some of their reasons for leaving are well documented, such as a lack of administrator support, others are not, such as mathematics teachers’ disenchantment with secondary mathematics.
In addition to examining why leavers leave, the study also provides insights about why some district stayers move into teacher leadership and administrative roles while others continue to teach full-time.
Third, the study shows that, although in many ways similar, the career trajectories of the career changers, career explorers, and recent graduates, differed in key regards.
For example, although they left their schools at a significantly higher rate during their first year, the career changers were significantly more likely than the recent graduates to remain in the district in the long run.
Although this might be explained by their prior work experience, as a group, the career changers entered the field with stronger ties to NYC and its schools, which also might have been a factor (49% were NYC high school graduates.
Other project research shows that the NYC high school graduates were much more likely to be retained in the district than their counterparts (Brantlinger et al., 2020, 2021).
With this in mind, isolating the effects of teachers’ prior career experience on their retention is something that future research might address.
By recruiting high-achieving recent graduates and professional career changers, selective alternative certification programs such as NYCTF figure prominently among the policy solutions to teacher shortages in hard-to-staff urban schools.
However, at least at current levels of production, such programs likely will not meet these schools’ future demands for teachers.
Moreover, NYCTF mathematics teachers left their first schools and the district at high rates.
Nine years after entry, only 35% were still working in NYC public schools.
Thus, while selective alternative route programs may help districts and high-turnover schools to meet immediate staffing needs, they seem to maintain high levels of turnover in the long run.
Arguably, given the massive expenditure and the problems associated with high turnover, NYC citizens might expect better outcomes from taxpayer-funded programs like NYCTF (Brantlinger, 2020).
In sum, given the scale of teacher turnover and the lack of clarity about what the leavers actually do that might benefit students, it seems clear that more needs to be done to retain teachers from selective programs and, for that matter, other teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
In addition, because teacher recruitment strategies, inclusive of selective alternative certification programs, seem insufficient to address longstanding teacher shortages in these schools, teacher retention strategies need to be prioritized (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Ingersoll, 2001; Quartz et al., 2008).
However, to ensure that these strategies are effective, the field needs to better understand why some people are motivated to teach in hard-to-staff schools, why some of them leave, and why some of them stay for years.
Although single studies are always insufficient, this study helps by explaining why career changers, career seekers, and recent graduates enter teaching through NYCTF and how mathematics teaching in hard-to-staff district schools fits into their career plans.
It specifically shows that, compared with the recent graduates, the career changers initially had greater trouble adapting to teaching than the recent graduates, but they were more likely to stay in NYC public schools as the years progressed.
This is consistent with prior research that finds that, as a group, midcareer teachers experience considerable problems adjusting to teaching, but if they get through the survival stage, they eventually settle into the profession (e.g., Watters & Diezmann, 2015; Wilkins, 2017).
In terms of retention strategies, this suggests that training and induction likely should be tailored to meet the different needs of career changers and recent graduates.
Finally, the study results also can help to improve retention strategies by confirming prior results about the relationship between teacher retention and certain features of school climate, including administrator support and high stakes accountability.

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Updated: Jan. 29, 2022