Linking demographic variables to motivation: investigating the motivation to choose teaching among Arab and Jewish students in Israel


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 45:1, 5-25

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study aims to contribute to the literature by conducting empirical research that links motivational factors to demographic variables with specific focus on ethnic-religious backgrounds (in this case Arab and Jewish pre-service teachers).
Rather than simply conducting cross-national comparisons of student-teachers from different national contexts this study conducts comparative analysis between Arab and Jewish student-teachers in Israel as a case-study for exploring motivations of different sub-groups in culturally diverse social contexts.
In the Israeli context, given the growing integration of Arab teachers in public Jewish schools, it is important to study and compare the motivation of teachers from both sectors.
The overall aim of the present research is to explore what motivated students to choose teaching as a professional career.
More specifically, this study seeks to explore the relationship between demographic variables (ethnic background and prior teaching experience) and the motivation to teach.
This study engages in comparative analysis of the two ethnic-religious groups (Jewish and Arab student teachers) and considers to what extent their ‘ethnic background’ and ‘prior teaching experience’ relate to FIT-Choice motivational factors.
Furthermore, this study investigates to what extent do the above demographic variables effect ‘subject interest’.
The research questions are, therefore, formulated as follows:
(1) What is the effect of student teachers’ ethnic-religious background (Arab and Jewish sectors) on the motivation to choose teaching as a career?
(2) In what way does student-teachers’ prior teaching experience effect the motivation to choose teaching as a career in both ethnic backgrounds?
(3) What is the relationship between ‘subject-interest’ and ethnic-religious background (Arab and Jewish sectors)?

Materials and methods

Research context – demographics
The study sample consisted of 270 students studying in the various tracks of the teacher training program at a large College of Education in Israel.
The sample included 146 (54%) Arab students and 124 (46%) Jewish students, studying in both primary and secondary school teacher training programs.
Research instruments This study employed a questionnaire that was based on the FIT-Choice model (Watt and Richardson 2007).
Excluding demographic variables (age, gender, sector) and respondents’ prior teaching-pedagogical experience, the investigation of motivational factors was carried out using a 21-item questionnaire.
All motivational-factor items follow from the initial question: Rate your reasons for choosing a career in teaching by order of importance.
‘I chose teaching school children because:’ and scored using a Likert scale ranging from ‘1ʹ (very unimportant) to ‘5ʹ (very important).
An important modification was the additional focus on items referring to specific content or subject interest that have rarely been explored in FIT-choice studies (Berger and D’Ascoli 2012; Glutsch and König 2019; Topkaya and Uztosun 2012).
Subject interest usually refers to the intrinsic value students attribute to the subjects they will later teach in class, such as enjoyment of topics and passion for the subject area.

Results and discussion
The aim of the present study was to explore the kinds of motivations that drive Arab and Jewish student-teachers to choose a teaching career.
In light of the changing demographics of individuals entering teacher training programs (Richardson and Watt 2005; Wagner and Imanuel-Noy 2014), as well as the increasing attention to issues of cultural diversity in teacher preparation programs in OECD countries, including the explicit need to attract and retain diverse student teachers (Heinz and Keane 2018; OECD 2010), the authors were interested in investigating whether Jewish and Arab students exhibit different motivations given their different demographic backgrounds.
The present study yielded three central insights that the authors believe contribute to the literature on the motivation to choose teaching as a career.
First, the present study has further corroborated the fact that Subject Interest (or the value of teaching specific subject-matters) is an important and separate motivational factor, which should be accounted for in the investigation of motivation as well as in the development of teacher preparation programs.
In the present context, this finding further supports the likelihood for increased integration of Arab students in Jewish schools given that content matters for them and not simply social utility (in this case, contributing to the welfare and education of children in the Arab community).
Deepening the investigation of subject interest among student teachers coming from different ethnic-religious backgrounds may offer much needed knowledge not only for the development of preparation programs but also for considering future employment possibilities particularly in educational contexts that are characterised by ethnic-religious segregation.
Second, with respect to demographic variables, the fact that no significant differences were found in the present study between the two sectors (Arab and Jewish) may indicate that despite cultural diversity and various other demographic differences, there are great similarities among those who choose teaching as career (Watt et al. 2012). Nevertheless, given that in some international cross-cultural studies significant differences were found among pre-service teachers coming from different cultural backgrounds (Klassen et al. 2010), as well as the possibility that quantitative research may mask culture-based differences (Klassen et al. 2008), there is a need for further comparative study of the relationship between cultural-religious background and the motivation to teach particularly among student teachers in the same national or social context.
This will also include reassessment of the research instruments that are used to link demographic variables to motivation so as to gain a better understanding of how ‘culture influences individual response behaviors’ (Heinz 2015).
Third, and consequently, consideration of Intrinsic Motivation, particularly as it is understood in different cultural contexts, demands further serious methodological attention.
This has been seen in the present study both in the loading of ‘ability’- related items on Intrinsic Motivation items as well as significant effects (correlation) of ‘prior teaching experience’ on Intrinsic Motivation.
These considerations of student motivation may have an impact on teacher training and teacher professional development programs in terms of their focus areas and specific contents.
The question of whether and how demographic variables are related to motivation is crucial for addressing the particular needs of student teachers learning in training programs and for integrating them into the school system.
For example, findings related to ‘previous teaching experience’, which moderated differences found between the two sectors in terms of their intrinsic motivation, suggests that crafting specialised programs for those having previous teaching experiences may prove advantageous in culturally diverse social contexts.
Additionally, linking demographic/biographical variables to the study of motivation may produce needed knowledge for attracting Arab students to apply for teaching positions in the Jewish sector.
Therefore, more comparative work is needed in order to gain a better understanding of how to attract and retain high-quality student teachers and develop teacher preparation programs particularly in culturally diverse educational contexts.

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Updated: Jul. 11, 2022