Making sense of early-career teacher support, satisfaction, and commitment

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Published: 
June, 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 102

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the author provides a rich and nuanced picture of how different districts across one state with an underdefined support policy strive to support early-career teachers, and then assess the relationships between these experiences and teachers’ own reported satisfaction and commitment to the teaching profession.
To do this, she undertakes a mixed-methods study that answers the following research questions:
1) What are the nature and prevalence of support experienced by early-career teachers in Michigan across a variety of settings?
2) What are the relationships among early-career teachers’ experiences of support - including, but not limited to, mentorship and professional development - and their reported satisfaction and professional commitment?

Method
This mixed-methods study uses a two-phase sequential explanatory design (Creswell, 2014; Ivankova, Creswell, & Stick, 2006), beginning with quantitative data collection and analysis and supplemented with qualitative data collection and analysis to further explain and interpret quantitative data (Creswell, 2014; Ivankova et al., 2006).
In the first phase of this study, the author collected survey responses from 354 teachers in their first three years of teaching from 15 Michigan school districts to learn about their experiences of support.
In the second phase, she conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with a subset of 16 survey respondents to delve into their individual, nuanced experiences.
A sequential explanatory design is ideal because it allows for further exploration and contextualization of quantitative data, especially in cases where findings are unexpected (Ivankova et al., 2006).

Participants
The author contacted 802 early-career teachers from 15 Michigan school districts in spring 2018, inviting them to complete a 15-min electronic survey about their experiences during the past year.
A total of 354 individuals participated, resulting in a 51% response rate.
All survey participants, were classroom teachers with one to three years of experience.
After survey administration, she interviewed 16 participants in six districts, to delve further into teachers’ nuanced experiences.
Two individuals declined to participate, and 10 individuals did not respond.

Surveys
A total of 56 survey items assessed types of support teachers receive, how helpful teachers perceive this support to be, and reported satisfaction and commitment.
In addition to original items, the survey includes items adapted from the Schools and Staffing Survey (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011) and a survey of Tennessee teachers (see Koedel, Li, Springer, & Tan, 2017).
Participants specified their formal and informal mentorship experiences, professional development activities, and perceptions of these experiences. Participants described their workplace conditions, satisfaction, and future career plans.

Interviews
Lasting 30-45 min, interviews were semi-structured, with a focus on more in-depth descriptions of participants’ experiences as early-career teachers and exploring participants’ thoughts about teaching as a long-term career option.
Interviews served to expand on responses provided by participants in surveys.

Results and discussion
State policy in Michigan attempts to support early-career teachers through two mechanisms–mentorship and professional development.
In this mixed-methods study, the author examined the nature and prevalence of these two forms of support for early-career teachers and found that experiences varied substantially.
She also identified relationships between support experiences and teacher outcomes, including satisfaction, plans to persist in the profession, and general sense of support.
Mentorship, both formal and informal, was positively associated with teacher outcomes.
Mentorship has the potential to be valuable for early-career teachers, especially when teachers are matched with someone in a similar grade or subject, when mentors are accessible and logistical barriers are absent, and when mentors are not overburdened by multiple mentees.
There appear to be additional benefits when early-career teachers considered their assigned mentors to also be their closest colleagues.
Findings related to formal professional development were more ambiguous.
When early-career teachers had the autonomy to select learning opportunities and when they felt that those opportunities met their needs, they reported more positive outcomes.
However, at other times, the ability to participate in professional development was limited by broader systemic factors, such as staffing constraints, administrators, and accountability pressures.
The roles of administrator presence and collegial connection emerged as significant factors in teachers’ support experiences.
Although not explicitly mandated forms of support, administrators and the broader school community are essential factors influencing early-career teachers.
When administrator presence was lacking or punitive, teachers felt unsupported, which had spillover effects on other outcomes.
Similarly, the broader collegial environment, especially in the area of staffing, is important.
Teachers spoke positively about having a community to which they could turn to and belong.
The author provides further evidence of the importance of the broader organizational context, including administrator presence and collegial connection, rather than focusing on isolated components of support, such as mentorship and professional development, that can fall short on their own.
This research also contributes to the literature by being the first to use the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development as a lens for understanding how multiple interrelated systems collectively influence new teachers’ experiences and career trajectories.
The majority of research on early-career teacher experiences relies on smaller samples, such as individual schools or districts, or national survey data.
This work, however, took a statewide mixed-methods approach, looking at teacher experiences across a variety of settings through the use of both quantitative and qualitative data.
In doing so, the author generated a nuanced picture of new teacher experiences across Michigan.
Finally, this study was unique in that it considered both satisfaction and commitment, which were both critical outcomes to early-career teacher trajectories.
These findings have implications for school leaders and policymakers both within and outside of the United States.
Indeed, many nations already recognize the importance of mentorship for early-career teachers.
Finland, for example, offered a peer-group mentoring model called “Osaava Verme,” which was intended to allow small groups of teachers to come together to discuss issues related to their work.
This mentorship benefited teachers by providing time and space for reflection, building self-confidence, developing professional identity, and increasing motivation (Aspfors, Hansen, Tynjala, Heikkinen, € & Jokinen, 2012).
In South Korea, teachers are provided with substantial time for collaboration in a shared office space, which is particularly helpful for early-career teachers (Kang & Hong, 2008).
The findings from this work build upon these practices and provide further insight into how mentorship might be strengthened.
For example, the facilitation of organic mentorship relationships may be one strategy to maximize the effectiveness of mentorship.
School leaders might consider how they can better foster effective mentor-mentee relationships.
Administrators might assign temporary mentors to teachers and allow for reassignment if new teachers identify other individuals with whom they feel closer.
Since mentorship is a time-intensive endeavor that requires sufficient numbers of experienced teachers to serve as mentors, education leaders might consider ways to strategically assign staff so as to maximize the availability of mentor teachers.
Additional financial resources could be allocated to mentorship.
This could take the form of stipends for mentors or additional funding to provide substitute teachers for mentors and mentees so that they can more easily collaborate.
To support early-career teacher trajectories, the broader interactive systems in which a teacher participates must be considered.
Although broader policy cannot dictate the extent to which an administrator is present or how supportive one’s colleagues are, these are factors that policymakers and leaders need to pay attention to best support early-career teachers.
The entire system must be taken into consideration to strengthen early-career teacher outcomes and therefore improve equity and educational access for students.
Despite the challenges associated with early-career teacher mobility and effectiveness and the disproportionate placement of early-career teachers in historically underserved communities, a robust support structure that includes multiple components–mentorship, professional development, administrators, and collegial connection–has the potential to enhance early-career teacher satisfaction and persistence.

References
Aspfors, J., Hansen, S.-E., Tynjal € a, P., Heikkinen, H. L. T., & Jokinen, H. (2012). Lessons € learnt from peer-group mentoring experiments. In H. L. T. Heikkinen, & P. Tynjal € € a (Eds.), Peer-group mentoring for teacher development (pp. 144e170). Milton Park: Routledge.
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.
Ivankova, N. V., Creswell, J. W., & Stick, S. L. (2006). Using mixed-methods sequential explanatory design: From theory to practice. Field Methods, 18(1), 3-20.
Kang, N.-H., & Hong, M. (2008). Achieving excellence in teacher workforce and equity in learning opportunities in South Korea. Educational Researcher, 37(4), 200e207
Koedel, C., Li, J., Spring, M. G., & Tan, L. (2017). The impact of performance ratings on job satisfaction for public school teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 54(2) 

Updated: Oct. 17, 2021
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