‘A validation of my pedagogy’: how subject discipline practice supports early career teachers’ identities and perceptions of retention

August 2021

Source: Teacher Development, 25:4, 465-477

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The primary intent of this article is to look at a promising solution to teacher exodus within the secondary school context.
Specifically, it will explore some of the findings from the Teacher as Practitioner (TAP) study, which aims to investigate the efficacy of a discipline-based community of practice intervention to improve teacher retention in secondary education, as enjoyment of their major subject area is a key motivator for pre-service teachers entering into initial teacher education (Manuel and Hughes 2006).
This article will explain how a concept, this study defines as being a practitioner, positively affects a large cohort of early career teachers.
It will briefly elaborate this concept, how it can be assimilated into teachers’ identities, and provide evidence to suggest practitioner activity increases early career teachers’ expectations of retention.

The full TAP dataset includes 764 responses from teachers across their first to their ninth year of teaching.
The dataset includes individuals from both undergraduate and postgraduate initial teacher education courses, and from both visual arts and science majors.
For this analysis, a purposive sub-sample of early career teachers was taken from the full dataset.
To qualify as an early career teacher, participants needed to be within their first five years of teaching and ‘mostly or fully employed as a teacher’, which includes teachers in short-term contract teaching.
A total of 305 teachers were included in the subsample.

The TAP survey was specifically designed for the study due to a lack of validated measures around the core variables being explored.
The survey structure was analysed to ensure it validly and reliably measured the target constructs of the study:
(1) teachers’ desire to practise,
(2) teachers’ perceptions of their quality of teaching, and
(3) their expectations of retention in teaching as a career (see Morris and Imms 2018).
The survey contains 66 items organised by six overarching sections:
1. Demographic information;
2. Items related to participants’ discipline practice, outside of their normal teaching and school duties;
3. Items related to participants’ teaching careers;
4. Items related to teachers’ perceptions of their quality as a teacher;
5. Items related to identity perceptions (that is, the balance between identifying as a practitioner and/or a teacher);
6. Items related to participation in the TAP exhibition/exposition intervention.
There are also a range of qualitative questions in the survey where participants are asked to explain their response to particular items; these questions intend to gather rich description of individual participants’ experiences.
The survey is administered in the first half of the school year (early April) via an online platform.
Participants have approximately four weeks to complete the survey.
The current analysis includes the following nominal identity question in order to categorise participants into teacher-practitioner identity groups: ‘In general I see myself as:
(1) a practitioner,
(2) a practitioner who teaches,
(3) a teacher who practises, or
(4) a teacher.’
Teachers’ intention of remaining in the profession long term is measured through the teaching as a career scale, which includes items such as:
‘At the moment I feel I am likely to leave the teaching profession within the next three years’ (negatively worded), and ‘At the moment I am very comfortable identifying myself as a teacher.’
Both the desire to practise and teaching as a career scales are summed to produce scores for further analysis

Results and discussion
The data collected to date has built evidence of the importance of discipline practice for the professional development of early career teachers, as those who keep a practitioner component to their identity have stronger retention aspirations than those who see themselves as teachers alone. The analysis showed the importance of spending regular time on practice as part of developing these fluid/dual teacher-practitioner identities.
Yet maintaining a discipline practice was not easy for early career teachers.
Issues of workload and administration hampered their ability to create, and this in turn impacted on their identity development.
While some early career teachers chose to alter their employment in order to make time for practice, there was an element of being asked to make a choice between practice or teaching.
Early career teachers in this study often prioritised their development as a teacher over that of a subject specialist.
While developing interpersonal relationships, learning administration tasks and caring for students and colleagues is very important, it is also vital that teachers see their identity as multidimensional (Beauchamp and Thomas 2009; Popper-Giveon and Shayshon 2017; Salazar Noguera and McCluskey 2017).
This means being a teacher as well as a subject specialist who can motivate students to extend their learning within the subject discipline, and maintain the passion for their subject that originally brought them to teaching (Manuel and Hughes 2006).
In terms of school support, early career teachers were not particularly positive about getting support for their discipline practice.
Yet, they were more positive about affective supports, such as colleagues and students giving feedback about their work, than they were about broader (or perhaps leadership-level) support for their practice.
As school culture is a critical factor shaping teacher identity and development (Hong, Day, and Greene 2018), it is essential that schools also promote the importance of developing teachers with expert skills and knowledge in their subject discipline areas.
The findings from the TAP dataset have implications for how schools and teacher education providers develop secondary school teachers and promote retention of quality teacher-practitioners.
In order to develop secondary teachers as both educators and subject specialists (Popper-Giveon and Shayshon 2017), it is essential to balance ongoing learning in both these domains.
TAP is showing that annual engagement with practice through producing one artefact for exhibition/exposition per year is sufficient for teachers to maintain a teacher-practitioner identity (Morris et al. 2018).
Yet it is also important that early career teachers are given opportunities to interrogate their identity and consider how their growing experiences shape both their identity development and their classroom practice (Hsieh 2014).
The degree to which teacher-practitioners in the TAP dataset are doing this is currently unknown.
Future research could examine the school context more closely to explore what supports could be provided to teachers as they develop their identity within the beginning years of teaching, and the extent to which identity development happens both within and beyond the walls of the classroom.
It is also critical for research to explore the changing needs of teacher-practitioners over time, accounting for the effect of lived experiences and differing professional needs over the course of a teacher’s career.
These are limitations of the current study, which could also be extended to an international context to examine the degree to which teachers within varying settings experience similar challenges.
While these data were collected from an Australian sample, the issue of teacher retention is international.
It is essential that a range of interventions to improve quality teacher retention are implemented, as teacher development is highly individualised and requires diverse strategies that support teachers in differing contexts (Hong, Day, and Greene 2018).
The TAP study, just one intervention for secondary teachers, is an example of how discipline may support early career teachers’ perceptions of retention.

Beauchamp, C., and L. Thomas. 2009. “Understanding Teacher Identity: An Overview of Issues in the Literature and Implications for Teacher Education.” Cambridge Journal of Education 39 (2): 175–189.
Hong, J., C. Day, and B. Greene. 2018. “The Construction of Early Career Teachers’ Identities: Coping or Managing?” Teacher Development 22 (2): 249–266.
Hsieh, B. 2014. “The Importance of Orientation: Implications of Professional Identity on Classroom Practice and for Professional Learning.” Teachers and Teaching 21 (2): 178–190.
Manuel, J., and J. Hughes. 2006. “‘It Has Always Been My Dream’: Exploring Pre-Service Teachers’ Motivations for Choosing to Teach.” Teacher Development 10 (1): 5–24.
Morris, J. E., and W. Imms. 2018. “Validation of the TAP Tool, an Instrument Measuring the Impact of Teacher Retention Intervention Strategies.” Curriculum and Teaching 36 (2): 15–27.
Morris, J. E., K. Coleman, M. Toscano, and W. Imms. 2018. “A Case for the Impact of Practice: The Teacher as Practitioner (TAP) Report, 2018.” In Community: Becoming With, edited by W. Imms, K. Coleman, and M. Toscano, 73–84. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.
Popper-Giveon, A., and B. Shayshon. 2017. “Educator versus Subject Matter Teacher: The Conflict between Two Sub-Identities in Becoming a Teacher.” Teachers and Teaching 23 (5): 532–548.
Salazar Noguera, J., and K. McCluskey. 2017. “A Case Study of Early Career Secondary Teachers’ Perceptions of Their Preparedness for Teaching: Lessons from Australia and Spain.” Teacher Development 21 (1): 101–117. 

Updated: Feb. 08, 2022