Pre-service teachers’ motivations for choosing teaching as a career: does subject interest matter?

From Section:
Preservice Teachers
Dec. 02, 2019
December 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:5, 494-510

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study deals with student teachers’ motivations for choosing teaching as a career that were investigated using the Factors Influencing Teaching Choice scale (FIT-Choice).
The authors analyse teaching motivations of 386 pre-service teachers from one large university in Germany, the University of Cologne, and specifically focus on the subject interest factor that has rarely been accounted for by FIT-Choice scale studies (Watt and Richardson 2012; Butler 2017).
To go beyond the single subject interest factor within the FIT-Choice framework, they also analyse motivations for teaching regarding different combinations of the two subjects (e.g. mathematics and physics) students choose when entering initial teacher education.
In order to examine personal affinity to each subject, students were also asked to rate the importance of their individually chosen subjects.

The authors focus on the following research questions:

(1) To what extent can the FIT-Choice scale with the additional subject interest factor be validated regarding first-year Bachelor pre-service students qualifying for lower and upper secondary schools?
In a confirmatory factor analysis, the authors assume positive correlations between the subject interest factor with perceived teaching abilities, intrinsic value and prior teaching and learning experiences.
A negative correlation is assumed with the fallback career option.

(2) Which effect does the significance rating of the two subjects have on the subject interest factor as well as on the other motivational factors?
The authors assume that students who rated both their subjects highly (‘high subject importance group’) will show higher intrinsic motivation, and especially their subject interest will be higher than their fellow students’ who rated one subject higher than the other or both rather low. 

They also assume that the ‘high subject importance group’ is positively associated with perceived teaching abilities as well as with prior teaching and learning experiences. A significant negative effect on fallback career option is assumed for the ‘high subject importance group’.
A path analysis was conducted including the control variables gender, GPA (high school grade average point, range from 1 to 4 with a lower score reflecting a higher grade) as an indicator of cognitive ability, and the two different secondary school study tracks.

(3) Do students’ teaching motivations differ in relation to their subject domains such as STEM, languages and social studies?
The authors assume that six different subject groups will have an effect on the subject interest factor because (future) teachers of different subject domains are said to have differing interests, beliefs and practices (Holland 1997).
They also assume that the six subject groups will have an effect on intrinsic and social-altruistic motivations (work with children/adolescents and social motivation) as previous studies have shown that students with STEM and non-STEM subjects differ in their social interests (Roloff Henoch et al. 2015; Kaub et al. 2016) and language students seem to be especially intrinsically motivated (Glutsch, König, and Rothland 2018).
In a path analysis, The authors control for background variables such as gender, GPA and study track.

Classification of subject domains
Students were classified into six different subject groups according to the disciplines their subjects belonged to.
The first group comprises two subjects of the social studies/ humanities, the second is a languages only group and the third consists of mathematics and sciences (STEM) students.
These three groups are ‘pure’ in the sense that all students who belong to one of these groups study two subjects out of each group.
In addition, three more groups were constructed that consist of students who study two subjects that belong to two different domains, i.e. there is one group which comprises students who study one subject belonging to the social studies/humanities and one to the languages, another group that consists of the social studies/humanities and STEM domains, and a last group of students with subjects in the languages and STEM domains.
Altogether, the authors were able to compare six different subject domain groups.

The present study uses a subsample of 386 Bachelor first-year students at the University of Cologne. As the authors wanted to focus on the subject-specific interest they only included students of lower and upper secondary schools who study two subjects.

FIT-choice model - In order to investigate teaching motivations, the FIT-Choice framework developed by Watt and Richardson (2007) was used.
Subject importance - In the study students also rated the importance of each subject they studied.
They had to specify their first and second subjects and were asked how important this subject was to them.
The authors summarised the items into one dichotomous categorical variable, referred to as ‘subject importance’.
One group comprises all students who rated both their subjects highly.
The other ‘mixed subject importance group’ mainly consists of those students who rated their two subjects differently. I.e. one subject might be considered to be important with responses from 5 to 7, the other one might be rated rather low with responses from 1 to 4.

Conclusion and discussion

Main research findings
Most results were in accordance with previous studies (Watt et al. 2012; König and Rothland 2012).
As the authors assumed, there were positive correlations between the subject interest factor with perceived teaching abilities, intrinsic value and prior teaching and learning experiences preceding university education.
A negative correlation with the fallback career option was also found.
Additionally, positive correlations between subject interest with social motivations, the wish to work with children/adolescents and social influences have been identified.
High subject interest, therefore, can be positively associated with intrinsic and social motivations.
Concerning the second research question, most assumptions have shown to be accurate.
The authors correctly assumed that the ‘high subject importance group’ would have higher intrinsic motivations and subject interests.
They also correctly assumed that the ‘high subject importance group’ was positively associated with perceived teaching abilities and negatively with a fallback career option.
However, there was no significant effect on prior teaching and learning experiences.
Instead, a significant positive effect on the wish to work with children/adolescents occurred.
The authors found that the subject domains only made a difference concerning the intrinsic and social motivational factors as well as the wish to work with children/adolescents.
Even though teachers of different disciplines are portrayed as different personality types, such as mathematics teachers and teachers of English (Watt, Richardson, and Morris 2017), they do not seem to differ much in their motivations.
Contrary to findings from other studies, such as Kaub et al. (2016), Roloff Henoch et al. (2015), and Watt, Richardson, and Morris (2017) currently conducted study, it is not important for teaching motivations whether student teachers study a language or STEM subject combination.
Interestingly, the authors note that what seems to make a difference is the affiliation to the social studies/humanities group that showed lower social and pedagogical as well as intrinsic motivations in comparison to the language and STEM disciplines.
As the social studies group comprises subjects such as history, philosophy, pedagogy and religious education, this result is rather surprising.

Implications for teacher education
The authors note that supporting research results from previous studies, prospective teachers motivations at the beginning of their university studies were strongly intrinsic and social/altruistic.
However, subject interest showed the highest mean of all motivational factors.
Therefore, the authors feel that it should be included in further studies about motivations for choosing teaching using the FIT-Choice scale (Butler 2017). In their study, high subject interest correlated with positively attributed motives in the teaching profession such as intrinsic, social or altruistic values and the wish to work with children or adolescents.
Students with high subject interest also had a lower risk of choosing teaching as a fallback option.
The authors also note that subject importance showed an impact on teaching motivations.
These findings hint to the fact that it is important for future teachers to choose (two) subjects which they like, and think are important to them and others. These students were more intrinsically motivated and showed more prior teaching and learning experiences than those who rated only one subject as important.

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Updated: Jun. 21, 2020
Career choice | Motivation | Preservice teachers | Teacher motivation | Subject matter