There is considerable evidence of impending teacher shortages throughout Australia and indeed most nations. Research so far has generally concentrated on how to improve the satisfaction of the current teachers and reduce the resignation rate, especially of early career teachers. This paper looks at the factors that influence the decisions of university students in deciding to pursue or not to pursue a career as a teacher. This study analyses the survey responses of over 400 university students throughout NSW in regard to their attitudes to becoming high school teachers and provides some possible policy implications of the results.
In most cases classes in these teaching areas, which are not taken by specialists in the field, would be taken by 'out-of-field' teachers. In a worse case scenario as reported in the Vinson Report on Public Education in NSW (2002, p.xii), students would be instructed to ... "go to the front lawn," and grouped with other students for minding rather than formally being taught.
While in general there are sufficient people with teaching qualifications in schools at this time, the issue of teachers having few or no qualifications in subject areas in which they are teaching is quite important. There is considerable evidence that teachers' knowledge and ability are associated with student learning in the classroom. A 1992 study in the USA (Hanushek, Gomes-Neto & Harbison, as cited in Monk, 1994) used measures of teachers' subject matter knowledge and student learning gains, and found a positive relationship between how much teachers knew about the subject taught and their students' learning gains in that subject. In a 1994 analysis of student performance compared with the Science and Mathematics subject matter preparation of their teachers, Monk reported a positive relationship between student gains in performance and the number of courses their teachers had taken in the subject taught. Other research in the USA by Goldhaber and Brewer (1997) which analysed the quality of teachers' postsecondary degrees and students' Mathematics performance found a positive relationship between these variables, with higher levels of performance among students whose teachers held a bachelors or masters degree in Mathematics than among students whose teachers were out-of-field. In 2000, Goldhaber and Brewer examined data on the postsecondary degrees and certification status of teachers and their students' performance in Mathematics and Science. They observed a positive relationship between teachers' degrees and student performance in Mathematics consistent with earlier findings. They also found that students whose teachers were certified in Mathematics but did not hold a postsecondary degree in Mathematics did not perform as well as students whose teachers held a postsecondary degree in Mathematics.
The main source of new teachers into the high school teacher labour market in NSW is new university graduates. The problem facing education authorities is that from 1983 to 2004 the proportion of higher education students studying Education declined from 21.3% to 9.7%. Across Australia the actual number of Education students fell from 74,314 in 1983 to 73,680 in 2000. While the number of female students studying Education increased over the period by 13.8%, the number of male students declined by 28.85% (DEST 2005). There are a number of issues to be considered. First, are there different factors that influence the decisions of male and female university graduates to enter the teacher labour market? Second, what factors influence the decisions of students to pursue careers in teaching compared with other careers? Finally, what can be done to increase the overall level of university graduates entering teaching?
There is very limited research into these issues in Australia. Richardson and Watt (2005) used surveys and interviews to target students in a 1-year pre-service teacher education program at Monash University. They looked at reasons why people were going into teaching but did not consider why people were not going into teaching. The factors that they found most important were prior considerations, career fit, time for family and financial reward. While there was not a significant difference in the gender responses on these issues, the sample size was small (63 females and 11 males). A larger study by Richardson and Watt (2006) of first year pre-service teachers at three universities in Sydney and Melbourne used a FIT-Choice (Factors Influencing Teacher Choice) framework based on expectancy value theory to investigate why people choose a teaching career. Their research showed that the main factors that motivated the students to become teachers were their perceived abilities to be teachers, the intrinsic value of teaching and the desire to make a social contribution, shape the future and work with children or adolescents.
This study will consider some of these factors but is distinctive as it also examines why people do not choose to teach. The aim of the study is to survey university students in NSW to determine their attitudes towards pursuing careers as a high school teachers and the importance of various factors in making their career choices. The differences in factors and the relative level of importance of those factors that influence students' career choices are an important consideration for administrators of school systems and schools in attempting to attract new graduates into teaching.
The university student surveys designed for this study classified students based on
These results were then analysed by Chi-square tests.
The sample group demonstrated a range of university admission types. The majority (80%) relied on the University Admission Index (UAI) although it is likely that at least some of the students with UAIs less than 50 would have relied on other forms of entry such as TAFE or work experience to assist their entry. There were 12.9% of the respondents who had UAIs in the top decile of 90-100, while a further 21.0% had UAI's ranging between 80-89. There was a spread of students residing throughout locations in NSW with 76.9% living in Sydney and 23.1% in the country and regional areas of Newcastle and Wollongong.
There was also a range of fields of study in the survey sample. The largest group (34.1%) had double degrees. These were predominately Education/Teaching degrees combined with Arts, although there were some Arts/Commerce combined with Law. The other main groups had qualifications in Commerce/Business/Economics (22.9%), Arts (5.4%), Science/Mathematics (16.6%), Nursing (8.0%) and Education (8.3%). The students had attended schools across the three education systems, with 44.5% attending public schools, 36.6% Catholic schools, and 17.7% other private schools. The higher than normal percentage of respondents who attended Catholic schools could reflect the fact that the Australian Catholic University was one of the six universities which agreed to participate in the study. The final category of classification related to the respondents intentions to pursue a career as a teacher. Of the total surveyed, 32.4% of those surveyed responded 'yes', 46.3% responded 'no', while a further 20.2% were 'unsure'.
The results showed that a salary increase of 10% would lead to 7.6% of those who did not plan to become high school teachers to plan to become teachers (Table 1). In addition 15.4% of those students who responded that they were unsure would also plan to become high school teachers.
It is also interesting to note that the final year students had a stronger response to the higher salaries in favouring a move to teaching than the first year students. While it could be argued that responding to the survey is different from making a career change in real life, it is still very likely that higher relative salaries would attract university students away from other career choices to become high school teachers.
|Career in teaching?||Required salary increase||Total|
|% in year of study||5.3%||19.3%||33.3%||17.5%||24.6%||100.0%|
|% in year of study||10.4%||25.0%||35.4%||16.7%||12.5%||100.0%|
|% in year of study||7.6%||21.9%||34.3%||17.1%||19.0%||100.0%|
|% in Year of study||12.2%||36.6%||31.7%||9.8%||9.8%||100.0%|
|% in year of study||20.8%||45.8%||16.7%||8.3%||8.3%||100.0%|
|% in year of study||15.4%||40.0%||26.2%||9.2%||9.2%||100.0%|
The Chi-square test results showed that the effect of a salary increase on the intention to pursue a career in teaching was independent of the year group that was surveyed in all categories of response.
While all of the factors listed were of some importance to the students, the most important factors in determining their decisions to pursue a particular career (Table 2), based on the mean scores, were
|Statistics||V||M||Mean||Med||SD||Sk||SE S||K||SE K|
|Level of salary||400||10||3.96||4.00||0.877||-1.076||0.122||1.872||0.243|
|A low level of stress||385||25||3.58||4.00||1.043||-0.475||0.124||-0.182||0.248|
|Number of holidays||380||30||3.34||3.00||1.024||-0.080||0.125||-0.561||0.250|
|Hours of work||386||24||3.52||4.00||0.973||-0.401||0.124||-0.107||0.248|
|Attitude of peers and friends||381||29||3.74||4.00||1.057||-0.572||0.125||-0.370||0.249|
|Attitude and support of employer||385||25||4.20||4.00||0.897||-0.986||0.124||0.399||0.248|
|Attitude of the general public||379||31||3.13||3.00||1.195||-0.187||0.125||-0.843||0.250|
|Support of your family||383||27||3.95||4.00||0.992||-0.676||0.125||-0.231||0.249|
|Interest in your work||394||16||4.67||5.00||0.683||-2.562||0.123||7.751||0.245|
|Possibility of promotion||381||29||3.90||4.00||1.061||0.661||0.125||8.148||0.249|
|Desire to help others||381||29||4.04||4.00||1.046||-1.045||0.125||0.624||0.249|
|V||No. of valid responses||M||No. of missing responses|
|SE S||Standard error of skewness||K||Kurtosis|
|SE K||Standard error of kurtosis|
The least important factors for students in deciding to pursue a particular career were
The results in Table 3 show that there were considerable differences in the importance of some factors between those who intended to pursue a career as a teacher and those who were unsure or did not intend to pursue teaching as a career.
There were highly significant differences in the importance of factors in making career choices between the three categories of students in regard to two factors that had Pearson Chi-square results that were significant at the 1% level (Table 3). These factors were
|Intend to teach|
|Do not intend to|
|Level of salary||10.63||6||0.100||3.84||4.07||3.88|
|A low level of stress||6.429||8||0.599||3.51||3.57||3.77|
|Number of holidays||15.27||8||0.054||3.54||3.16||3.46|
|Hours of work||6.568||8||0.584||3.63||3.50||3.44|
|The attitude of peers and friends||3.176||8||0.919||3.81||3.70||3.74|
|The attitude of employer||4.294||8||0.830||4.26||4.16||4.17|
|The attitude of the general public||28.43||8||0.000||3.30||2.95||3.21|
|The support of your family||6.802||8||0.558||4.03||3.88||4.01|
|Interest in the work you do||7.925||4||0.094||4.80||4.61||4.58|
|The possibility of promotion||10.60||8||0.225||3.75||4.06||3.79|
|Desire to help others||30.16||8||0.000||4.39||3.82||3.95|
|* The degrees of freedom have been adjusted where necessary to ensure the accuracy of the results.|
The desire to help others
The results show that for students who intended to become teachers, the desire to help others was more important, than for those who did not intend to teach. More than half (57.6%) of the students who intended to become teachers considered that the desire to help others was 'very important' compared with 33.9% of those who did not intend to become teachers and 33.3% of those who were unsure. The desire to help others is an important distinguishing characteristic between the groups. The students, who intended to teach, ranked desire to help others as more important than the level of salary (means of 4.39 and 3.84 respectively). Teachers may be prepared to accept lower relative wages in exchange for the satisfaction they expect to receive from helping others. The group who did not intend to become teachers considered the level of salary as a higher priority in their career choice not just in comparison to those who intended to teach but as an overall level of importance compared with the desire to help others (Table 3). The unsure group ranked desire to help others slightly more important that the level of salary.
There were also significant differences (at the 10% level) in the importance of factors in deciding careers between the three categories of students in regard to three other factors (Table 3). These factors were
Number of holidays
The number of holidays is a more important factor and obviously an area of attraction for those who intend to become teachers. The results show that more than half (52.0%) of the students who intend to become teachers considered that the number of holidays was of 'some importance' or 'very important' compared with 36.3% of those who did not intend to become teachers and 46.1% of those who were unsure.
Changes in the relative numbers of holidays or the timing of holidays could have a considerable impact on the numbers of students who pursue careers in teaching. An obvious advantage for students who become teachers is the ability to have holidays at the same time as their children, should they have any. In addition teachers have more holidays than most other occupations. It could be considered that some of those who become teachers trade-off the larger number of holidays in exchange for a higher salary in another occupation.
Interest in the work
Interest in the work is also a more important factor for those who intend to become teachers compared with the other two groups. The results show that 82.8% of the students who intend to become teachers considered interest in the work was 'very important' compared with 73.2% of those who did not intend to become teachers and 69.6% of those who were unsure. Research by Stokes (2005) showed that interest in the subjects that teachers taught was a very important consideration in their level of job satisfaction. This seems to also apply to those who intend to become teachers. It is possible that, if teachers are teaching outside their field of interest, this could reduce their levels of satisfaction and lead to resignations.
Overall it appears students who intend to be teachers are prepared to trade off certain conditions of employment, such as relative salary for other non-wage amenities, especially the desire to help others, holidays and interest in the work. In turn, those who do not intend to become teachers have different preferences (and as a result indifference curves) and salary is a more important consideration than desire to help others, holidays, the attitude of the general public, and interest in the job.
|Gender||Pursue a career in teaching?||Total|
|% within gender||28.8%||48.8%||22.5%||100.0%|
|% within gender||35.1%||46.4%||18.4%||100.0%|
|% of total||32.6%||47.4%||20.1%||100.0%|
Of the female students surveyed 35.1% said that they intended to pursue a career as a high school teacher compared with 28.8% of male students surveyed. There was, however, a higher proportion of male students who were unsure about becoming high school teachers, 22.5% compared with 18.4% of females. It should be noted though that the Chi-square tests show that the results are not significant at the 10% level.
Another consideration raised by Stokes (2005) related to the influence of salaries on the decisions of male and female teachers in pursuing careers in teaching. The results showed that the proportion of males in teaching was declining, accompanying a larger decline in wage relativities, compared with females. In addition research by Lewis and Butcher (2002), in Catholic high schools in Sydney, showed that male high school students were more influenced by the level of salaries as compared with females in considering careers in teaching.
|Gender||Pursue a career in teaching?||Salary increase||Total|
|% within pursue a career||8.1%||18.9%||37.8%||13.5%||21.6%||100.0%|
|% within pursue a career||16.1%||48.4%||22.6%||9.7%||3.2%||100.0%|
|% within pursue a career||7.5%||23.9%||32.8%||19.4%||16.4%||100.0%|
|% within pursue a career||15.2%||30.3%||30.3%||9.1%||15.2%||100.0%|
It could be expected that higher salaries may attract more males into teaching in comparison with females. The university student survey results (Table 5) show that a 20% increase in salaries could encourage 64.5% of male university students, who were unsure about their intention to become teachers, to decide to become teachers. A similar salary increase would only encourage 45.5% of the female students who expressed 'unsure' intentions to become teachers, to decide to become teachers. A salary increase of more than 40% would have minimal effect on increasing the number of 'unsure' male students to become teachers (12.9%) but would have a greater effect on the number of 'unsure' female students (24.3%). For those students who responded that they did not intend to become teachers, a salary increase of 20% would encourage only 27% of male students and 31.4% of female students to change their intentions. A salary increase of at least 40% would be required to cause 64.8% of male students and 64.2% of female students in the 'no' category to change their intentions and to intend to become teachers.
The Chi-square test results also confirm that male university students are more strongly influenced by changes in salary than female students when considering their decisions to become high school teachers.
The Chi-square tests show that the results are significant at the 1% level. While it might be expected that those who pursue qualifications in Education/Teaching would predominantly intend to pursue a teaching career (94.1%) and those enrolled in Nursing courses would not be likely to pursue a teaching career (78.8%), the other courses would have the scope to allow the pursuit of teaching as a career. The results show that a smaller percentage of students intended to pursue a teaching career, whose academic qualifications were broadly sought after in the community. In the area of Commerce/ Business/ Economics only 10.0% of students expressed an intention to pursue a teaching career, compared with 11.8% for Science/Mathematics and 25.0% for Arts/Humanities. If the students who responded 'yes' and 'unsure' are included, the percentages rise for Commerce/ Business/ Economics to 22.1% of students, compared with 36.8% for Science/ Mathematics and 55.0% for Arts/ Humanities. These results suggest that the level of alternative employment opportunities does impact on the likelihood of students pursuing teaching careers. This also suggests that teacher vacancies in areas with greater non-teaching employment options may be more difficult to fill compared with those with fewer non-teaching employment options.
|Field of study||Pursue a career in teaching?||Total|
|% within field of study||94.1%||0.0%||5.9%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||25.0%||45.0%||30.0%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||11.8%||63.2%||25.0%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||10.0%||78.9%||11.1%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||51.8%||23.4%||24.8%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||3.0%||78.8%||18.2%||100.0%|
|% within field of study||33.0%||47.4%||19.6%||100.0%|
Of these, 67% had a more positive attitude towards pursuing a career as a teacher and 33% a more negative attitude. The factors that had contributed to a more positive attitude towards pursuing a teaching career were
I feel reluctant to become a teacher and join a 'sinking ship.' Conditions are getting worse and worse in our schools, especially for teachers. They are not respected or valued by government, society, or students. I have done well in my studies. I deserve better.The issue of being able to support a family on the salary of a teacher was a concern expressed by a number of respondents. A number said that, while they wanted to be teachers, they would resign and pursue a higher paying career if they could not properly support their families.
Overall the factor that had greatest influence on the students who initially intended to become teachers when they started university was the teaching practicum. Positive experiences on the practicum made the student more likely to become teachers, while many of the students who had negative experiences on the practicum had decided against pursuing a teaching career. While some of these potential teachers may not have been suited to teaching others were negatively affected by the lack of support from teachers during their practicum.
Those students who intended to become teachers had different values in regard to the factors they considered most important in pursuing a career, compared with those who were unsure and those who had no intention to teach. Those who intended to become teachers ranked 'the desire to help others' much higher than the other two groups. This factor would be seen by those who intend to teach as a positive non-wage amenity. In order to increase the number of teachers in NSW high schools it would be necessary to improve the factors that were important to those who have responded that they would not teach or were unsure. The 'unsure' group is the one with responses most similar to the responses of those who intend to teach. To increase the proportion of the 'unsure' group who would become teachers, improvements in working conditions would be needed to compensate for the lower importance that they placed on 'the desire to help others'. Some areas where this could occur include improvements in the level of salary and the possibility of promotion. The perception of the attitude of the students towards teachers was also looked upon as being negative and the responses were considerably lower than those that were actually expressed by the school teachers themselves (Stokes 2005). An improvement in this perception and the student's perception of the attitude of the parents towards teachers could increase the likelihood of some of the 'unsure' group becoming teachers.
The attitude of university students towards pursuing a career in teaching changed for many of them, while at university. While for two thirds of the group it was more positive, one third became more negative and a number decided not to continue with teaching. The main factor affecting those who were training to be teachers was the teaching practicum. Positive practicum experiences increased the likelihood of students becoming teachers while negative experiences either as a result of the behaviour or response of students or the negative reactions of current teachers lessened the likelihood of becoming teachers and in some cases ended their intentions to become teachers. This is an important issue that needs to be considered by school administrators and universities. An improved system of mentoring of students on practicum and a more positive attitude from teachers in schools could assist to increase the retention of university students in pursuing careers as teachers.
If the predicted future shortage of teachers is to be averted, not only is it important to keep the current teachers but the issues raised in this paper provide a guide as to what can be done to increase the intake of new teachers.
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|Author: Dr Anthony Stokes is currently senior lecturer in economics at the Australian Catholic University at Strathfield, in Sydney. He is a former lecturer in economics education and has over 20 years experience in teaching economics in New South Wales high schools. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Stokes, A. (2007). Factors influencing the decisions of university students to become high school teachers. Issues In Educational Research, 17(1), 127-145. http://www.iier.org.au/iier17/stokes.html