Who chooses primary teaching and why?
Sabine Weiss and Ewald Kiel
Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany
This study investigates who chooses primary teaching and how prospective primary school teachers differ from future teachers in other types of schools. Using variance analysis, future student-teachers of different types of schools are compared with regard to their motives for the choice of studies and profession. As a main result, prospective primary school teachers display a particular pedagogical motivational structure, idealism, and the wish for compatibility between family and professional life. In regard to their self-image, students of primary education have lower expectations of self-efficacy, but a higher awareness of responsibility. Conclusions as well as practical implications can be drawn for both the professionalisation of the teaching profession and teacher training, for example concerning the stabilisation or destabilisation of decisions on the choice of profession, realistic ideas about the professional field, and the strengthening of self-reflection.
Nonetheless, teaching remains the preferred profession for many students. Research on the motives underlying the choice of the course of studies and the profession by future teachers in German-speaking countries can look back on a 50-year-long tradition. The state of research is relatively broadly based. The existing international research is also very explicit: Whilst a substantial amount of research has investigated commitment to teaching and what initially motivates people to become teachers, much of it was undertaken more than a decade ago and most is situated within the North American context (see Sinclair, 2008). Depending on the research in question, various motivational structures can be found, some of which are documented several times. Consideration of this point is of great importance, as prospective teachers more or less definitively determine their professional career with the choice of their course of studies, not only concerning the teaching profession in general, but also the type of school, for example the profession of a primary school or a secondary school teacher. The range of professional choices after the completion of these courses of studies must still be seen as narrow.
The decision about the course of studies and the profession of primary school teaching stands at the center of the present study. On the one hand, we take up the question of the motivational structures involved in the decisions taken by students wishing to teach at primary schools. On the other hand, we examine whether this motivation differs from the motivation of students choosing secondary school education. A brief introduction to the profession of primary teaching in the German educational system is followed by a consideration of the present state of research. Then the results of our own research project on Wirksamkeit der Lehrerbildung (efficacy of teacher training) involving a large-scale longitudinal study carried out at two German universities is presented and discussed.
Apart from the criticism of the diminished standards of university training, the external perception of the profession as a primarily pedagogical activity results in many lay people feeling that they are competent for the occupation. The purely pedagogical and educational activity is placed in the foreground. In part, the interpretation of the primary teaching profession goes even further. Combe (1996) describes a transfiguration of the profession as an "extended or professionalised motherliness" (p. 508), so that the professional requirements remain hidden from view. This image of deficient academic and scientific dignity is being increasingly confronted with demands for the professionalisation of the teaching profession (Baumert et al., 2010). However, in this connection reference must be made to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), according to which German primary school children occupy a top place in international comparisons of reading ability (see Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, & Foy, 2007).
Figure 1: Factors influencing the choice of profession
As the diagram clearly shows, the individual aims and interests, the subjective assessment of personal ability, professionally relevant previous experience, associated requirements, costs, and job offers are, among others, relevant. From the standpoint of theories on making vocational choices (e.g. Holland, 1985), the decision in favor of a profession can be described as the result of evaluation processes on the basis of the best possible fit between personal qualities and the anticipated requirements of the profession and training for it. This should also be the case for the teaching profession. In the teaching profession, there is not one single motivational structure regarding the optimal fit between qualities and the requirements described above. The decision for a particular school type must also be taken into account. This point will be considered in more detail in what follows, with special reference to teacher training for primary schools.
A polarisation of the motives existing for taking up teacher training can be most clearly described by two terms: pedagogical work with children and youths on the one hand and specialist knowledge and its mediation on the other - in accordance with the frequently quoted traditional distinction between the paidotrop (particularly interested in children) and the logotrop (particularly interested in subject matter) type of teacher, which can be traced back to Caselmann (1964). This frequently criticized but still popular differentiation is revealed both in the aspirations of different school types and in the structure of the occupational choices of prospective teachers. A solid foundation in subject matter is considered as most important precondition for teaching primarily in secondary schools, because they prepare pupils for university entrance qualifications and for a course of studies or a demanding profession. Accordingly, the consideration of the motives involved in the choice of studies and profession by students preparing for secondary technical and grammar school teaching reveals a strong orientation toward the specialised knowledge of the chosen subjects (Serow, Eaker, & Forrest, 1994; Sinclair, 2008; Stiegelbauer, 1992; Thierack, 2002).
A pedagogical or addressee-related motivational structure is more strongly present among students preparing for a career in primary or secondary schools (Liu, 2010; Sinclair, 2008; Su, 1993; Weiner, Swearingen, Pagano, & Obi, 1993; Weiss, Braune, Steinherr, & Kiel, 2009). The wish to establish a relationship with children, to participate in their upbringing, to act as a parent-substitute, reference person and playmate, and to give the children stability and security are significant here. Altruism and idealism are named, such as "to fulfil all students' needs" and "to support students' growth and development" (Liu, 2010). It seems to be important to have a positive impact on children's life, to satisfy feelings of responsibility toward children, and make a contribution to society (e.g. Goh & Atputhasamy, 2001). In this context, the impact of former teachers on the decision to become a teacher (Liu, 2010; Su, 1993) as well as the influence of others, such as family members, friends who have studied teaching, or school careers advisers (Manuel, 2003; Wilhelm, Dewhurst-Savellis, & Parker, 2000) is acknowledged.
It is precisely the limited academic and scientific aspirations that provide a motive justifying the choice of profession. The studies of Fock, Glumpler, Hochfeld, and Weber-Klaus (2001) show that although the majority of the teacher-trainees questioned do not at first even perceive this attitude, they express it indirectly, namely, by means of the self-assessment that "their personal interests are to be found in practical pedagogical activities rather than in the academic and scientific field" (p. 229). In this connection, Fock et al. point to the unbroken affinity between primary teaching students and their colleagues in the alternative profession of pre-school teaching.
In addition, further motives are thematised in various studies. Extrinsic motives continue to exist (e.g. Hobson et al., 2008; Richardson & Watt, 2006), although they have declined in significance and taken a back seat particularly in the case of primary school teachers. On the other hand, the compatibility of family and profession continues to exert an influence - in Germany (e.g. Kiel, Geider, & Jünger, 2004; Schölling, 2005) as well as in other countries (e.g. Richardson & Watt, 2006). It is still not possible to speak of a gender-equitable division of labor. For example, women frequently work on a part-time basis. Compatibility with care of the family, by a reduction of the teaching load, is especially esteemed by women and is included from the start in their planning for the choice of a profession. The teaching profession in Germany enjoys the reputation of being a half-day job, which enables teachers to be at home in the afternoon in addition to guaranteeing long holidays. This applies especially to the primary school sector, which is associated with low preparation requirements for teaching (Fock et al, 2001). This study reveals a stable desire for family and children and the opportunity to integrate professional activities and the family.
In Germany, the motivational structure specific to the different school-types can also be found in the self-image of prospective teachers. It differs strongly, ranging on the one hand from the clearly scientific orientation of prospective grammar school teachers, associated with an intellectual characteristic profile similar to that of M.A. and diploma students, and related among other things to indicators such as intelligence, knowledge, and the assessment of personal ability (Mayr, 2009; Treptow, 2006). On the other hand, there is an almost exclusive desire for very practically oriented contents without any scientific aspirations in the case of prospective primary school teachers. The subject-orientated demands of the course of studies chosen are included from the start in the planning of the choice of profession. They play a significant part, above all, concerning the secondary school types, as here high demands must be met in regard to the study of the subjects chosen. Students preparing for secondary technical and grammar schools also tend to believe that they have the necessary ability. They have a higher assessment of their own competence and their self-efficacy expectations are also higher (Mayr, 1994; Rustemeyer & Fischer, 2002; Ulich, 2000).
Concerning self-efficacy expectations, it has been repeatedly shown that students preparing for primary school teaching are less sure of their own ability, place less trust in it, and demonstrate a lower evaluation of their competence in comparison to future students of other school types. This finding can probably be linked to the fact that the primary school is still regarded as a kind of protected space, characterised by a relative absence of notions of competition and hierarchy, a lack of the need for assertiveness, and at the same time the existence of reduced opportunities for professional advancement.
On the basis of the existing findings (e.g. Bastick, 2000; Kyriacou et al., 2003; Rinke, 2008; Watt & Richardson, 2007, 2008) outlined above, the following hypotheses on the motivational structure for the choice of studies and profession by prospective primary school teachers have been developed by the authors of this article.
I have decided to study teacher training ...
|Pedagogical work with children and youths||12 items||.87|
|To foster pupils with special preconditions||3 items||.77|
|Interest in subject matter||8 items||.79|
|Planning options||5 items||.78|
|Low requirements associated with the course of study||2 items||.73|
|Teaching as an emergency solution||4 items||.81|
|Occupational/financial security||3 items||.81|
|Compatibility with family||3 items||.61|
The self-image of prospective teachers is acquired with the aid of the following characteristics and measurement instruments.
|Motives||M (SD)||F (df)|
|Pedagogical work with children|
|Fostering of pupils with special|
|Interest in subject matter||Primary|
|Low requirements associated|
with course of study
|Teaching as an emergency|
|Occupational/ financial security||Primary|
|Compatibility with family||Primary|
|** = p < .01|
For all the scales, the variance analytical calculations show significant results. Central differences are revealed with the focus on prospective primary school teachers, above all in comparison to students preparing for teaching in secondary technical and grammar schools, as is described in what follows.
For students training for primary school teaching, clear differences about addressee-related motives can be determined. The pedagogical motivation thematised above is high. Post-hoc tests following Scheffé's procedure reveal significant differences in comparison to the secondary technical and grammar schools (p < .01). The motive idealism is also particularly strongly pronounced among students training for primary school teaching. This is significant in the post-hoc comparison of both the secondary technical and the grammar schools (p < .01). It is also true of the motive fostering of pupils, for example in the case of educational disadvantage or family deficits. Here, too, significant differences between prospective primary school teachers and prospective secondary technical and grammar school teachers are clearly evident (p < .01).
The interest in subject matter of prospective primary school teachers was found to be of subordinate significance. It is particularly slight in the comparison with future secondary technical and grammar school teachers, being significant at the level of p < .01 in the Scheffé test. In addition, students were specifically asked whether the motive low requirements associated with the course of study had played a part in the choice of the profession. Trainees for primary school teaching attribute a similar importance to this motive as the trainees for secondary modern and secondary technical school teaching. Only the difference for students preparing for grammar school teaching is significant (p < .01). The prospective primary school teachers reject the choice of their profession as an emergency solution in comparison to the prospective teachers in secondary modern and secondary technical schools (p < .01).
If one takes the framework conditions of the teaching profession into account, the following findings can be ascertained. The motive that the profession offers many planning options proves to be important. The results for primary school teaching are significant in comparison to those for secondary technical and grammar school teaching (p < .01). The motive of financial and professional security, on the one hand, is less important for future primary school teachers than for prospective teachers of the other school types (in each case p < .01). On the other hand, compatibility with the family, the possibility of integrating professional and family life, has a decisive role. In this case, the comparison with secondary technical and grammar schools is significant (in each case p < .01).
If one considers prospective primary school teachers in regard to gender specific differences, only one significant gender effect can be identified. Male students preparing for primary school teaching give low requirements associated with the course of study as a motive for their choice of profession to a greater degree than women (Mm = 2.05, SD = .79 vs Mw = 1.62, SD = .64; F(df) = 8.11 (1, 284), p < .01). Neither the pedagogical motivation nor the wish to combine family and profession are gender specific. It must, however, be noted that the sample was comprised of only 20 future primary school teachers who were male.
The results of the variance analytical comparison of social competence are given in Table 3.
|Social competence||M (SD)||F (df)|
|Ability to lead||Primary|
|Ability to cooperate||Primary|
|Ability to communicate||Primary|
|* = p < .05; ** = p < .01|
Independence and awareness of responsibility have effects on social competence. These can be described in more detail with the help of post-hoc tests. In the case of independence, there is a difference between prospective primary school teachers and future grammar school teachers in favour of those preparing for secondary schooling (p < .05). The latter assess their ability, for example to plan and organize their teaching independently, more highly. For awareness of responsibility, the opposite effect can be observed. This factor is more pronounced in the case of prospective primary school teachers (p < .05). Unexpectedly, no effects can be ascertained for situationally appropriate behaviour.
When we take gender into account for the prospective primary school teachers, a difference between male and female students can be ascertained for self-efficacy expectations (Mw = 28.36, SD = 3.63, Mm = 30.40, SD = 3.05; F(df) = 6.27(1, 283), p < .05). Future male primary school teachers evaluate this difference as higher. In addition, the ability to cooperate reveals a significant effect on social competence in favour of women teachers (Mw = 4.68, SD = .46, Mm = 4.41, SD = .55; F(df) = 5.99(1, 283), p < .05).
A further developmental task is related to the predominant motivation: The wish to be close to children as a motive overriding all others also calls for critical examination. "Idealists" who entered teaching because of strong altruistic or ethic service were more likely to leave teaching, ultimately frustrated by an environment that offered little guidance on the goals, means, and evaluation of their work (Miech & Elder, 1996). In his studies on teachers' health, Schaarschmidt (2005) sees the distance from pupils as a dimension that can cause stress and in the long-term become a health risk factor. Similarly, many of the stress factors that have been frequently documented (e.g. Darling-Hammond et al., 2002) rest upon aspects of interpersonal interactions, especially the student-teacher relationship. Current findings indicate that unrealistic idealistic demands on the profession are responsible for the incongruence between person and professional role (see Schmitz & Leidl, 1999). Although a connection between idealism and burnout cannot be demonstrated mono-causally (see Lipowsky, 2003), an idealistic motivation can be a risk factor in the teaching profession (Sieland, 2004). Predictions on subjective and objective success as a teacher in later professional life cannot be derived from this. Nonetheless, the findings of stress research should not be ignored.
As another concrete measure, teacher training (especially student advisory) must not exclusively serve the stabilisation of (occupational) choices, but it must also contribute to destabilisation. Reflection that involves becoming aware of both a right and a wrong occupational choice must be initiated. Thereby, the motivation must be focused: The wish to educate and accompany children on their educational path, which future primary teachers place in the foreground of their interests, cannot be fulfilled without underlying theoretical training. The theoretical requirements of teacher training must not only be preserved, but also strengthened, as the pedagogical aspirations of the prospective teachers cannot be taken into account without considering school-related subject content and the knowledge of methods and learning-teaching research. Lack of interest in science cannot be tolerated in favor of a purely pedagogical qualification.
In general, many strategies are required for student-teachers to achieve a realistic job preview within their primary teacher education. As early as possible in their training, teachers should be given the opportunity to acquire realistic experience of the entire field of activity in order to test their own motivation - as depicted in Sinclair's (2008) study. Being a teacher does not only mean to educate. In our opinion, the already mentioned strengthening of the self-reflective aspect could be achieved, on the one hand, at the university by emphasis on casuistic in seminars and examinations, or by the mediation of instruments with which future teachers could themselves examine their teaching (Shulman, 1986). On the other hand, practical school training plays an important role. German research findings show a positive influence of practical training before and during the study on the patterns of motivations (Jäger & Milbach, 1994). Practical training provides a basis for reflecting on the fit between one's own motivational structures and the requirements of the professional field. This should be accompanied by a strengthening of didactic expertise in order to provide security in the planning and implementation of lessons.
An important contribution in this context could also be made by the development of counseling opportunities during studies, not only to support the students in their choice of profession, but also to confront them with the job-related realities of the studies and the profession they have chosen.
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|Authors: Dr Sabine Weiss is an assistant professor for school research at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and a family therapist, accredited to the German Association of Family Therapy (DGSF). Her main research interests are work load, stress and resources in the teacher profession, career motivation, self-image and subject-interest of prospective teachers.|
Email: email@example.com Web: http://www.edu.lmu.de/spe/weiss.html
Prof. Dr Ewald Kiel is a professor for school research at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and director of the Department of School and Teaching Research. His research interests are general didactics, instructional design, including intercultural didactic design, and teacher professionalisation. He is Co-editor of the Jahrbuch für allgemeine Didaktik (Yearbook of General Didactics).
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.edu.lmu.de/spe/kiel.html
Please cite as: Weiss, S. & Kiel, E. (2013). Who chooses primary teaching and why? Issues in Educational Research, 23(3), 415-432. http://www.iier.org.au/iier23/weiss.html