Teaching in the Australian Capital Territory: exploring the experiences of teachers using mixed methods and interpretive phenomenological analysis

PhD Thesis

Griffiths, Stacey. 2020. Teaching in the Australian Capital Territory: exploring the experiences of teachers using mixed methods and interpretive phenomenological analysis. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/2ttm-bx58

Teaching in the Australian Capital Territory: exploring the experiences of teachers using mixed methods and interpretive phenomenological analysis

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorGriffiths, Stacey
SupervisorTrimmer, Karen
Jones, Janice K.
McLennan, Brad
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages400
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/2ttm-bx58

This thesis is an exploration of the experiences of teachers in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It aims to determine what may lead to decreased job satisfaction or motivation, to better understand potential drivers of teacher attrition. Teacher attrition and retention, and what drives the phenomenon, have been areas of focus internationally in countries such as the United States of America (USA) (Ingersoll, 2003; Ingersoll, May, & Collins, 2017), the United Kingdom (UK) (Chambers, Hobson, & Tracey, 2010; Hobson, 2009), Greenland (Brincker & Pedersen, 2020), Alaska (Kaden, Patterson, Healy, & Adams, 2016) and Australia (Gallant & Riley, 2017; Mason & Matas, 2015; Weldon, 2018) for many years. Retention is economically cheaper than recruitment (Borman & Dowling, 2017), furthermore, retaining teachers maintains higher levels of experience and intellectual capital within the profession (Gallant & Riley, 2017; Ingersoll et al., 2017). Having high quality teachers leads to high quality outcomes for students (Young, 2018), and this is another reason why schools and education systems are eager to attract, grow and retain the best quality teachers possible. There are a wide range of factors discussed in this thesis, which have been linked with attrition of teachers, but there is still a need for further development and exploration of the phenomenon from a theoretical perspective (Mason & Matas, 2015).

There are frequent reports in the literature (Cox & Connell., 2016; Ewing & Manuel, 2005; Manuel & Carter, 2016) and in the media (Brennan, 2016; McKinnon & Walker, 2016) which suggest that up to 50% of beginning teachers leave the profession within their first three to five years of teaching. Recently it has been suggested that these numbers are not as high as once thought (Weldon, 2018), and therefore, this thesis attempts to explore whether attrition risks (through job satisfaction and intent to leave data) are as high in beginning teachers as in more experienced teachers. The study also attempts to determine if other demographics, such as school or employment type or gender have differences in attrition risks.

A Mixed Methods Research (MMR) methodology (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011), with a quantitative survey and a qualitative interview strand, was selected to allow an exploration of these statistics whilst also delving deeper into the experiences of teacher which potentially impact on attrition. It then culminates in an exploration of teacher experiences through a qualitative interview strand which
utilises an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) lens to bring to life the rich experiences that the participants have gone through.

The first strand of this study utilised a quantitative survey of teachers within the ACT Education sector (n = 134). A chi-squared analysis was used to explore the data for trends which could be further investigated through the qualitative interview strand. There was a suggestion in the data that beginning teachers had significantly higher intentions to leave, compared with more experienced teachers and that there was a weak suggestion that teachers who were employed on a casual basis also had higher intents to leave. Overall, it was found that there was a significant difference between the intent to leave across beginning and experienced teachers, but only some differences across different demographic groups. As the survey suggested that different groups may be having different experiences, this was something that was determined as warranting further exploration through the interviews and in future research.

In the interview strand of the study, teachers were recruited from the survey and each of their experiences were discussed through a semi-structured interview (n = 8). This strand utilised IPA as an underpinning framework to allow me, as a researcher who works as an Executive teacher in the ACT Education system, to include my own interpretation of the teachers’ experiences as part of the study. This strand found that there were three major emergent trends in the analysis of the teachers’ experiences which could impact on teacher attrition. The first theme was the initial reason or motivation that the teacher had for choosing the profession. Teachers chose the profession with a desire to impart either their content or their social and emotional (SE) knowledge. Each group viewed similar experiences in different ways, with the content imparters being extremely challenged by student behaviours compared with the SE group. Conversely, the SE group reported compliance, standardised testing / curriculums or compliance and paperwork type issues as possible demotivators more than the content imparters, who often saw these tasks as very important in their role. The second theme which emerged was the different needs of beginning teachers, who needed support, compared to the experienced teachers, who needed recognition. Both groups reported that they felt they were treated conversely, and this was a major source of a decrease in their overall job satisfaction and increased their intent to leave. The final theme was the relationships that they had in their workplace. Whilst relationships with students and parents were mentioned, it was the relationship (either good or bad) with their supervisors (or school leaders) which emerged as the most impactful on their experiences in the teaching profession.

These findings are connected with the existing Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent & Brown, 2006a; Lent & Brown, 2013; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002), to allow an explanation of the importance of each of these themes, along with the differences found in the survey strand, from a theoretical perspective. This thesis has suggested that the importance of the relationship between teachers and their school leaders be included in the SCCT models as it is not currently a component of any of the four models of the theory.

This thesis then makes suggestions for policy, practice and research. The major suggestions of this study are the inclusion of the importance of relationships in the SCCT and the need expand the focus on teacher standards and growth to better include stronger models of growth for school leaders. This includes, in the practice component, a greater emphasis on building the leadership skills and theoretical understanding of school leaders across the educational sector. The link with SCCT allows the suggestion to be made that this could be true for many professions and this could be further explored in future research. There is also a suggestion that a model for exploring teacher motivation (sometimes called career choice or interest) should be included as part of teacher recruitment or induction and models could be used.

Keywordsattrition, teacher, SCCT, Australia, Education
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390201. Education policy
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Education
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