The main reason students choose teaching as a career
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The main reason students choose teaching as a career

Teachers are more likely to have chosen their career out of a desire to better society and help their students, and a belief that they have the ability to do so, rather than because they “love kids”, research shows.

Those findings and more are presented in a new book, Global Perspectives on Teacher Motivation, which explores why teachers around the world choose to teach and what sustains them in the profession.

The book is the latest collaboration of Professor Helen Watt of the University of Sydney and Professor Paul Richardson of Monash University, who are editors with Professor Kari Smith, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

For 15 years, Professors Watt and Richardson have been investigating who chooses to teach and why, following large samples of teachers from when they entered teacher education through until their mid-teaching careers.

The book also collects the findings of researchers who have studied the motivations of teachers at different career stages in Australia, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Indonesia.

“The most engaged and effective teachers were those who report that they chose teaching because they care about people and society, are interested in teaching, and believe they possess the abilities to be good teachers,” Professor Watt said.

“Rather than entering the profession just because they ‘love kids’, they report that they want to contribute to a more socially equitable and better society and shape the future for young people, and that they enjoy work that is intellectually challenging and rewarding.”

Professor Richardson said that understanding why teachers teach is fundamental to attracting the most suitable students into undergraduate teaching programs, and retaining them over the long term.

“Governments around the world look upon their education systems as engine-rooms of future creativity and economic development,” Professor Richardson said. “They spend a lot of money on education, so there is a strong focus on school quality, teacher quality and the impacts on student learning.”

“Our work, along with that of our colleagues around the world, explores what draws people to teaching or keeps them away – whether it’s that traditional idea of wanting to help children or young people, social status, the pay, or other reasons.”

In Australia, Professor Watt said, their research showed people who choose teaching as a career are motivated by a complex interaction of factors.

“Generally, though, people who choose to be teachers want to do meaningful work that contributes to a better, more equitable society, and perceive they have the ability to be good at it,” she said.

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