Ambition is the key to a long career in the classroom, research shows

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Schools are not usually viewed as seething vipers’ nests of ruthless one-upmanship. Indeed, if the old joke about “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” is to be believed, ambition is the antithesis of a long, stable teaching career.

However, new research shows that a keen sense of ambition is far more likely to keep teachers in the classroom than to tempt them to look elsewhere for work. 

Teachers who set themselves difficult goals are more likely to stay within the profession long-term than their less goal-oriented colleagues, according to Brady Jones of Northwestern University in Chicago.

Ms Jones carried out research to see to what degree classroom experiences – and teachers’ own personalities – influence their chances of staying in the profession.

First, she looked at teachers’ commitment to the job, asking them to add the number of years they had previously taught to the years they planned to continue to teach.

Of those surveyed, 15 per cent had a total commitment of three years or fewer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 36 per cent were committed for 20 years, and 8 per cent intended to stay in the classroom for three decades or more. 

A quarter of those who took part in the study had already left the teaching profession.

Ms Jones found that teachers who work at schools serving areas with lower levels of deprivation tend to be more likely to express long-term commitment to the job. But she also discovered that teachers with particular types of personality traits are more likely than others to end up working in such areas. 

Conscientious teachers, with clear goals and “the tendency to tell redemptive narratives”, were correlated with schools with a low percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals, she said. “It may be that participants with more adaptive personalities are more likely to find jobs at affluent, suburban schools.” 

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