'Myth' of teaching as a vocation;News;News and Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
THE WIDELY-HELD belief that most teachers enter the classroom through a sense of vocation is a myth, new research suggests.

A Leeds University study of history and science teachers said financial, geographical or personal circumstances had a more decisive influence than any sense of "calling".

"This is not a new phenomenon," said the report's author, Dr Jim Donnelly. "I think teaching has always been the kind of occupation that people go into if their circumstances require it."

The study declared that the Government's "Nobody forgets a good teacher" recruitment campaign was misguided as most of the interviewees did not actually consider any of their own teachers particularly memorable.

Government attempts to boost recruitment in teaching should instead concentrate on improving the working conditions of teachers, Dr Donnelly said.

The two-year study, commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, surveyed 500 history and science teachers using questionnaires and face-to face interviews.

The research discovered that the vast majority of teachers had not had any long-term ambition to work in education. Only two or three of the teachers interviewed said that they had always wanted to enter the profession.

"Again and again, the pattern we found was that people didn't plan their job paths," he said. "But they found that the job grew on them and it had characteristics that they didn't expect."

Other reasons included partners following their spouses to different parts of the country.

The findings present a double-edged sword, said Dr Donnelly.

While people are prepared to consider qualifying as a teacher, the tendency not to view the job as a career makes it difficult to retain them.

"There are certainly dangers when people view teaching as easy to get into because I think there's a clear relationship with status," said Dr Donnelly. "The idea that teaching as a profession can be transformed into a profession for high-flyers such as law or medicine is somewhat optimistic. It's easier to get into because it has low status."

Instead, the Government should strive to better the working conditions by giving teachers salaries commensurate with their skills and workload, he says.

More information about the report "Change and continuity in secondary science teaching" is available from J.F.Donnelly@education.leeds.ac.uk or the Economic and Social Research Council, tel 01793 413032

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