Excessive demands placed on early career teachers have damaging, long-term impacts on their classroom management according to a new Australian study, writes journalist Jessica Willis.
The study surveyed 395 teachers on how their workload, school resources and confidence to manage student misbehaviour affected their teaching methods across a 15-year time period.
As a priority, reducing excessive demands on teachers in schools, especially during their early career, was the key recommendation coming out of the study.
“Our findings highlight the importance of how teachers begin their careers, as these early experiences showed enduring importance for their professional development,” the report said.
Empirical evidence for reducing workload
The research, led by Professor Helen Watt of the University of Sydney and Professor Paul Richardson of Monash University, adds to growing evidence regarding the urgent need to reduce excessive demands on teachers.
Teachers who felt well-prepared and confident in their ability to manage classroom behaviour were more likely to report the ability to provide their students with clear structure and expectations about behaviour.
They were less likely to adopt negative approaches such as yelling, losing their temper or using sarcasm.
On the other hand, teachers who experienced excessive demands during their early career were more likely to have their positive management methods derailed, instead developing negative approaches to manage student misbehaviour in the classroom.
Professor Watt said the way teachers start out sets up long-term professional behaviours.
“The key message from our findings is that the excessive demands experienced by beginning teachers have long-term, damaging consequences for their teaching behaviour,” Professor Watt said.
The findings demonstrate a teacher’s self-efficacy – their confidence and sense of professional preparedness – is established fairly early and remains quite stable even up to 15 years of teaching.
“This shows that teacher education isn’t just important for equipping future teachers with effective classroom management skills,” Professor Watt said.
“It’s also important to developing their confidence to manage student misbehaviour through positive structures rather than negative reactions.
“But this gets derailed when teachers who are just becoming established are overwhelmed by paperwork and suffer extreme time pressure,” she said.
Pressures vary with school context
The study found that demands and pressure on teachers vary between different school contexts.
IEU members will be familiar with the growing pressures associated with the teaching profession listed by the authors: time pressure, performance pressure, poor student motivation, challenging professional and parent-teacher relationships and decreasing autonomy in the workplace. All compounded by increasing administration tasks as well as government or employer processes and policies.
Demands are more excessive in secondary than primary schools, the study found.
The study also found teachers who perceived themselves working in more ‘advantaged’ schools tended to be more confident in their ability to manage classrooms.
Perceived school advantage was determined by three factors: reported resources and facilities in the school; socioeconomic status; and student achievement level.
Professor Paul Richardson said this may be explained by the better conditions teachers experience in such schools.
“Teachers who work in these settings may be confronted with fewer disruptions and less problematic student behaviours, producing lower levels of stress and a higher sense of self-efficacy.”