Trajectories of despair and elation: Mapping the origins of the emotional turning points in early career teachers’ lives

Year: 2015

Author: Sullivan, Anne, Johnson, Bruce

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research continually shows that early career teachers struggle as they make the transition to the profession, finding their work ‘overwhelming’ (Ewing 2006; Lortie 2002). Policy initiatives have been introduced in an attempt to ‘fix’ the problem and alleviate the struggles (Sullivan & Morrison, 2014). However, such initiatives have not always been successful because they tend to adopt a deficit view of teachers and ignore the interwoven influences of the personal, contextual and systemic issues that impact on their work. This paper reports on a socially-critical study that examined 60 early career teachers’ trajectories and resilience. We created a data set from a larger qualitative study drawing on the traditions of narrative enquiry and critical ethnography which investigated early career teacher resilience (Johnson, et al. 2015-forthcoming). For the study reported here we created a data set from the larger project. The participants included 60 primary and secondary early career teachers. We drew on data from semi-structured interviews that we held with the teachers. In this interview, the teachers were asked to prepare and discuss a ‘line drawing’ to highlight the trajectory and critical points of their careers. The purpose of plotting their peaks and troughs was to guide them to reflect on their experiences to identify important events and contextual factors. This elicitation tool was adopted from Orland (2000) and Sumison (2004) to provide a visual tool for recording personal turning points (Tripp 1998) that highlighted issues of resilience. We analysed these interview transcripts and line drawings to make sense of the teachers’ critical turning points. This paper argues that systemic policies related to recruitment and retention, and the intense and isolated nature of early career teacher’ work contributes to not only their emotional despair but also to their elation. A greater understanding of early career teachers’ experiences contributes to the call to rethink the nature of early career teachers’ work.