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Project description

Why do they stay? Exploring the relationalities of teachers who stay in the profession, thereby rethinking retention

This project explores why teachers stay in the profession. Existing research on teacher attrition and retention primarily focuses on teachers’ reasons for leaving the profession. This research project aims to explore why teachers stay in the profession with particular focus on teachers in public primary and lower secondary schools in Denmark. The ambition is to create a research-based foundation for working proactively rather than reactively with the retention of both newly qualified and long-serving teachers, thereby shifting the approach from prevention to a more positive discourse concerning the teaching profession.

Based on ontological relationality, this project will explore the overarching research question ‘Why do qualified teachers stay in the profession?’ With relationality being the ontological starting point, the relation exists before the individual self, who is not an independent self-reliant entity but an entangled subject that is constantly and dynamically becoming. Therefore, our research interest centres on exploring the complexities of staying over time: the tensions, the dilemmas, the joys and the commitment. To this end, the project will employ posthumanist theory to study the relationality of teacher life, thereby foregrounding processes, entanglement, becoming, fluidity, transformation and movement over time.

Retention often refers to keeping teachers in the profession throughout their professional lives and preventing turnover, thereby indicating that there is only one career path for teachers. Some scholars therefore call for a redefinition of what it means to stay in the profession that incorporates a range of career paths. Answering this call, the project explores teachers’ opportunities for development and variety within the profession with the aim of rethinking the concept of retention.

The project is structured around four work packages (WPs):

WP1 explores the research question: How do figures for teacher attrition and retention vary within and across municipalities and what seems to influence these variations between schools and municipalities? The objective with this WP is to generate the foundation for the selection of cases in WP2–4. Studies have found significant differences between Danish municipalities. We will explore such variations with an additional focus on differences between schools within municipalities.

WP2 explores the research question: Why do newly qualified teachers stay in the profession? This WP focuses on newly qualified teachers as this group is most likely to leave the profession, in Denmark and elsewhere. Unlike previous studies, the focus is on what shape their decisions to stay in the profession. 24 participating teachers (with 0–3 years of teaching experience) are recruited from three municipalities with, respectively, a high, medium and low proportion of unqualified teachers in teaching positions. Two schools will be included from each of these municipalities. The teachers will articulate personal experiences through written memories, future imaginaries and subsequent collective analysis of these collective biographies.

WP3 explores the research question: Why do long-serving teachers stay in the profession? Despite making up the majority of teachers in many Western countries, long-serving teachers receive little interest from research – including studies of teacher retention. By focusing on long-serving teachers, this WP explores longer-term perspectives on retention, adding new insights into the challenges and tensions they experience but also how they maintain engagement. 24 long-serving teachers (with 10+ years of teaching experience) from 6 different schools will articulate what shape their reasons for staying in the profession through collective biographies.

WP4 will explore the research question: Which perspectives on retention apply specifically to and across newly qualified and long-serving teachers and how can the concept of retention be rethought in light hereof? The purpose of this WP is threefold, in that it explores how sustainable lives as teachers are articulated in the collective biographies, rethinks the concept of retention and, by synergizing findings in WP1–3, offers insights that can create a basis for the development of teacher retention strategies.