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Identifying the Issues of Early Career Science and Mathematics Teachers.

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There has been an increased emphasis on training and recruiting appropriately qualified teachers of science and mathematics (ACDS, 2002; MCEETYA, 2004; Harris, Jensz & Baldwin, 2005). There has also been concern over the age profile of the current teaching force which is generally older in comparison to other professionals and the implication that many will soon retire and the separation rates of new teachers (MCEETYA, 2004). In South Australia, this is being addressed partially through recruitment schemes for Mathematics/Science graduates particularly targeting rural and isolated schools (DECS, 2009). However at present in South Australia, there is very little research data to inform employers or teacher education institutions about the preparedness and support of early career teachers. There is also very little information available to allow tracking of graduates with respect to the contexts in which they begin their teaching career. This paper reports on a small scale project that collected data on graduate employment and the experiences of early career mathematics and science teachers (and early career teachers who are teaching in these subject areas). The lack of background research in the area meant that a mixed methods approach was used. Data was collected in two forms, via an online survey and through focus group interviews. The survey was used to collect general background information about their early teaching careers while the interviews were used to ascertain what the main issues were for them as early career teachers. The survey was made available online and advertised via the South Australian Secondary Principals email list. The target population was teachers of Science and Mathematics with less than 5 years teaching experience. This group included both teachers trained in the teaching of mathematics and science and those teachers who are not trained in these areas but still teaching them. It was important to sample both groups as there is evidence to suggest that teachers who are not specifically trained in these subjects often teach them in schools. The survey gathered important data about employment of graduates, in particular where they are employed, on what basis (temporary, part-time etc), what influenced their decision to take particular jobs, what influences their decisions to stay in the jobs or move and how are they supported. Four focus groups were conducted three with teachers who predominantly taught science and one with teachers who predominantly taught mathematics. The focus group teachers were participants of professional development activities that were run for teachers, funding was made available for country teachers to attend some of these activities in order to ensure a spread of geographic locations of the teachers. The results of the survey indicated that almost all of the respondents considered teaching as a long term (at least 10 years) if not life time career. That there was a wide range of initial support experienced by the teachers, including none, mentors, time release for professional development and smaller teaching load. Most of the teachers indicated teaching was as they expected but commented that they were not prepared for the administrative load. The focus groups raised a number of issues including teaching science and mathematics to students with low English literacy levels (in particular new arrivals), accessing of professional development (particularly country teachers), and confidence in running practical activities in particular those involving chemicals. (Contains 5 tables.) [This study was undertaken with support from SiMERR SA with funding support from the Australian Government.]
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Author:White, Bruce
Publication:ERIC: Reports
Article Type:Abstract
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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