Career-change teachers are increasingly viewed by governments around the world as part of a solution to complex problems relating to teacher shortages, especially in schools serving socio-economically marginalised communities. But what do we know about career-change teachers? What brings them to the profession? What can we do to ensure they experience a fulfilling transition and have long-term success in their new careers?

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Executive summary

Between 2019 and 2021, the Australian Federal Government and the Victorian State Government made significant financial investments to recruit career-change individuals to secondary schools facing teacher shortages. This included funding for alternative initial teacher education pathways that combine paid professional practice in a school with tertiary study to achieve a post-graduate teaching qualification.

Despite these investments, critical questions about teacher retention have not been sufficiently addressed. Increasing recruitment through special entry pathways and incentives without a sustained retention strategy will lead to greater teacher shortages due to the revolving door of teacher recruitment and teacher attrition.

This report presents a review of international research alongside the findings from an Australian study involving 17 career-change teachers currently in the process of obtaining teacher qualifications in the state of Victoria. The focus is on the supports that initial teacher education programs and school communities can provide to career-change teachers to ensure their successful transition to study and teaching, and their long-term retention within their schools and the profession more broadly.

Our findings highlight the significance of close university-school partnerships in supporting career-change teachers during their transition into the profession. Initial teacher education programs need to provide a range of tailored supports to career-change teachers. This includes providing university-based mentors who are familiar with career-change teachers’ personal-professional needs and expectations, and adjustments to study requirements during placement and professional practice. Importantly, they need to assist to create communities of practice among previous and/or current cohorts of early career teachers to share experiences and offer peer support.

It is also crucial that schools who host career-change teachers during their professional practice (placement in schools) and beyond, provide tailored forms of social-professional support. School-based teacher mentors who assist in the transfer of knowledge and skills relating to curriculum, pedagogy and classroom management are essential. The social-professional networks of support that facilitate the transition of career-change teachers in the organisational cultures of schools are also key.

It is also imperative that school leaders play a role in helping to integrate new teachers into the collegial context of schools and that they provide necessary adjustments to work in the early years of their new careers, which are crucial for the career-change teachers’ long-term sustainability within the profession.

Two female teachers walking and talking

Key messages

  • Career-change teachers, namely those who have transitioned or are currently transitioning from other professions or fields into teaching, constitute about a third of the teaching workforce internationally.
  • Career-change teachers can make significant contributions to the teaching of young people through their real-world experiences from the labour market and their up-to-date knowledge, which can help make learning more engaging for students.
  • A long-term strategy is needed to attract and retain the most qualified and passionate career-change individuals into the teaching profession.
  • Part of this strategy entails providing pathways into teaching that offer flexibility to pursue study while working towards full teacher accreditation.
  • Alternative pathways into teaching, however, should not be viewed as easy fixes for complex, structural problems relating to teacher shortages, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged schools that face high rates of teacher turnover.
  • Teacher shortage problems are likely to persist if education systems fail to address systemic issues relating to relatively low pay, insecure employment, heavy workloads, inadequate ongoing support and ever-increasing administrative requirements and bureaucratic duties in teaching.
  • The fast growth and diversity of alternative pathways into teaching has made the need for research on these programs ever more urgent with the aim to identify effective curriculum, pedagogical, and professional practices within such programs.

Recommendations

  • Support

    To ensure that career-change teachers remain in the profession, universities must support them through their initial teacher education. Specific support of career-change teachers must be continued by school administration through induction, transition and adjustment to teaching.

  • Research

    Funding is required to research the motivation, transition and retention of career-change teachers; this  is critical for the success of investment made to recruit, train and induct career-changers into the teaching profession.

  • Change

    Teacher education providers must develop support strategies, which include evaluation, and consider the needs of career-change teachers, recognising and working with the professional motivations and expectations of career-change teachers, while capitalising on the knowledge and skillsets that they bring with them to the teaching profession from their previous careers.

  • Create

    Teacher education providers should contribute to the successful transition of career-change individuals by offering adjustment to study requirements, providing support through experienced university-based mentors, and assisting in establishing more realistic expectations about the requirements of teaching practice.

  • Partner

    Effective partnerships between university programs and schools are needed to help career-change teachers apply knowledge and skills acquired during their studies to their day-to-day practices in classrooms.  Designated support personnel are required for career-change teachers.

  • Provide

    Schools need to provide school-based teacher mentors who can provide pedagogical advice and develop the social-professional networks of career-change teachers. This support is crucial and helps career-change teachers navigate the challenges that arise during the early years of teaching. The benefits of providing support at the start of the teaching journey far outweigh the costs.

  • Opportunities

    School leaders and principals  are integral to the successful transition and long-term retention of career-change teachers. They need to provide work adjustments and professional development opportunities.