by Francesca Gottschalk
Teaching is a demanding profession. Teachers are responsible for developing the skills and knowledge of their students, helping them overcome social and emotional hurdles and maintaining equitable, cohesive and productive classroom environments. On top of their teaching responsibilities, they are also expected to engage in continued professional development activities throughout their careers. The demands of the job are many and varied, and teachers tend to report some of the highest levels of workplace stress of any profession. This contributes to the loss of many talented and motivated individuals from the teaching workforce.

Teachers, especially the least experienced, tend to report that student disengagement and misbehaviour is one of the biggest stressors. In fact, terms like “reality shock” or “shattered dreams” are sometimes used to describe what happens when teachers are first put in front of a classroom.

So, what can be done? There are a number of ways to soften the sometimes harsh contrast between their expectations and what really goes on in the classroom. Specialised training and practicum during teacher education programmes can help prepare new teachers for the realities of teaching, while protective factors, such as teacher self-efficacy or confidence in their skills, can also make a big difference. When teachers are capable and confident in classroom management, ensuring that lessons are run smoothly in an organised classroom environment, student learning and positive social and emotional outcomes can be enhanced.

How can we establish if teachers have this “protective factor” and are confident in their abilities? The Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning Teacher Knowledge Survey offers a unique opportunity to better understand teachers’ professional competence and how this is developed. The pilot study assessed teachers’ pedagogical knowledge (or, in simple terms, what teachers know about teaching and learning), their opportunities to learn, and other professional competences, such as self-efficacy. Teachers’ knowledge of classroom management is part of their “toolkit” of instructional processes, which also encompasses elements like teaching methods and lesson planning.

The pilot results suggested that in-service and pre-service teachers have a relatively strong knowledge of classroom management, especially in comparison to other areas of pedagogical knowledge. Teachers who reported being confident in their classroom management skills also reported being provided with lots of opportunities to learn how to manage classrooms and tended to be more experienced teachers. As there is a link between teacher confidence and retention, the relationship uncovered between learning opportunities and self-efficacy in this pilot study is quite promising!

Furthermore, since experienced teachers tended to show higher self-efficacy than their pre-service counterparts, it could be helpful to build more field experience into teacher education. Many countries across the OECD, such as Estonia, Hungary and Israel, are already doing this. Similarly, longer induction sessions before entering the teaching workforce could also help bridge the gap between expectations and reality – this approach will be important to explore further, especially as teachers find classroom disturbances to be one of the most stress-inducing parts of their jobs. If left unchecked, it can eventually lead to burnout.

The pilot project was an initial exploration of teacher knowledge and competence that has laid the groundwork for future work on a larger scale. Its purpose was to provide evidence that can help shape policies to improve teacher preparation and education, but it can also help to attract (and retain) high-quality individuals to the profession.

Strong education systems depend on having an effective teaching workforce. It is therefore essential to equip them with the knowledge and skills for them to be effective and confident in the classroom. In order to keep them there, countries need to focus on piecing together the “shattered dreams” of teachers, and supporting them as much as possible along the way.