Recruiting the "Best and Brightest": Factors that Influence Academically-Talented Undergraduates' Teaching-Related Career Decisions

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link





Although researchers have established a positive relationship between teachers' academic skills and their students' achievement, evidence indicates that academically-strong prospective teachers are less likely to progress through the teacher pipeline than their peers. To date, initiatives to recruit academically-talented individuals to teaching have been designed with an incomplete understanding of the factors that influence the "best and brightest" prospective teachers' career decisions.

Guided by a theoretical framework based on expectancy-value theory, this study (a) examines the factors that undergraduate students with an interest in teaching (i.e., uncommitted prospective teachers) weigh when deciding whether to teach; (b) deciphers how these factors affect high-achieving students; and (c) identifies promising recruitment policies. This investigation employs a mixed methods design utilizing survey and focus group data from undergraduate students at one large, Research 1, mid-Atlantic university. Analytic methods include ordinal logistic regression and chi-square analyses for the quantitative data and constant comparison analysis for the qualitative data.

The quantitative analysis identified three significant predictors of uncommitted prospective teachers' intentions to pursue a teaching career: SAT score, interest/ability/encouragement, and social utility. For higher-achieving students, interest/ability/encouragement, social utility, salary perceptions, and prior teaching and learning experiences were statistically significant predictors of teaching intentions.

Qualitative data identified dissuading messages about teaching as well as perceptions about teachers' salary, social status, and opportunities for professional growth in the field as the most influential factors in higher-achieving students' teaching decisions. Results also revealed complex relationships among these factors and students' perceptions of themselves as intelligent, high-achieving individuals.

Findings indicate that uncommitted prospective teachers may be deterred from undergraduate-level teacher preparation when they perceive it will extend their graduation time frame. High-achieving students may also be frequently dissuaded from teacher preparation because they perceive education to be an easy major that leads to a career with a low salary, minimal professional growth, and little social prestige. These findings provide justification for policymakers to continue efforts to develop career ladder and differentiated pay initiatives for teachers and for higher education administrators to offer rigorous education courses and effective degree planning initiatives.