Career Choice Among Academically Excellent Students: Choosing Teaching Career as a Corrective Experience

July 2018

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 73, Pages 90-98


The present study examined implicit motivations of academically excellent students' choice of teaching careers rather than more prestigious occupations. Open, in-depth interviews were conducted with twelve students. Findings indicate that choosing a career in teaching served as a corrective experience for painful past experiences, and revealed four types of implicit motivations: (1) The experience of helplessness and the need to strengthen the sense of self-efficacy (2) The search for interpersonal boundaries as markers of identity (3) The need to belong: Warmth, caring, and individual attention and (4) Compensation for an unjust and humiliating experience in childhood.

Our research question tried to examine why academically excellent students who started their professional development in more prestigious occupations, made a less obvious choice of a teaching career. The findings indicate that among all the participants in the current study, the main reason was to seek a corrective experience to painful early experiences at home or at school, such as experiencing helplessness and low sense of self-efficacy, enmeshed interpersonal boundaries at home, a need to belong and feel appreciated, or a compensation for an unjust or humiliating experience in childhood. These findings support the literature on childhood unfulfilled needs and their effect on career choice (e.g., Palos & Drobot, 2010; Wright & Perrone, 2008). Regarding a teaching career, the current study supports Pines' (2002) claim that the choice of a teaching career is intended to imbue people's life with significance and to heal their childhood painful experiences.

While the initial purpose of the present study was to examine the motivations of academically excellent students to become teachers, it inadvertently helped the student teachers understand unaware and unspoken reasons that influenced them to switch from a more prestigious field of study to a teaching career.

The present study contributes to the research on motivations for choosing a career in teaching, by focusing on academically excellent college students, whose career choice motivations is less known.

The findings confirm that the participants' desire was to play a significant role in and have a positive influence on the lives of others. Being a teacher, and as such a leader of a class of young people, fulfilled that desire. It appears that most of them chose to pursue a teaching certificate in special education, possibly because it is among the more prestigious certification programs at the school of education. Another explanation is that teachers in special education have greater autonomy over curricular and instructional decisions, and the smaller class size enables the teacher to cultivate a closer relationship with each student. In addition, it is possible that the implicit motivation to choose a career in special education was not only to have a corrective experience for them-selves. Additionally, it might be that these teachers in training aspired to prevent or ameliorate the challenging experiences by some of their pupils with special educational needs.

Therefore, it is important that during their training student teachers would have the opportunity to explore and examine their motivations for becoming teachers (Friedman, 2016).

Self-awareness is a critical tool for teachers, as they make multiple professional and interpersonal decisions every day. These decisions may significantly affect their students' achievements, conduct and social and emotional development, as well as the teachers' ability to successfully cope with the challenges of teaching. We would like to suggest that teachers' awareness of their career choice motivations, as well as implicit cognitive and emotional mechanisms that affect them in everyday life, are important for people who work with children. Such self-awareness could help them receive more balanced, well thought-through decisions in certain situations that might remind them of their own earlier experiences.

Following Friedman, we believe that greater awareness of implicit motivations to become teachers among academically excellent students could help them develop a more cognizant professional identity and practice. We recommend that special programs for academically excellent students should consider including workshops on teacher identity development and teaching career motivations. Such workshops could help these future teachers become more self-aware and process early experiences which could affect their teaching.

Updated: Jun. 28, 2018