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A Special Kind of Ambition: The Role of Personality in the Retention of Academically Elite Teachers


by Brady K. Jones

Background: Creating greater stability in the teacher labor force and improving teacher quality is an important education policy priority in the United States. While there is a robust literature on the external, environmental reasons teachers stay in or leave the occupation, little is known about the role internal, person-level factors play in teacher retention, especially among academically elite teachers.

Focus of Study: This study explores the role of personality, holistically defined, in teacher commitment.

Participants: The sample for this study consists of 107 graduates of a single teacher preparation program. They are classified as “academically elite,” as this preparation program is very selective and demands high GRE scores.

Research Design: Discriminant function and regression analyses are used to test which of a rich set of personality measures, both traditional self-report measures and coded narrative accounts of life and career high points, predict long-term commitment to teaching in this sample.

Results: Discriminant function analysis exploring differences between very long-term committers (15+ years) and short-term committers (7- years) suggests that long-term committers are distinguished by a “special kind of ambition”: they set goals that are both more difficult and more prosocial than their counterparts with a shorter commitment to the occupation, and in personal narratives they more often show “enlightened self-interest,” a combination of self-interest/self-promotion with concern for and connection to others. In addition, regression analyses show that these personality variables significantly predict retention in the sample as a whole, even when controlling for school advantage.

Conclusions: These results provide evidence that personality does play an important role in teachers’ occupational commitment, call into question pervasive stereotypes in the United States of teachers as unambitious, and suggest ways academically elite teachers might be able to shift the ways they think about their work in order to sustain themselves in the occupation.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 9, 2018, p. 1-28
http://www.tcrecord.org/library ID Number: 22455, Date Accessed: 11/15/2018 5:50:15 AM


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