Teacher Resilience in High-Poverty Schools: How Do High-Quality Teachers Become Resilient?
- Author(s): Merrill, Kate Mansi
- Advisor(s): Cooper, Robert
- Durkin, Diane
- et al.
The primary purpose of this study was to understand how high-quality teachers who began their career through Teach For America (TFA) became resilient while teaching in challenging, high-poverty schools. A secondary purpose of this study was to ascertain how, if at all, the teaching experiences of TFA teachers who stayed in the profession differed from those who left the profession shortly after fulfilling their two-year commitment to TFA. This study adds to the current literature on teacher resilience by focusing on the unique group of teachers that are brought into the profession by TFA: high-ability college-graduates who have no prior background or preparation in education and who initially signed-on for only a two year teaching commitment. This was a qualitative study consisting of two phases. In Phase One, 72 former TFA corps members participated in an Internet-based survey. In Phase Two, I interviewed 14 teachers and 9 former teachers who were selected based on survey responses. The interview process allowed me to understand how teachers' lived experiences have contributed to their resilience. The teachers and the former teachers in this study did not differ substantially in terms of their early motivation to enter the profession and their teaching experiences. The only thing that differentiated the former teachers from the teachers was the fact that the former teachers left the profession, most commonly due to burnout. Consistent with the research on teacher resilience, data show that the teachers' main source of resilience is the positive impact they have on their students. The teachers felt that the main challenges facing public education in high-needs areas have little to do with the students; rather, the system, and the adults within the system, make effective teaching difficult. Two unexpected findings resulted from this study. First, the teachers' ability to change roles and advance their career stood out as a significant factor that contributed to their resilience. Second, the teachers acknowledged that they had to come to terms with the idea that society views them as "just a teacher."