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Social Networks and Early Career Teachers' Trajectories in the United States: Closeness and Self-Efficacy

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This study examines the social conditions contributing to early career teachers’ decisions to stay or leave their district. Given the importance of teachers’ self-efficacy for their job satisfaction and whether or not they stay in the profession (Hong, 2012; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003), we examine: What is the relationship between early career teachers’ social networks and their developing self-efficacy? Is teachers’ self-efficacy related to whether or not they leave?

Our study is informed by the concept of social capital, or the “resources embedded in social networks that can be accessed and used by actors for action” (Lin, 2001, p. 25). Given that teachers’ social networks can have a profound impact on their beliefs and practices (Spillane, Hopkins, & Sweet, 2018), we hypothesize that the ease with which early career teachers access resources via their networks is important for their developing self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief that they can successfully execute a task, or in the case of teachers, educate their students (Bandura, 1997).

Our sample included 47 K-6 teachers new to the profession in 2010 or 2011 from the same mid-sized district, who completed an annual survey each year until 2016. The survey asked to whom they turned for advice related to language arts and mathematics, and we used these data to calculate outcloseness measuring the ease with which they had access to such advice (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Self-efficacy was assessed using a modified version of the Teaching Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001).

To address our first question, we fit a series of multilevel growth models for change (Singer & Willett, 2003). The dependent variable was self-efficacy, and independent variables included: year in the district, whether a teacher left or stayed, and outcloseness. We included several controls, such as gender, age at entry, and preparation type. To address our second question, we fit a series of discrete-time hazard models (Singer & Willett, 2003) predicting risk of leaving in a given year. In addition to including a set of time indicators and controls, our independent variable of interest was self-efficacy.

During their first five years on the job, 18 teachers stayed, and 29 left. The rate of change in self-efficacy differed significantly between those who left and stayed; whereas self-efficacy declined among teachers who left, self-efficacy increased among those who stayed. Moreover, outcloseness in language arts and mathematics were significantly and positively associated with self-efficacy (p<.01); thus, teachers tended to feel more efficacious when they had easier access to content-related advice. Then, we found that teachers with higher self-efficacy were significantly less likely to leave, where the estimated odds of leaving were 67% lower for teachers who scored one unit higher on the Teaching Efficacy Scale.

Our findings highlight the importance of attending to early career teachers’ social networks. Ensuring that early career teachers’ have access to advice and information can positively influence their self-efficacy and thus increase the likelihood they stay in their district.


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