A mixed-methods study of mid-career science teachers : the growth of professional empowerment
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The purpose of this concurrent, mixed methods study was to examine the professional empowerment qualities of mid-career (years 4-8), science teachers. I used the construct of professional empowerment as the theoretical frame to explore K-12 mid-career science teachers’ career trajectories and consider how they can be supported professionally and ideally retained over time. In investigating the qualities of these teachers, I also constructed a new teaching trajectory model and tested the differences between mid-career and veteran science teachers. I analyzed seventy-eight surveys of mid-career science teachers across Texas, including six in-depth, interview-based case studies. The qualitative piece used behavior-over-time graphing combined with the interviews and the quantitative component used survey data from the Teacher Empowerment Survey (TES). Results indicated that science content knowledge gain through professional development opportunities was an especially important factor in supporting mid-career teachers’ sense of empowerment. This increased content knowledge connected positively with the dimensions of decision-making, status, and impact. In a between-group analysis using a larger subset of TES data, I analyzed 254 surveys by conducting a nonparametric statistical test. A statistically significant difference was found between the two groups, in that mid-career science teachers had a lower sense of “status” than their more experienced counterparts (p < .05). I could infer that, for this sample, as teaching experience increases, so does at least one dimension of empowerment. The study was situated within a broader scope of exploring how educational leaders and professional development providers can understand and support science teachers of varying experience levels. A well-designed and possibly differentiated professional development program could successfully connect with these kind of empowered and receptive mid-career science teachers, and thus increase the probability of implementing quality science education programs, content, and pedagogy into schools. The results of this study also have the potential to provide self-reflective career empowerment information to science teachers in their mid-career years.