Birds of a feather cluster together: The “Why Teach?” teacher types
23rd October 2015
One of the most exciting things about the “Why Teach?” project that we are publishing today in association with Pearson, is the sheer breadth and depth of the data collected. With over 1,000 respondents answering almost 100 questions on their motivations for teaching, it’s one of the most comprehensive and contemporary sources of information on teachers in England. Whilst it’s a veritable gold mine, the challenge comes in making sense of all this data and finding ways to connect up thousands of individual dots to show the bigger picture.
Latent class analysis (LCA) is one way we can do this. It’s a statistical technique that groups responses together into classes (types). Put simply, latent class analysis explores patterns in respondents’ answers to see whether there are any groups of people who tend to answer things in similar ways- in effect it looks at associations between individuals. For example, do teachers who answer that they teach to make a difference to society also tend to care less about the quality of life in the area in which they teach?
We applied LCA to a subset of questions  in our data to see if there were any common patterns in the answers we received. Indeed there were – our latent class analysis revealed that respondents’ answers tended to cluster together in four broad groups . We then dug further into the sorts of answers teachers in different groups gave, which helped us identify, describe and name our four teacher types.
Hopefully schools and policy makers will find the typology a useful way of ensuring there are ways into the profession that work for everyone and that it is rewarding to people with different motivations and interests.
Here’s a summary of each of the types. You can also answer a simple quiz to find out your own teacher type here!
Idealists joined the teaching profession because they want to make a difference to their pupils, community and society. Their social mission is the driving force behind their work, and although they report being good at teaching and well qualified to teach, these factors are secondary to their desire to change the world. They are more likely to teach in local authority and community schools than other types of teachers, and tend to be slightly younger, although idealists can be found in all demographic groups. They are committed to education, would recommend it to others and are less likely to want to leave the profession.
Moderates are your everyday, middle of the road, teachers. They are defined by their non-extreme positions, but that doesn’t mean that they are indifferent or apathetic. Rather, they are neutral, open-minded and flexible, working hard and enjoying their jobs. They like their subject and working with children and young people, but they aren’t necessarily driven to be at the top of their field. For the most part, moderates are happy with things as they are and will take things as they come. They tend to be younger people, who might not have always wanted to be teachers, but have found themselves in the profession and are reasonably likely to want to stay in it.
Practitioners are the ones who always wanted to be teachers. They love their subject, working with children and young people, and being in school. They are very engaged with teaching and education, and want to be great at what they do. They are often middle or senior leaders, and tend to work in the primary sector (although there are plenty of secondary and FE practitioners too). The vast majority are women and they are very likely to recommend teaching to everyone from their brightest student to their younger selves. They are the most vocationally driven and the ones who are most likely to want to stay in the profession.
Rationalists are people who have made pragmatic decisions about being teachers. After weighing up the pros and cons, they feel that teaching is pretty favourable to them and so they stay in the profession. They make careful decisions about where they teach and what sorts of roles they taken on, and they don’t automatically prioritise teaching over the rest of their lives. They don’t seem to enjoy teaching as much as the other groups and sometimes they feel frustrated about education. They are less likely to recommend teaching to others, and often think about leaving the profession. Perhaps if they made their choice again, they would not have been teachers after all.
We think the teacher types are a useful way to simplify our data. However, as with any sort of analysis meant to collapse a huge amount of information into something easy to understand, it is necessarily broad and simplistic. Of course there are nuances and overlaps, and it’s frankly impossible to condense the whole complicated reality of teaching into types that retain the fine-grained detail. However, we found that teacher types are good predictors of other important aspects of teaching, such as a person’s desire to leave the profession, the extent to which someone would recommend teaching to others, and the ways they thought that the profession could best be improved. So whilst teacher types don’t explain everything about a teacher, they hint at some commonalities between people that we can’t always easily see. This helps us understand what motivates teachers and what can be best done to support them to succeed in the profession.
After all, it takes someone special to be a teacher, and we can’t measure that!
 The questions we analysed were those asking teachers why they became teachers, why they stayed in teaching, what attracted them to the region where the teach, and what would encourage them to teach in a different region
 For those interested, the model was estimated using the poLCA package in R. Four model fit statistics are provided after each round of estimation. The BIC statistic was minimised in the four class model, although G2 justified fitting with more classes. We decided to use four classes because we felt a broader, simpler typology with fewer classes would be easier to understand and of more use than a more fine-grained typology.