The purpose of this study was to gain an in-depth understanding of whether or not, and how teachers in a resource-constrained rural school sustain their motivation in and commitment to teaching over a life-span. The Social Cognitive Career Theory was chosen as theoretical framework because it recognises the importance that factors in the environment play when the career paths of individuals unfold. A conceptual framework for ‘teacher career resilience’ was developed by merging current thinking on resilience, teacher resilience and career resilience. The life-history design was framed methodologically as biographical research with participatory principles. Teacher participants (n=5, 3=female and 2=male) were selected according to purposive sampling. Data were generated through participatory interview-conversations, which were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim, as well as memory books, joint photograph-taking and field notes in a researcher diary.
Five themes emerged from the guided phenomenological analysis process (Hycner, 1985) and narrative comparison. First, this study exposes illiteracy of learners’ parents, demotivated learners, and a negative national teacher fraternity as sources of adversity not previously noted as significant for teachers in rural settings. Second, rural teachers in this study drew strength from their own life experiences of adversity (being from rural areas themselves); and they relied on their own agency in problem solving. Third, in addition participating rural teachers make use of encouraging memories of their own teachers from childhood and partake in informal professional development activities such as collaborative peer discussions rather than mentoring to grow professionally. Fourth, participating teachers in rural resource-constrained South Africa thus use similar internal protective resources (problem solving, strategizing, cognitive restructuring and emotional regulation) in their adaptive coping repertoire to those of other teachers globally. Fifth, teachers did not enter the teaching profession in the same way as has been documented elsewhere; but entered the teaching profession as a result of socio-political and financial influences, chance happenings and the influence of significant teachers in their past.
Teachers seem to balance their use of protective resources between internal and external resources in their current practice. Over time, however they draw more on internal protective resources. Teachers conceptualised their teacher career resilience on a continuum: persevering through adversity, both as young children, and as growing professionals. They use their self-efficacy beliefs, embedded in an adversity drenched past, to manage, overcome and cope despite current chronic adversity. Teachers’ overt behavior in adaptive coping processes was dependent on the interrelatedness between their attributes (especially internal protective resources), the environment (chronic adversity) and the continuous loop of influence (appraisal) between these three factors. Teachers became skilled in resilience processes because of the chronic adversity they face. Teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs about their adaptive coping extended beyond what they themselves can achieve to what their efforts in teaching may mean to model hope to learners, as their teachers modelled to them, fostering a certain altruistic career anchor.