Teacher to be or not to be – preventing teacher shortage by providing good study conditions

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A problem with poor prospects for the future: The shortage of teachers in Germany is predicted to get even worse over the next few years. And causes can already be found in the study conditions of prospective teachers. In our recent study, we investigated the well-being of student teachers, reasons why they drop out, and where universities can start to counteract student dropouts.

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Emotional support against emotional exhaustion?

A lot to do and little time – student teachers face many challenges during their studies. Especially a high workload and time pressure can lead to emotional exhaustion in the long run: an indicator for a lack of well-being. In contrast, emotional support from fellow students has a positive effect on well-being – as previous studies have shown.

But how do both factors evolve in the long term and how are they interacting? In order to discover this, Anna Hartl and Doris Holzberger, together with a group of researchers, accompanied over 900 student teachers at four German universities through their studies over three semesters and asked them about emotional support and emotional exhaustion.

While student teachers stated that they consistently experience good emotional support from peers, it is also evident that the teachers-to-be experience phases of emotional exhaustion during their studies – regardless of the consistent and good support they experience from fellow students. Even this does not seem to counteract an emotional low during the studies in the long term. Student teachers therefore need one thing above all: stamina.

Dropping out of studies – What to do to keep students going?

If the well-being of students is low, this can ultimately lead to them dropping out of their studies. A step that needs to be prevented, especially in regard to the teacher shortage. This is where universities can intervene by specifically addressing students' problems and fostering their well-being.

Our surveys show: The main reasons for dropping out are performance problems, lack of motivation and the study conditions themselves. Performance problems and lack of motivation of student teachers can only be influenced to a limited extent by the universities – they can, for example, offer more tutorials or make letters of motivation a condition of entering teacher education studies. But in terms of the study conditions universities have quite far-reaching possibilities for action.

In order to improve study conditions, the universities can adapt the organisation of their studies to the needs of the future teachers: they can make advisory services more accessible or promote mentoring programmes. Lectures can also be designed in such a way that they foster the well-being of the students; for example by enabling collaboration between students, providing individual feedback or imparting coping strategies.

Universities certainly cannot fight the shortage of teachers on their own, but our research results show where there is potential for improvement in teacher training. After all, a high level of well-being during their studies can get young people for successfully to starting the teaching profession in the first place.

Read the scientific article „Promoting student teachers’ well-being: A multi-study approach investigating the longitudinal relationship between emotional exhaustion, emotional support, and the intentions of dropping out of university“.