Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeremy Price

Committee Member

Monica Taylor

Committee Member

Emily Klein


This qualitative study investigated veteran teachers’ professional experiences over 3 decades of their teaching careers. Drawing from professional capital theory (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012), I present 4 veteran elementary public-school teachers’ experiences and development of their professional capital over nearly 3 decades of their careers. I examined 3 dimensions of the professional lives of teachers: (1) the ways in which they developed their teaching expertise; (2) the kinds of decision-making possibilities they experienced; and (3) the kinds of interactions and relationships that were fostered in their professional communities. The research question that shaped my study was: In what ways do veteran teachers experience and develop teaching knowledge, decision-making possibilities, and collegial networks across 3 decades of their careers? In this way, I captured the ways in which veteran educators negotiated the terrain of ever-changing work environments while sustaining their involvement and commitment to their craft. Overarching themes which emerged are categorized into 5 main areas: professionalism, development of teacher expertise and knowledge, teacher opportunities and school culture, collegial relationships and collaboration, and administration support of teacher collaboration. Various studies (Cohen, 1990; Kremer & Hoffman, 1981) have shown a correlation between autonomy and longevity in one’s field, concluding that employees’ levels of enthusiasm for their work increases when granted sufficient freedom and independence to fulfill responsibilities. Building leaders who acknowledge teachers’ capabilities and assets, while also providing autonomy and support, enhance teachers’ enthusiasm and inspire them to grow as professionals (Meister & Ahrens, 2011). This study reinforces the connection, as it was clear that the participants’ professional experiences throughout their careers were remarkably positive when the teachers were given decision making possibilities and, in their words, treated as “professionals.” They were inspired and motivated when given leadership roles and their autonomy most often aligned with their enthusiasm for their job. A possible interpretation of this finding is that these collegial relationships, along with the teachers’ passion and devotion to their students, kept them grounded in their teaching careers over time. Overall, this study provides support for the validity and importance of supportive administrative leadership, as the participants’ experiences often mirrored the positivity or negativity of the direct leadership.

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