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The effect of tertiary teachers goal orientations for

teaching on their commitment: the mediating role
of teacher engagement

Article in Educational Psychology April 2016

DOI: 10.1080/01443410.2015.1044943


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Hongbiao Yin
The Chinese University of Hong Kong


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Educational Psychology
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The effect of tertiary teachers goal orientations

for teaching on their commitment: the mediating
role of teacher engagement

Jiying Han, Hongbiao Yin & Wenlan Wang

To cite this article: Jiying Han, Hongbiao Yin & Wenlan Wang (2016) The effect of tertiary
teachers goal orientations for teaching on their commitment: the mediating role of teacher
engagement, Educational Psychology, 36:3, 526-547, DOI: 10.1080/01443410.2015.1044943

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Educational Psychology, 2016
Vol. 36, No. 3, 526547,

The effect of tertiary teachers goal orientations for teaching on

their commitment: the mediating role of teacher engagement
Jiying Hana, Hongbiao Yinb and Wenlan Wangc*
School of Foreign Languages and Literature, Shandong University, Jinan, China; bFaculty
of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Chinese University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong SAR, China; cDepartment of Curriculum and Instruction, South China Normal
University, Guangzhou, China
(Received 3 July 2014; nal version received 21 April 2015)

This study explored the effect of tertiary teachers goal orientations for teaching
on their commitment, with a particular focus on the mediating role of teacher
engagement. The results of a survey of 597 Chinese tertiary teachers indicated
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that teacher commitment was positively predicted by ability approach, mastery

and relational goals, but was negatively predicted by work avoidance goals.
Ability avoidance goals positively predicted teacher commitment to institution
and to students, but negatively predicted teacher commitment to profession.
Moreover, teacher engagement mediated the effect of ability approach, mastery
and work avoidance goals on teacher commitment. The mediation effect of tea-
cher engagement between teachers ability avoidance and relational goals and
teacher commitment was not signicant. The results of this study have implica-
tions for understanding the nature of teachers psychological state and attitudes
towards teaching and for the enhancement of teacher commitment.
Keywords: teacher motivation; achievement goal orientations; teacher
commitment; teacher engagement; mediation

In the past decade, teacher motivation, a cognitive process that prompts individual
teachers to adopt new teaching practices, has been perceived as a key component of
teacher attitudinal development in the framework of teacher development (Evans,
2011). According to Evans, motivation is a condition, or the creation of a condition,
that encompasses all of those factors that determine the degree of inclination towards
engagement in an activity (Evans, 1999, p. 7). Although teacher motivation is
recognised as a key component of teacher development, there has been limited
research in the eld of teacher development.
Current knowledge of the psychological basis of teacher motivation has identi-
ed two research lines, pre-service teachers motivation to choose teaching as a
career and in-service teachers motivation to remain in the profession. For in-service
teachers, teacher motivation determines what attracts individuals to teaching, how
much they engage with the teaching profession and how long they remain in the
profession (Sinclair, 2008). The three dimensions of teacher motivation identied by

*Corresponding author. Email:

2015 Taylor & Francis

Educational Psychology 527

Sinclair (2008), attraction, concentration and retention, correspond to teachers

intrinsic values for teaching, their involvement in teaching and their desire and will-
ingness to remain in teaching. Clearly, the latter two dimensions conceptually relate
the idea of teacher motivation to the psychological terms of teacher engagement and
teacher commitment.
Teacher engagement is dened as a positive and work-related state of mind con-
sisting of vigour, dedication and absorption in the work (Chalofsky & Krishna,
2009). It indicates the effort that teachers exert in teaching, and thus it is closely
related to their work performance. Teacher commitment is an indicator of the psy-
chological attachment to teaching, and it involves a strong desire and willingness to
stay in the profession. As it determines the maintenance of teachers energy and
enthusiasm for teaching, it is a critical element for the future long-term success of
individual institutions and education as a whole. Thus, teacher engagement and tea-
cher commitment reect individual teachers temporal orientation and attitudes
towards teaching, with teacher engagement a description of teachers present-
orientated enjoyment of teaching, while commitment is future-oriented and anticipa-
tory. They both contribute to a comprehensive understanding of teachers
psychological state over time. In addition, they are structurally similar to the concept
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of attitude, i.e. a persons internal state that precedes and guides the action, feelings,
beliefs and behavioural tendency (Ajzen, 2001).
Underpinned by Butlers (2007, 2012) framework of teacher goal orientations
for teaching (GOT), this study investigated the relationship between teacher motiva-
tion, engagement and commitment in higher education institutions. In particular, the
mediation effect of teacher engagement on motivation and commitment in a Chinese
context was examined.

Teacher GOT
A review of the existing literature showed that cognitive motivation theories, such
as expectancy-value theory, self-determination theory and achievement goal orienta-
tion theory, have generally been applied in teacher motivation research. Expectancy-
value theory, in which achievement motivation is determined by both an individuals
expectation of success and the incentive of successful task fullment, has been com-
monly used to investigate the reasons pre-service teachers choose teaching as a
career (Richardson & Watt, 2006; Watt & Richardson, 2007). Self-determination the-
ory, which has been extensively used as a framework for studies on the inuence of
teacher motivation on student motivation, has been challenged for both its vagueness
in differentiating the various types of extrinsic motivation within the continuum of
self-determination (Vandergrift, 2005) and the adaptability of its Western-rooted
emphasis on personal choice in Eastern cultures (dAilly, 2004).
Recently, achievement goal theory, which has proven successful in explaining
and predicting beliefs, responses and behaviours in achievement settings (Roberts,
2001), was used as a framework to conceptualise the differences in teachers
motives for teaching (Butler, 2007, 2012). Achievement goal orientation theory was
originally formulated to study motivation in educational settings, and it was devel-
oped specically to explain achievement behaviour by emphasising how different
goals evoke different patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. Early distinction
of different goal orientations was between mastery and performance goals. Mastery
goal orientation was directed towards personal improvement and growth, and it was
528 J. Han et al.

based on incremental theory or malleable intelligence which assumed that ones

competence could be developed and achieved through effort and hard work. In con-
trast, performance goal orientation, grounded on xed intelligence or entity theory,
focused on demonstrating competence in comparison to others (Kaplan & Maehr,
2007). Mastery goals were consistently found to be related with favourable
educational outcomes (Senko, Hulleman, & Harackiewicz, 2011). Under the multiple
goals perspective, a dominant approach in distinguishing the different goal
orientations was the 2 2 cross model based on the mastery-performance and
approach-avoidance dimensions (Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Pintrich, 2000). The
approach-avoidance distinction was constructed to explain how the motive to
achieve and the motive to avoid failure inuence behaviour in a situation where
performance is evaluated against some standard of excellence (Atkinson, 1957,
p. 371). The avoidance goals were commonly reported to have a negative effect on
educational outcomes (e.g. Elliot & Church, 1997; Midgley & Urdan, 2001).
With a belief that teachers differing ideas of success differentiate their personal
achievement GOT, Butler (2007) indicates that school is an achievement arena (p.
242) for both students and teachers who strive to succeed at their job. Evidence of
applying the achievement goal orientation theory in teaching area could be found in
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early studies. For example, as indicated by Ames and Ames (1984), teachers may
pursue ability-evaluative goals to demonstrate high ability or mask low ability. In
addition, teachers were found to perform best as they strived to learn and acquire
competence (Pollard, 2002). To identify and measure different types of achievement
GOT, Butler (2007, 2012) developed a self-report instrument called GOT, which has
ve dimensions, (1) mastery orientation, focusing on the improvement of profes-
sional understanding and skills, (2) ability approach goals, aim at proving superior
teaching ability, (3) ability avoidance goals, reecting efforts to avoid demonstrating
inferior teaching ability, (4) work avoidance goals, indicating efforts to go through
the day with minimum effort and (5) relational goals, referring to attempts to
achieve and maintain favourable relationships with students. Empirical studies have
supported the construct validity of the GOT scale and proven the applicability of
achievement goal theory in teacher motivation research (Butler, 2012; Retelsdorf,
Butler, Streblow, & Schiefele, 2010; Retelsdorf & Gnther, 2011).
As the relationship between students goal orientations for learning and the
strategies they used has been established (Nolen, 1988), the relationship between
different teaching goals and teaching behaviours has been explored in the context of
achievement goal theory. In particular, the effect of teachers goal orientations on
the learning goals emphasised in the classroom and teachers instructional practice
(the promotion of deep learning or surface learning among students) has been exam-
ined (Retelsdorf et al., 2010; Retelsdorf & Gnther, 2011). However, as Retelsdorf
and Gnther (2011) indicated, research on teacher goal orientations is still at its early
stages and more empirical studies are required. In addition, with the shared interest
in exploring the relationship between teachers GOT and their teaching practice, so
far very little reference has been made to the effect of teachers GOT on their work-
related attitudes and involvement.

Teacher commitment and its relationship with teacher motivation

The concept of teacher commitment was derived from early literature on organisa-
tional commitment in the work place. Coladarci (1992) dened teacher commitment
Educational Psychology 529

as an indicator of psychological attachment to the teaching profession. Thus, early

studies examined teacher commitment either by reporting teacher attrition and the
reasons for leaving teaching, or by asking teachers whether they would choose
teaching as a profession if they had the decision to make over again. However, as a
psychological state, commitment refers to the things that a person identied with or
desired to be involved in (Leithwood, Menzies, & Jantzi, 1994). Thus, since the late
1990s, the focus of teacher commitment research has shifted to teachers perceptions
of their interests in teaching.
After interviewing teachers in 10 urban high schools, Firestone and Rosenblum
(1988) suggested that there should be three dimensions to teacher commitment:
commitment to students, to teaching and to a specic place. In line with this,
Dannetta (2002) indicated three categories of teacher commitment consisting of
commitment to student learning, to the teaching profession and organisational com-
mitment. Based on the assumption that committed teachers develop strong interests
in student learning and school life, Park (2005) dened teacher commitment as tea-
chers devotion to and responsibilities for student learning and behaviour. Razak,
Darmawan, and Keeves (2009) advanced the conceptualisation of teacher
commitment using ve dimensions: (1) teacher commitment to school, (2) teacher
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commitment to students, (3) teacher commitment to teaching work, (4) teacher com-
mitment to their career or the profession and (5) teacher commitment to a body of
knowledge, attitudes and skills. According to Razak et al. (2009), teacher commit-
ment to school was highly related to teachers engagement in behaviours that
helped the school to achieve its goals, to exert considerable effort beyond nominal
expectations and remain working with the organisation (p. 348). Teacher commit-
ment to students or student learning was concerned with teachers willingness and
devotion to exert efforts on behalf of their students, while teacher commitment to
teaching work indicated teachers psychological link with the teaching work, and it
determined teachers willingness to remain in the teaching profession. Teacher com-
mitment to career or profession involved an affective attachment to the profession
and teachers efforts to achieve the highest standards through effective and ethical
behaviours. However, Razak and colleagues (2009) insisted that teachers commit-
ment to a body of knowledge, attitudes and skills, although signicant due to the
rapid expansion of knowledge and technology, should be separated from other types
because it focused on the academic work and research engagement rather than
teaching practice.
Although researchers have long been interested in studies of motivation or com-
mitment in the workplace, little is known about integrating motivation and commit-
ment. Conceptually, the voluntary nature of commitment predicts its relationship
with motivation, i.e. that a committed teacher should be internally motivated
(Firestone & Pennell, 1993). Early supporting evidence could be found in the social
psychology concept of internal work motivation. According to Hackman and
Oldham (1980), the feelings of highly motivated people were closely related to good
work performance, which was self-rewarding and served as an incentive for continu-
ing to perform well. Therefore, Rosenholtz (1989) argued that high internal motiva-
tion was necessary for workplace commitment, and he dened teacher commitment
as the extent to their work investment, performance quality, satisfaction, attendance
and desire to remain in the profession (p. 422). Empirical evidence provided by
Martinez-Pons (1990) also revealed that intrinsically motivated teachers were more
committed to teaching than extrinsically motivated teachers.
530 J. Han et al.

A more detailed explanation of the relationship between the two concepts was
made by Meyer, Becker, and Vandenberghe (2004), who believed that motivation
and commitment were distinguishable, but related concepts. According to their inter-
pretation, the lack of literature on these two independently researched concepts was
due to the differences in both origin and objectives. Specically, using philosophical
and psychological considerations of human nature, motivation theories have mainly
been applied to explain the reason for task performance. However, commitment has
its origin in sociology and social psychology, and it has been widely examined as a
predictor of job performance. Gagne, Chemolli, Forest, and Koestner (2008)
extended Meyer and colleagues (2004) model by identifying the direct relationship
between motivation and commitment. They emphasised the signicance of distin-
guishing motivation from commitment by viewing them as constructs with different
targets. Specically, they believed that the target of motivation was a course of
action, whereas that of commitment was an entity of an organisation, person or
event. Gagne and colleagues (2008) examined the relationship between motivation
and commitment among ofcers working at a Canadian maximum security prison,
and the results suggested that motivation inuenced organisational commitment over
time, whereas commitment rarely inuenced work motivation over time.
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Teacher engagement and its relationship with motivation and commitment

Studies of job engagement originally derived from research on its opposite concept,
burnout. The constructs of engagement were originally developed in direct opposi-
tion to burnout dimensions. According to Maslach and Leiter (1997), burnout and
engagement were at opposite poles on a continuum covered by the Maslach Burnout
Inventory (MBI) (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). They suggested using the opposite
pattern of scores of the MBI to assess engagement, which was characterised by
energy, involvement and efcacy. However, Schaufeli and Bakker (2001) suggested
using different instruments to measure engagement and burnout. They claimed that
engagement was characterised by vigour (cognitive state of being highly energetic
and resilient while working), dedication (strong involvement in cognitive and affec-
tive dimensions) and absorption (fully concentration on ones work, whereby time
passes quickly and one has difculty detaching oneself from work). Based on this
denition, Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzlez-rom, and Bakker (2002) developed the
Utrecht Work Engagement Scales (UWES), including a student version and an
employee version, to measure engagement in terms of vigour, dedication and
absorption. Using samples of both university students and employees from various
jobs and occupational elds, the 17-item instrument demonstrated good internal psy-
chometric features for both samples, by structural equation modelling (SEM).
As burnout has been found to be related to a number of job-related variables,
personal negative outcomes and organisational outcomes (Schaufeli et al., 2002),
researchers have focused on the relationship between engagement and those vari-
ables. The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model, proposed by Demerouti, Bakker,
Nachreiner, and Schaufeli (2001), has been used as the basis for a series of studies
on relationships between burnout, engagement and other job-related variables. The
JD-R model distinguished two high-order categories of job characteristics, job
demands and job resources, which were associated with burnout and engagement,
respectively, and theoretically proposed two different processes through which these
associations occurred (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). The rst was the energetic
Educational Psychology 531

process, which proposed that the high demands of the job might lead to burnout by
exhausting the employees energy, causing health problems. The second was the
motivational process in which job resources served either as an intrinsic or extrinsic
motivation factor, enhancing engagement and therefore increasing commitment
(Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). However, it is
worthwhile noting that although Hakanen et al. (2006) examined the cross-links
hypothesised by the JD-R model among teachers, and the results of their study con-
rmed the existence of the two processes and the mediating role of engagement on
commitment among primary and secondary school teachers, research into teacher
engagement in the eld of education has been very limited in comparison to
research into work engagement in other occupations. Therefore, the study of teacher
engagement, particularly in higher education, has remained largely unexamined by
educational researchers.
Theoretically, motivational theories were mainly applied to explain the inner
drives for tasks, and teacher motivation has been widely proven signicant in pre-
dicting teachers behaviours and performance (e.g. Retelsdorf & Gnther, 2011;
Retelsdorf et al., 2010). Meanwhile, both engagement and commitment have been
proven signicant bond of the individual to the job performance and organisational
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behaviours (Firestone & Pennell, 1993). Therefore, teacher goal orientations were
supposed to inuence teacher engagement and teacher commitment in educational
settings. Additionally, as teachers present-oriented performance predicts their future
behavioural inclinations, teacher engagement was hypothesised to mediate the effect
of teacher GOT on teacher commitment. However, this psychological mechanism
requires more supporting evidence due to the lack of empirical research in the exist-
ing literature. As the existing literature mainly focuses on primary and secondary
teachers in Western cultures, research in a non-Western context, particularly among
tertiary teachers, is much needed to ll the gaps in the knowledge base that exist at
The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between tertiary teachers
GOT, teacher engagement and teacher commitment, particularly in a Chinese
context. The study was designed to address the following questions: (1) What is the
effect of teacher GOT on teacher commitment? (2) Is there a mediation effect of
teacher engagement on the relationship between teacher GOT and teacher

The study sample consisted of teachers drawn from 30 institutes in 10 cities of
province S in Eastern China. To get access to the participants, permissions of all
administrative levels in charge of the teaching staff in each institute were obtained,
and the data were collected during the regular meetings of the teaching staff in indi-
vidual teaching unit. A total of 579 tertiary teachers participated in the study, of
which 145 (24.3%) were male and 452 (75.7%) were female. The average teaching
experience was 13 years, with 41 participants (6.9%) having less than 5 years of
experience, 384 participants (64.3%) having 5 to 15 years of experience and 172
participants (28.8%) having more than 15 years of experience. Regarding partici-
pants professional titles, 36 (6.0%) were teaching assistants, 421 (70.5%) were lec-
turers and 140 (32.4%) were associate professors and professors. As for the type of
532 J. Han et al.

institutions, there were 131 teachers (21.9%) from two key national universities, 388
teachers (65.0%) from 15 ordinary provincial universities and 78 (13.1%) from 13
professional colleges. Considering the educational background, 17 (2.8%) of the par-
ticipants had a doctoral degree, 512 (85.8%) had a masters degree and 68 (11.4%)
had a bachelors degree.

A questionnaire survey was conducted from January to April in 2014 to collect the
data. Three scales were included in the questionnaire, namely, GOT, UWES and
Teacher Commitment Questionnaire (TCQ). In the present study, the Chinese ver-
sions of these scales were administered to the participants. To ensure the quality of
translation, translation and back translation were conducted independently by two
research assistants who were uent in both Chinese and English. Then the scripts
were compared and cross checked by the authors to remove the inconsistencies in
the translations. Although all authors were native Chinese speakers, each of them
mastered English at a professional level.
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Goal orientations for teaching

The GOT scale was developed by Butler (2007, 2012) to assess teachers achieve-
ment goals. It contains 20 items in 5 subscales which are prefaced with the heading
I would feel that I had a successful day in school if. Teachers were asked to rate
each item on a ve-point scale anchored at 1 (do not agree at all) and 5 (agree com-
pletely). The items are considered to reect mastery goals (M, e.g. I learnt some-
thing new about teaching or about myself as a teacher), ability approach goals
(AAP, e.g. My classes did better than those of other teachers on an exam), ability
avoidance goals (AAV, e.g. No one asked a question that I could not answer),
work avoidance goals (WAV, e.g. I got by without working hard) and relational
goals (REL, e.g. I saw that I was developing closer and better relationships with
students in my classes). The GOT scale used in the present study is shown in
Appendix 1. Since the GOT scale was initially designed to be applied on school tea-
chers, a qualitative pilot study by means of interviews with nine tertiary teachers
was conducted to explore whether the goal orientations described in the GOT scale
could also reect the differences in teaching objectives that tertiary teachers strive to
achieve. The ndings supported the existence of the ve GOT among tertiary tea-
chers. Based on that, a quantitative pilot study was then conducted prior to this
study, and the ndings indicated that the scale demonstrated good psychometric
qualities when applied on tertiary teachers (Han, Yin, & Chen, under review).

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale

The UWES (Schaufeli et al., 2002) is a 17-item measurement comprising three
scales, vigour (six items; e.g. When I get up in the morning, I feel like going to
work), dedication (ve items; e.g. To me, my job is challenging) and absorption
(six items; e.g. When I am working, I forget everything else around me). The items
are scored on a seven-point frequency rating scale ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (al-
ways). The UWES was originally developed to measure work engagement for all
Educational Psychology 533

professions, and it contained a student version and an employee version. The

employee version was employed in this study, and it is presented in Appendix 2.

Teacher Commitment Questionnaire

The 17-item TCQ was developed by Razak, Darmawan, and Keeves (2010). The
scale has four dimensions: teacher commitment to school (TCS), teacher commit-
ment to students (TCSs), teacher commitment to teaching work (TCT) and teacher
commitment to the profession (TCP). TCS is assessed by ve items (e.g. Often, I
nd it difcult to agree with this schools policies on important matters related to its
teachers), TCSs by ve items (e.g. I spend time with the students on subjects (ac-
tivities) related to the lessons outside the classroom), TCT by three items (e.g. I
used to be more ambitious about my teaching than I am now) and TCP by four
items (e.g. If I could get a different job, rather than being a teacher, and have the
same amount of salary, I would accept it). Each item is scored on a ve-point scale
from 1 strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree. Concerning the use of the TCQ
among tertiary teachers in this study, the original TCS was substituted with TCI (tea-
cher commitment to institution) and similar changes were made by replacing
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school with institution in the description of relevant items. Appendix 3 shows the
TCQ used in this study.

Construct validity and reliability
Goal orientations for teaching
As a preliminary study to apply the GOT scale on tertiary teachers in the Chinese
context, validation work was conducted to check whether the loadings were consis-
tent. To verify the structures of the GOT scales and examine whether the data t the
original measurement model, maximum-likelihood conrmatory factor analysis
(CFA) was conducted using AMOS 17.0. The goodness-of-t indices employed
include 2 statistics, the comparative t index (CFI), the Tracker-Lewis index (TLI)
and the root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA). Literature indicates that
acceptable and excellent model t requires, respectively, the CFI and TLI values no
less than .90 and .95, and RMSEA value less than .06 and .08 (Kline, 2005;
Schreiber, Nora, Stage, Barlow, & King, 2006). The goodness-of-t statistics for the

Table 1. Fit indices for measurement models of GOT, UWES and TCQ (N = 597).
Model 2 2/df p df TLI CFI RMSEA ECVI AIC
GOT 430.063 2.688 .000 160 .912 .926 .069
3-factor 897.459 7.737 .000 116 .890 .906 .106 1.687 1005.459
1-factor 675.295 6.253 .000 108 .914 .932 .094 1.341 799.295
Original 459.841 4.069 .000 113 .863 .886 .072 .963 573.841
Rened 313.459 3.732 .000 84 .900 .920 .068 .697 415.459
Note: GOT = Goal Orientations for Teaching, UWES = Utrecht Work Engagement Scale,
TCQ =Teacher Commitment Questionnaire.
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J. Han et al.

Table 2. Correlations, descriptive statistics and reliability analysis (N = 597).

M .291**
AAV .121** .047
WAV .025 .194** .135**
REL .269** .537** .083* .136**
TCI .169** .168** .082* .064 .083*
TCSs .231** .374** .154** .113** .434** .202**
TCT .272** .358** .025 .150** .380** .309** .400**
TCP .141** .188** .077 .192** .183** .432** .118** .301**
TE .229** .379** .014 .219** .332** .326** .423** .486** .404**
M 3.778 4.241 2.996 2.400 4.289 3.181 3.889 4.210 3.487 3.945
SD .663 .523 .787 .791 .579 .635 .563 .597 .797 .886
Cronbachs .803 .788 .840 .844 .888 .760 .753 .640 .806 .953
Note: AAP = ability approach goals, M = mastery goals, AAV = ability avoidance goals, WAV = work avoidance goals, REL = relational goals, TCI = teacher commit-
ment to institute, TCSs = teacher commitment to students, TCT = teacher commitment to teaching, TCP = teacher commitment to profession, TE = teacher engagement.
*p < .05; **p < .01 (2-tailed).
Educational Psychology 535

GOT suggested that the ve-factor model tted the data well (2 = 430.063,
df = 160, p = .000, CFI = .926, TLI = .912, RMSEA = .069). The CFA results are
presented in Table 1. The factor loadings of the GOT items ranged from .495 to
.920, and the Cronbachs reliability coefcients for the ve sub-scales, as pre-
sented in Table 2, were .803 (AAP), .788 (M), .840 (AAV), .844 (WAV) and .888
(REL), indicating good internal consistencies for each sub-scale. These results sup-
ported Butlers (2012) ve-factor model of GOT.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale

Conrmatory factory analysis was conducted to examine the t of the three-factor
measurement model. The results of an initial CFA, presented in Table 1, indicated
that the model was just approaching the threshold of good model t (2 = 897.459,
df = 116, p = .000, CFI = .906, TLI = .890, RMSEA = .106). However, the CFA in
the present study indicated high correlations among the three factors of teacher
engagement (vigour and dedication: r = .762; vigour and absorption: r = .747; ded-
ication and absorption: r = .842), echoing the ndings of Schaufeli et al. (2002), in
which the mean correlations were above .80 for two different samples. As the high
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correlations among the three factors might indicate some overlap in content, a sec-
ond CFA by combining the three factors into one composite factor model was then
conducted. The results of the second model indicated an acceptable data t
(2 = 675.295, df = 108, p = .000, CFI = .932, TLI = .914, RMSEA = .094), and the
factor loadings of all items on the one composite factor UWES ranged from .579 to
.845. The Cronbachs coefcient of the composite factor was .953.

Teacher Commitment Questionnaire

The initial CFA results indicated that item 1 (I often nd it difcult to agree with
this schools policies on important matters related to its teachers) and item 11 (I used
to be more ambitious about my teaching than I am now) had very low factor load-
ings (lower than .30). Hence, these two items were deleted from the scale. The
goodness-of-t statistics of the remaining 15 items in the modied model revealed
that the removal of items 1 and 11 substantially improved the model t. In particu-
lar, the overall 2 value decreased from 459.841 to 313.459, with a slight decrease
in degrees of freedom from 113 to 84 and a decrease in the root mean square error
of approximation (REMSEA) from .072 to .068, while the CFI value increased from
.886 to .920 and the TLI value increased from .863 to .900. Therefore, the CFA
results of the modied model of teacher commitment suggested that the 15-item
CFA model tted the data well. The Cronbachs reliability coefcients for the four
factors, shown in Table 2, ranged from .640 to .806, indicating good internal consis-
tencies for the items within each subscale.

Descriptive and correlation analyses

The descriptive statistics are summarised in Table 2. Among the ve factors of the
GOT, relational goals (M = 4.289, SD = .579) had the most positive scores, and
work avoidance goals (M = 2.400, SD = .791) scored the lowest. As for the TCQ,
commitment to teaching (M = 4.210, SD = .597) scored the most positive, and
teacher commitment to institution (M = 3.181, SD = .635) had the lowest score.
536 J. Han et al.

In addition, the mean score of teacher engagement was 3.945 and the standard
deviation was .886 in the UWES.
Table 2 shows the correlation matrix for all of the factors. Within the GOT, sig-
nicant positive correlations were found between relational goals and ability
approach (r = .269, p < .01), mastery (r = .537, p < .01) and ability avoidance
(r = .083, p < .05) goals; ability approach goals and mastery goals (r = .291,
p < .01); ability avoidance goals and work avoidance goals (r = .135, p < .01). How-
ever, the relationship between work avoidance goals and mastery (r = .194,
p < .01) and relational goals (r = .136, p < .01), and that between ability approach
goals and ability avoidance goals (r = .121, p < .01) were found signicantly nega-
tive. In addition, all factors were signicantly and positively correlated with each
other within the TCQ. As for the relationship between teachers GOT and their
reported teacher engagement and teacher commitment, ability approach, mastery and
relational goals were positively correlated with teacher engagement and all factors
of teacher commitment. Ability avoidance goals were only weakly positively corre-
lated with teacher commitment to institution (r = .082, p < .05) and to students
(r = .154, p < .01), and no signicant correlation existed between ability avoidance
goals and teacher engagement. Moreover, despite the negative correlation with tea-
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cher engagement (r = .219, p < .01), work avoidance goals had weakly negative
correlations with teacher commitment to students (r = .113, p < .01), to teaching
(r = .150, p < .01) and to profession (r = .192, p < .01). In addition, teacher
engagement was positively correlated with the four teacher commitment factors.

Relationship between teacher GOT, teacher engagement and teacher commitment

As the focus of the present study was to explore the relationship between teacher
GOT, teacher engagement and teacher commitment, SEM using AMOS 17.0 was
used to examine the inuence of teacher GOT on teacher commitment and the
mediation effect of teacher engagement. Causal steps approach (Baron & Kenny,
1986), which requires a signicant direct effect of independent variable on depen-
dent variable as a prerequisite for further mediation analysis, used to be the most
widely used method of mediation analysis. However, recently, this approach has
been heavily criticised for being the lowest in power among the methods for testing
intervening variable effects (Hayes, 2009). The emphasis on a signicant direct
effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable was also suggested to
be abandoned (Rucker, Preacher, Tormala, & Petty, 2011). In spite of the argument,
two SEM models were constructed to address the research questions in this study.
The rst model was constructed to address the rst research question. It was
used to examine the relationship between teacher GOT and teacher commitment
rather than a test of signicant direct effect. Teachers GOT were specied as the
independent variable, and teacher commitment served as the dependent variable.
The SEM results, presented in Figure 1, showed good data t, with the explained
variance of the teacher commitment factors ranging from .08 to .33. Specically, the
ability approach goals positively predicted teacher commitment to institution
( = .195, p < .001), to students ( = .111, p < .05), to teaching ( = .215, p < .001)
and to profession ( = .113, p < .05). The mastery goals positively predicted teacher
commitment to institution ( = .193, p < .01), to students ( = .158, p < .05) and to
teaching ( = .201, p < .01). The ability avoidance goals positively predicted teacher
commitment to institution ( = .130, p < .01) and to students ( = .151, p < .01), but
Educational Psychology 537

AAP .195***
TCI R =.082

.201** .158* .111*
TCSs R =.332
AAV .151**
-.130* TCT R =.313
-.162** .113*
.381*** TCP R =.100
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Figure 1. SEM results of direct effect model showing signicant regression paths
(N = 597).
Note: *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001; 2 = 1219.241, df = 524, p = .000, CFI = .923,
TLI = .912, RMSEA = .046.

negatively predicted teacher commitment to profession ( = .100, p < .05). The

work avoidance goals negatively predicted teacher commitment to teaching
( = .130, p < .05) and to profession ( = .162, p < .01), while the relational
goals signicantly predicted teacher commitment to students ( = .381, p < .001)
and to teaching ( = .267, p < .001).
The second model was used to test the mediation effect of teacher engagement.
In this model, teacher GOT were hypothesised to inuence teacher commitment
through the mediation of teacher engagement. Bootstrapping, which was believed to
be the most powerful and sensible method for detecting indirect effect (Hayes,
2009), was used to attest the validity of mediation effect. Given that it does not rely
on a signicant direct effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable,
the potential mediation effect of teacher engagement on all possible paths between
teacher GOT and teacher commitment were detected in the second model. The SEM
results indicated that this model established good data t (2 = 1386.211, df = 620,
p = .000; CFI = .926; TLI = .916; RMSEA = .047). The amount of variance for tea-
cher commitment ranged from .191 to .486 for teacher engagement.
The mediation analysis based on 5000 bootstrapping samples was conducted. As
the traditional way, in which the term partial and full was used to convey the
effect size of the mediator, has been criticised for impeding theory development and
hindering further exploration of other potential mediators (Rucker et al., 2011), in
this study, the effect size of the mediator was reported using the point estimate of
the indirect effect (ab). Table 3 summarises the results of the mediation analysis.
As Hayes (2009) indicates, the indirect effect is signicant if zero is not between
the lower and upper bound in the 95% condence interval. According to the results
of the bootstrapping, the mediation of the effect of ability approach, mastery and
538 J. Han et al.

Table 3. Mediation of teacher engagement on the relationship between teacher goal

orientations for teaching and commitment.
Mediation analysis
Point Product of BC 95% CI
Dependent Independent estimate coefcients
variable variable ab SE p Lower Upper R2
TCI AAP .051 .021 .005 .015 .096 0.191
M .114 .031 .000 .062 .187
AAV .010 .018 .554 .025 .044
WAV .055 .019 .001 .100 .023
REL .047 .027 .067 .003 .106
TCSs AAP .043 .017 .005 .013 .081 0.410
M .095 .026 .000 .052 .158
AAV .008 .015 .553 .021 .038
WAV .046 .016 .001 .082 .020
REL .039 .022 .061 .002 .088
TCT AAP .069 .028 .006 .017 .127 0.486
M .154 .039 .000 .088 .236
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AAV .013 .024 .576 .032 .061

WAV .074 .025 .001 .130 .030
REL .063 .035 .073 .007 .132
TCP AAP .060 .024 .006 .017 .111 0.249
M .134 .034 .000 .075 .209
AAV .012 .021 .565 .029 .051
WAV .064 .021 .001 .110 .027
REL .054 .031 .075 .006 .117
Note: BC = bias corrected.

work avoidance goals on teacher commitment through teacher engagement were sig-
nicant, indicating that teacher engagement accounts for the relationship between
teachers ability approach, mastery and work avoidance GOT and their commitment.
Notice that the effect size of teacher engagement as a mediator between work avoid-
ance goals and teacher commitment constructs were negative. This is reasonable
because of the negative correlation between work avoidance goals and teacher
engagement and teacher commitment. The results also indicated that the mediation
effect of teacher engagement between teachers ability avoidance and relational
goals and teacher commitment did not reach a signicant level.

This study fulls the need for further details on how teachers goals are effective in
educational settings (Retelsdorf & Gnther, 2011, p. 1115). The ndings not only
highlight some characteristics of Chinese tertiary teachers GOT and teacher com-
mitment, but also contribute to the knowledge about the associations between tea-
cher GOT, teacher commitment and teacher engagement. The results of the study
provide some evidence on how different types of teacher GOT affect teacher com-
mitment and how teacher engagement mediates the relationship between teacher
GOT and teacher commitment, particularly among Chinese tertiary teachers.
Educational Psychology 539

Characteristics of Chinese tertiary teachers GOT and commitment

The results revealed some characteristics of Chinese tertiary teachers GOT, espe-
cially when compared with the ndings of Butlers (2012) study of Israeli school
teachers. A major inconsistency was Chinese teachers preference for the relational
goals of teaching, which scored the highest among the ve qualitatively different
goals, indicating that the desire to achieve and maintain relationships of trust and
care with students was the main source of motivation among Chinese tertiary tea-
chers. However, Israeli school teachers reported the highest level for mastery goals,
striving to learn more and acquire professional competence. This disparity could be
explained by a cultural and value-laden discrepancy in conceptions of effective
teachers and teacherstudent relationships between the two cultural contexts.
Chinese society has a long history of expectation of and emphasis on effective
teachers genuinely caring about students. Such close teacherstudent relationships
might be problematic for Western teachers due to the potential for inappropriate use
of power and privilege (Pratt, Kelly, & Wong, 1999).
The characteristics of Chinese tertiary teachers commitment were also high-
lighted in the present study. Among the four dimensions, Chinese teachers reported
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the highest score for teacher commitment to teaching, indicating deep affection and
great enthusiasm for teaching work among Chinese tertiary teachers. As a determi-
nant of how long teachers would remain in the profession (Razak et al., 2009), the
high commitment to teaching indicates a lower possibility of teacher attrition among
Chinese tertiary teachers. However, teachers reported the lowest score for teacher
commitment to their institution, indicating the lack of teachers effort beyond the
institutions expectations and the lack of teachers psychological attachment to
teaching within their current institutions. This serves as a caution to institutions of
the potential for teachers to move between institutions.

The relationship between teacher GOT and teacher commitment

The results of the effect of teacher GOT on teacher commitment indicated that the
higher levels of teachers ability approach, mastery and relational goals predicted
their higher commitment in general. However, the signicantly negative effects of
teacher work avoidance goals on teacher commitment to teaching and to profession
indicated that the expectation of low investment or little effort in teaching could sig-
nicantly decrease teacher commitment to teaching and to the profession. The evi-
dence supporting the link between personal goals and teacher commitment could be
found in various denitions of teacher commitment which have widely perceived
teacher commitment as integration of goals and values of individual and organisa-
tion (Firestone & Pennell, 1993), and the traditional attitudinal approach to commit-
ment also included the measure of motivation in the measurement of commitment
(Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974). Apart from that, the behavioural
approach to commitment which focused on overt manifestation of commitment
acknowledged that commitment was the binding of individual to behaviour acts
(Mowday, Steers, & Porter, 1979). Although no prior studies have directly addressed
the relationship between goal orientations and commitment, factors such as teachers
learning opportunities, the inuence of other school members and love for students
have constantly proven to be signicant predictors of teacher commitment (e.g. Choi
& Tang, 2009; Sinclair, 2008). Therefore, as an internal drive, individual teachers
540 J. Han et al.

goal orientations for teaching are closely related to teacher commitment in terms of
the identied values and goals of the profession and organisation. Moreover, as most
achievement goal and intrinsic motivation theorists have contended that both mas-
tery goals and ability approach goals facilitate intrinsic motivation, whereas avoid-
ance orientation undermines intrinsic motivation (e.g. Deci & Ryan, 1990; Elliot &
Harackiewicz, 1996), the ndings of this study echoed Martinez-Pons (1990) claim
that intrinsically motivated teachers were more committed than extrinsically moti-
vated teachers. A possible explanation is that, with an instrumental value, the degree
of extrinsic motivation is more subject to change when extraneous incentives vary,
but intrinsic motivation has proven a signicant feature that affects performance and
persistence (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan & LaGuardia, 2000). As a result, for teachers
who voluntarily identied with the goals and values of the profession and organisa-
tion, it is the rewards from teaching itself rather than the separable conditions of
teaching that sustain them in the profession.
As far as teacher ability avoidance goals are concerned, it is worth to note that
they positively predicted teacher commitment to their institution and to students, but
were negatively related to teacher commitment to profession. According to achieve-
ment goal theory, the approach avoidance distinction represents the potential positive
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or negative possibilities or outcomes, so it may be reasonable for these goals to pre-

dict both positive and negative outcomes (Elliot, 1999; Elliot & McGregor, 2001;
Pintrich, 2000). Studies typically reported the negative effect of ability avoidance
goals on academic outcomes (Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & McGregor, 2001).
Hence, compared with ability approach goals, which engender a positive affection
towards teaching and enhanced enjoyment, ability avoidance goals focus on avoid-
ing incompetence or prospective failure in teaching. As individuals with an ability
avoidance orientation were more likely to have failure relevant information, which
elicited anxiety and self-protective withdrawal of affective investment (Elliot &
Harackiewicz, 1996), for teachers who perceive teaching as a competence relevant
activity (in ability orientation), although their commitment to their institution and to
students could both be strengthened, they might have a decreased affective attach-
ment to the teaching profession if they focused more on avoiding unfavourable
judgements of their competence.
It should also be noted that among the ve types of teacher GOT, relational goals
had a stronger impact on teacher commitment to students and to teaching, indicating
that teachers love and care for students was a signicant determinant or predictor of
their willingness to remain in the teaching profession and to exert effort on behalf of
their students. This is consistent with Kushmans (1992) claim that with the focus
on students, teaching and students achievement, teacher commitment to students
was grounded in teachers willingness to exert efforts on behalf of students.

The mediation effect of teacher engagement on the relationship between teacher

GOT and teacher commitment
The results of the mediation analysis expand previous ndings concerning the rela-
tionships between teachers motivation, engagement and commitment (Hakanen
et al., 2006). Generally, the mediation analysis revealed that additional variance in
teacher commitment could be explained by teacher GOT through the mediation of
teacher engagement. Hence, the inclusion of teacher engagement as a mediator
remarkably improved the explanatory ability of teacher GOT.
Educational Psychology 541

The results of mediation analysis also revealed that the effect size of teacher
engagement as a mediator scored the highest on the effect of mastery goals than that
on ability approach and work avoidance goals regarding the relationship with tea-
cher commitment constructs. This indicates that for teachers who perceived success
as professional learning and personal development, the direct effect of their goal
orientation on teacher commitment was greatly actualised by their increased level of
engagement in teaching. Although very few studies have addressed the relationship
between teachers mastery goals and engagement, evidence supporting the positive
link between students mastery goal orientations and their academic engagement
provides signicant implications (e.g. Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, &
Nichols, 1996; Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007). Therefore, teachers mastery GOT
have the strongest power in predicting teachers engagement in teaching towards
enhanced commitment.
In addition, teacher engagement was found to be a signicant mediator for the
effect of work avoidance goals on teacher commitment. This means that for teachers
who expected to make a low investment or little effort into their work, the adverse
change in their overall affective attachment to the profession was caused by their
decreased involvement in teaching. Therefore, the effect of teachers work avoidance
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goals on their commitment was transmitted indirectly through their engagement in

The mediation effect of teacher engagement for the effect of ability goals on tea-
cher commitment was complex. Teacher engagement signicantly mediated the
effect of teacher ability approach goals on teacher commitment. However, its media-
tion effect was not signicant between teacher ability avoidance goals and teacher
commitment. Theoretically, ability goals represent a focus on ability judged relative
to others, and the approach/ avoidance distinction is based on the behaviours which
were directed by potential positive or negative outcomes (Anderman & Patrick,
2012). When teachers are highly oriented towards demonstrating their superior
competence, they will exert increasing amount of effort in the teaching process,
because ability approach goals facilitate optimal task engagement (Elliot &
Harackiewicz, 1996). Through this process, teachers affective attachment to the pro-
fession will be enhanced. Therefore, the effect of teachers ability approach goals on
teacher commitment is achieved through the mediation of teacher engagement in
With regard to teachers relational GOT, although teacher engagement predicted
teacher commitment to the students and to teaching well, the inclusion of teacher
engagement as a mediator could not signicantly improve the explanatory power of
relational goals in predicting teacher commitment. These results indicate that rela-
tional goals and teacher engagement may have an independent inuence on their
commitment. Considering the high mean of relational goals and its signicant effect
on teacher commitment, much work is needed to reveal how tertiary teachers love
and care for students affects their commitment, particularly in a Chinese context.

This study provides a better understanding of the relationship between teacher
motivation, teacher engagement and teacher commitment. As a preliminary study
conducted in China, two limitations can be detected, which also highlight the direc-
tions for future research. First, as a cross-sectional study, the present study is
542 J. Han et al.

exploratory and thus insufcient to conrm the consistent existence of the causal
relationship between teacher goal orientations, teacher engagement and teacher com-
mitment, and the ndings of the study is not a rejection of other possibilities regard-
ing the relationship between teacher engagement and teacher commitment.
Therefore, future studies are expected to explore other possible relationships among
the variables, and longitudinal research design is expected to help conrm the causal
relationship between the variables. Second, with a focus on the relationship between
teacher goal orientations, teacher engagement and teacher commitment, the present
study did not reveal any regional or individual differences among tertiary teachers,
which may limit the generalisability of the ndings. In view of the fact of Chinas
vast territory and large population, this problem need to be further discussed with a
larger sample in the near future.

This study reveals some characteristics of Chinese tertiary teachers GOT and
teacher commitment. It claries the blurred relationship between teacher motivation,
teacher engagement and teacher commitment in the areas of education and
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psychology. As teacher goal orientations have proven to be a signicant determinant

of teacher commitment, with the mediation of teacher engagement, these associa-
tions provide educational administrators with a greater understanding of teachers
work-related involvement and attitudes towards teaching in general, upon which
teaching practice and students learning outcomes are highly dependent. Meanwhile,
it also helps to formulate practical strategies to enhance the level of teacher engage-
ment and teacher commitment towards improved teaching quality and expected
educational goals.
The results of this study have implications for the improvement of tertiary
teachers commitment. First, although teachers ability goal orientations could
positively predict teacher commitment, competition among tertiary teachers should
be encouraged with caution, as teacher ability avoidance goals were shown to have
the potential to decrease teacher commitment to the profession. The competition
encouraged among tertiary teachers should be directed at facilitating teachers pro-
fessional learning and personal development rather than revealing their weakness or
inferiority in teaching. Second, it is useful for administrative personnel to apply
organisational and individual interventions to develop teachers into more emotion-
ally committed, energising and stimulating teachers who will exert more effort and
increase their investment in teaching. This would be particularly useful, not only for
teachers who are concerned about their personal development and professional learn-
ing, but also for those who expect to exert minimum effort in their teaching. Third,
as a crucial indicator of teachers psychological attachment to and enthusiasm for
teaching, teacher commitment should be recognised and reinforced. As a positive
and effective way for tertiary teachers to be more committed, it is a professional
necessity to strengthen their intrinsic motivation by facilitating mastery and ability
approach GOT and the internalisation of relational goals.

Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Educational Psychology 543

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546 J. Han et al.

Appendix 1. Achievement goal orientations for teaching

I would feel that I had a successful day in school if

(1) The department head commended me for having higher teaching ability than most
of my colleagues.
(2) My classes did better than those of other teachers on an exam.
(3) Department head says I am one of the best teachers.
(4) My lesson plan was the best.
(5) I learned something new about teaching or about myself as a teacher.
(6) My class made me want to learn more.
(7) Students questions made me think.
(8) I saw that I was developing professionally and teaching more effectively than in the
(9) Department head didnt say that I have low ability.
(10) No one asked a question that I could not answer.
(11) My class didnt do worse than those of other teachers on an exam.
(12) My classes were not furthest behind.
(13) The material was easy and I did not have to prepare lessons.
(14) I got by without working hard.
(15) I didnt have any work to mark.
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(16) Some of my classes were cancelled.

(17) I saw that I was developing closer and better relationships with students in my
(18) As a teacher, building relationships with students is most important for me.
(19) My main goal as a teacher is to show my students that I care about them.
(20) More than anything, I aspire to create deep personal relationships with each and
every student.

Appendix 2. Utrecht Work Engagement Scale

(1) When I get up in the morning, I feel like going to work.

(2) At my work, I feel bursting with energy.
(3) At my work I always persevere, even when things do not go well.
(4) I can continue working for very long periods at a time.
(5) At my job I am very resilient, mentally.
(6) At my job I feel strong and vigorous.
(7) To me, my job is challenging.
(8) My job inspires me.
(9) I am enthusiastic about my job.
(10) I am proud on the work that I do.
(11) I nd the work that I do full of meaning and purpose.
(12) When I am working, I forget everything else around me.
(13) Time ies when I am working.
(14) I get carried away when I am working.
(15) It is difcult to detach myself from my job.
(16) I am immersed in my work.
(17) I feel happy when I am working intensely.
Educational Psychology 547

Appendix 3. Teacher Commitment Questionnaire

(1) I often nd it difcult to agree with this institutions policies on important matters
related to its teachers.
(2) I told my friends that this institution is a great place to work.
(3) I nd that my values and the institutions values are very similar.
(4) Theres nothing much to be gained by sticking with this institution indenitely.
(5) For me this is the best of all possible institutions to work for.
(6) I spend time with the students on subjects (activities) related to the lessons outside
the classroom.
(7) It is my responsibility to ensure good social relations among my students.
(8) It is my responsibility to help all my students in achieving high academic perfor-
(9) I cant face my students if I dont put all my efforts into increasing their knowledge
and skills.
(10) I put all my effort to help unsuccessful/under-achiever students.
(11) I used to be more ambitious about my teaching than I am now.
(12) Sometimes, when I lie awake at night, I will think on what I need to do for the next
(13) I enjoy teaching.
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(14) If I could get a different job, rather than being a teacher, and have the same amount
of salary, I would accept it.
(15) If I could do it all over again, I would not work in the teaching profession.
(16) I am disappointed that I have chosen/selected teaching profession.
(17) To be a teacher is the best decision that I ever made.