Teachers’ Formal Education

Teacher education is critical for effective teaching,118,119 with prospective teachers needing coursework to gain knowledge in the subjects that they will teach, to understand how students learn, and to learn about effective pedagogy for teaching reading. Analysis conducted using PIRLS data showed a relationship between teachers’ reading coursework and PIRLS reading achievement.120 Additionally, as reported by PIRLS 2016, many countries have increased their educational requirements for primary school teachers and almost all countries now require fourth grade teachers to have a four-year degree from a university. In every assessment cycle, PIRLS has collected information on teachers’ formal education, areas of study, and national policies and practices on teacher education. Teachers are asked about their highest level of schooling completed, main areas of study such as primary/elementary education or secondary education, and the extent to which they studied specific areas of reading (e.g., literature, education psychology, reading theory). National Research Coordinators report information on national policies and practices on teacher education and the requirements to become a teacher.

Teachers’ Years of Experience

In addition to teacher education and training, teaching experience is important for teacher development, especially in the first years of teaching.121,122,123 Research also has found that teachers continue to develop pedagogical skills after five years of experience, and that this development can positively affect student achievement.124,125,126 PIRLS routinely collects data on teachers’ years of experience.

Teachers’ Professional Development

The PIRLS 2016 Encyclopedia indicates that many countries are increasing efforts to provide teachers with professional development opportunities. Professional development can help teachers increase their effectiveness and broaden their knowledge and is especially important for exposing teachers to recent developments such as curricular changes or new technology for classroom instruction. For example, professional development is crucial for training teachers on how to incorporate online reading into their classroom practices.127 Additionally, for professional development to be effective, professional development opportunities should engage teachers through concrete tasks, be sustained and ongoing, and provide teachers the space to reflect on their teaching.128,129 Support systems also should be in place to encourage teachers to partake in professional development.130 Since 2001, PIRLS has asked teachers about their professional development. For PIRLS 2021, the teacher questionnaire builds on the professional development topic area and collects information on teacher participation and demand in specific areas of professional development (e.g., teaching reading comprehension skills and strategies, instruction related to digital literacies). PIRLS 2021 also gathers data on the type of professional development (e.g., workshops, seminars, mentor access) that is most useful to teachers, and on barriers to teacher participation in professional development activities.