Crisis in teaching may scare off new recruits

Teachers say they are overworked, underpaid and undervalued.

Crisis in teaching may scare off new recruits

NSW public teachers went on strike in May, provoked by a decade of staff shortages, increasing workloads and uncompetitive salaries.

Teachers feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued.

There are increasing concerns that these conditions are impacting young people’s willingness to study teaching, potentially causing staff shortages.

In response to a NSW government plea to wait until after the June budget to solve an ongoing pay dispute, thousands of public school teachers took industrial action.

Teachers marched in several locations across NSW, as part of their 24-hour strike, in what was the second walkout in six months.

Teachers also protested for better working conditions, competitive salaries, and understaffing solutions.

Unions NSW stated that the profession is at crisis point, however the NSW government has failed to address these problems.

A union survey of 10,000 teachers found that 90% disagree that their pay reflects their expertise and responsibilities.

The survey also found that two-thirds of teachers are currently reconsidering their futures in the profession, citing unmanageable workloads as a primary reason.

Bianca Smyth, the Coordinator for Skill Development at Charles Sturt University, who has previously worked as both a Primary Teacher and Education Lecturer, said that intensified workloads have made teaching an increasingly complex profession.

Bianca Smyth

“It’s one job in particular where you can’t actually get your work done during the (working) day,” she said.

The federal government expects more than 50,000 teachers to permanently leave the profession between 2020 and 2025.

Fatigue, understaffing, excessive workloads and under-appreciation are the key reasons teachers cite when stating their intentions to leave the profession.

A study conducted by Monash University found that 56% of teachers surveyed disagree with the statement that the Australian public appreciate teachers.

Primary Education student and School Learning Support Officer Grace Dillon said that teachers are significantly undervalued in society.

Grace Dillon

“The attitude they (the public) have towards the amount of work they’re (teachers) putting in is very different to the actual reality of it,” Miss Dillon said.

Mrs Smyth states that the public lack understanding of how difficult the profession is.

I think people are quite dismissive of teachers taking industrial action.

“I think they assume that we’ve got it pretty easy,” Mrs Smyth said.

Teacher fatigue is a leading contributor to unsatisfactory working conditions, provoking teachers to leave the profession.

21% of respondents in Monash University’s ‘Perceptions of Teachers and Teaching’ study cite mental health and fatigue as the reason they intend to leave the profession.

Mrs Smyth describes teacher fatigue as endemic.

“I have yet to meet a teacher that doesn’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t think I’ve ever met one to be honest.

“It’s quite unfathomable,” she said.

Miss Dillon describes similar experiences in her professional life, stating that fatigue in teaching is extremely prominent.

“In my staff room at work, three of the full-time teachers have had to have work off in the past five weeks, a week off each really, just because they’ve been sick and run-down.

“They’re so tired and exhausted from doing all this work,” she said.

These current conditions teachers experience are provoking significant proportions of teachers to leave the profession, as well as generating concerns that young people will consequently be reluctant to pursue careers in teaching.

Despite these working conditions, highlighted by the recent NSW teacher strikes, Mrs Smyth explains that not many young people have anxiety relating to current issues.

“I don’t think that young people are anxious about getting into education, I think they get a massive shock when they enter the profession.

“Schools are massively understaffed but I’m not sure it’s because people aren’t studying education, I think people are leaving the profession,” she said.

This observation is reflected in data retrieved from The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, finding that one in three teachers under 30 intend to leave the profession in the next decade.

Mrs Smyth explains that the amount of students enrolling in education degrees has “always been pretty consistent.”

“The number of graduates is still pretty high,” she said.

It may be the current working conditions of teachers, rather than the profession of teaching itself, that dissuade people from continuing their careers in education.

Miss Dillon, a Primary Education student, is confident in her career choice, stating that teaching is “a really rewarding job.”

“Nobody forgets their kindergarten teacher, everyone remembers that English teacher they had in year seven that taught them to write an essay. It’s really shaping kids’ lives and making an impact in them,” she said.

Uncompetitive salaries and lack of career progression have been identified as areas requiring revitalisation in the education system.

“You’ve got to find ways to attract really bright people into the profession because teaching has a pretty low ceiling in terms of the salary,” Mrs Smyth said.

Labor has recently proposed cash payments as an incentive for high-achievers to study education.

The policy aims to double the number of high achievers studying to become teachers over the next decade.

Solutions to improve the working conditions of teachers are yet to be implemented in NSW.