As the school gates open and students flood in with shiny shoes and new backpacks, there’s an expectation that teachers should be bursting with enthusiasm to get back to the classroom after their long summer holiday. The reality is that teachers have mixed feelings as the school year commences. Some describe dread and anxiety while others say abc teaching for toddlers’re hopeful or ‘trying to remain positive’. I feel better than I did in previous years,” an experienced teacher says.
Our new principal makes our workload more manageable. Another teacher — mid-career, early 40s — discloses her panic at the thought of a year working with a particularly challenging student. I’m not sure how much longer I can do this,” she confides. A graduate teacher, just three years into his career, tells me of his travel plans.
I’m not going to teach,” he explains. I can’t face the thought of so much work and all that stress. I do love teaching,” he smiles ruefully. Teaching is awesome until you have to do something other than teach, which is about 80 per cent of the time. And it’s a trend we can expect to continue. Teachers are leaving the profession in significant numbers — the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 53 per cent of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education. And research conducted by the Australian Government in 2014 estimates that 20 per cent of education graduates do not register as teachers on graduating, meaning many teachers are leaving before they’ve even started.
Photo: We aren’t investing in our teachers, says Associate Professor Philip Riley. And students will suffer as a result. But the specific reasons why teachers leave and precisely how many are leaving are largely unknown. There is currently no systematic tracking of teachers who leave the profession, let alone analysis of the reasons why they do. Not only does this impact teachers and kids — disrupting staff teams and school communities, and even impairing student learning — experts say it also prevents education departments from identifying teacher shortages and planning for the future. So why is it that the job with ‘such great pay and so many holidays’ isn’t retaining its workforce? We’re going to have a teacher shortage’Associate Professor Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University, who is leading research into teacher attrition, says the first problem is that no-one is collecting and coordinating the data on a federal level.
There are nine parallel systems operating across Australia,” Professor Riley explains. Each of them are collecting information in different ways, but no one is bringing that information together. Professor Robyn Ewing from the University of Sydney, who also researches teacher attrition, agrees the current systems for data collection need review. There’s a huge problem in Australia getting reliable statistics on this issue because most teachers begin as temporary or casual,” Professor Ewing says. At the moment we’re only tracking those that are permanent. The latest national data from the Australian Government suggest an average of 5. 7 per cent of teachers left the profession in 2014.