Recently I’ve been wrangling with the notion of whether I should remain in teaching. I went through this process last year, although for different reasons. At the end of 2012 I was finishing up my second year of full-time teaching. I counted myself fortunate that I had managed to secure two years of full-time work straight out of university. However, I had an extremely challenging year on both a professional and personal level in 2012. I was frustrated, bored, and struggled to see a vision for my future as a teacher. In acknowledging factors that contribute to rates of attrition in graduate teachers, it is important too that we explore areas that can be improved to better facilitate pre-service teachers transition into members of school’s faculties.
There are no concrete figures on the number of teachers leaving teaching, however estimates place the attrition rates as high as 30% within the first three years of teaching. Why is this happening? And what can be done to improve the situation?
The oversupply of teachers has garnered media attention in recent months. The Sydney Morning Herald reported over 40,000 teachers were on waiting lists for permanent employment, with the oversupply expected to last until the end of the decade. Perhaps it’s not just a case of ‘good teachers leaving teaching:’ it’s a matter of good teachers not being able to get into teaching.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne is a proponent of attracting the best and brightest to teaching. With a UAI in the very high 90s, an Honours degree in Mathematics, and exemplary practicum reports, I feel like I am qualified to join Mr Pyne’s group. Yet I am one of the many recent graduate teachers that are unable to secure employment. It is challenging, at times, to sustain the motivation to remain in an industry when you know that your marks were suitably high enough to award you admission into almost any course and any field.
Spending years working as a casual teacher, or moving from contract to contract, is a frustrating and exhausting process. Are there any real solutions to this? I’m not sure.
A frustrating culture that pervades teaching is that you must ‘do your time’ in the classes that are ‘left over’ after other teachers have put in their preferences. Teachers that are later in their career (somewhat justifiably) feel as though they have earned the right to refuse to teach certain grades and year levels. These, usually the most challenging of classes, are often handed to the most junior teachers. The ones least equipped to deal with problem-behaviour. It may not be appropriate to hand graduate teachers senior classes, however, diversity in the teaching load is equitable and necessary.
Graduate teachers’ (and all teachers’) experiences could be improved by increased capacity for feedback and mentoring by more senior teachers. This would need to be supported by appropriate timetabling to ensure that mentorship is a priority, not a cumbersome burden that gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. Mentorship and feedback facilitates the capacity to celebrate the successes. It is easy to become caught up in a cycle of feeling as though one is inadequate. Taking time to acknowledge strengths (as well as areas for improvement) is crucial in generating a more positive self-image, self-confidence, and self-efficacy as a teacher.
Graduate teachers’ experiences could be greatly improved by including a more practical focus in preparatory courses: preparation that prepares you more for the ‘nuts and bolts’ of every day teaching. More focus on practicals strategies for classroom management. Learning how to prepare for parent-teacher-student interviews. Varied approaches to pedagogy. In addition, more could be done to explain different career pathways to beginning teachers, outside of the regular classroom job.
Of course there are many other factors that could be acknowledge (whilst appreciating that all jobs have their downsides). The time pressures and battle just to ‘get through content’ of incredibly dense courses limits ones’ capacity to be innovative. Limited resources, and poor access to professional development (particularly in rural and regional areas) can result in professional stagnation. The poor social value of teaching and education in Australia (where it’s encouraged and accepted to perpetually criticise teachers) is degrading and can wear at you.
There are as many varied and diverse reasons for teachers leaving teaching as there are teachers. What is apparent is that more can be done to support beginning teachers entering the profession, and those already in the profession. Quality education is dependent on quality teachers. Whilst teachers deserve every pay rise they receive, I believe few teachers are leaving teaching due to the money. It is important that we can take the time to clearly understand the reasons for teachers exiting the profession, to ensure we align solutions to these needs.