I was talking to a work colleague the other day, at least she was a work colleague until she quit at the end of last year.
She was back in our school working as a CRT (a casual relief teacher) for the week, filling in for someone who was on leave. As we chatted about this, that and the other, I was hanging out to ask her the one question uppermost in my mind: why was she working here as a CRT rather than taking up a teaching position in another school? After all, she’s only in her early to mid 40’s, way too young to quit I’d have thought.
Fortunately I was relieved of the need to ask. In between sharing what she was doing with herself nowadays, she told me in no uncertain terms that she was not in the slightest bit interested in finding another teaching position because she was ‘over it’.
For a moment that seemed to drag on for eternity, I was stunned and lost for words.
Sad ….. real sad ….. I thought to myself. How come someone so young was standing there telling me that she was ‘over it’ when she had only worked in education for just ten years. It didn’t seem possible or real.
Then later in the same week, I found myself lamenting with a male member of staff the number of older teachers who had given notice that they were retiring at the end of the year. Another imminent exodus of experienced teachers.
Thinking while talking, I found myself contemplating the difference in the two conversations. What a difference it is to have teachers retiring vs those who quit because they are ‘over it’.
Yes, I know. It is said that most graduate teachers only stay in education between 5 and 8 years which must seem like forever when compared to the average university/college graduate who is likely to have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives which translates to maybe 3 or 4 years in the one job!
It’s a worry – and a concern.
The investment in the education of university/college graduates is enormous. The cost, time and energy invested by students to gain their teaching degree is high and is easily equivalent to the investment made by society/government in the provision of teacher education programs.
It’s almost inconceivable, but unfortunately is quite real, that students in our schools can and are constantly exposed to new and inexperienced teachers throughout their school days.
While it can be rightly argued that many of those ‘experienced’ teachers retiring may have stayed in the job for a few years too long, the end result equates to a significant loss of a wealth of teaching experience.
But returning to thoughts about my work colleague who quit after just ten years in the profession, the question ‘why’ keeps nagging at me. Our chat informed me that she loves kids, teaching and sharing knowledge of her teaching subjects. The bottom line for her was the demands of all the other things that she had to do. It was these tasks, she admitted, which tipped her over the edge and made her realize that she was no longer enjoying ‘teaching’.
There’s little need to list all these other duties and demands on teachers as for those of us working in education, we are all too familiar with the list which unbelievably seems to grow year by year. Besides, in a previous post Passion vs Process I list the countless number of responsibilities and duties that regularly impinge on a teacher’s daily/weekly working life. As I re-read and contemplate the list I wrote some four years ago, I’m struck yet again by the incredible demands teachers have to endure if they want to keep their job! Coming across an article published in The Conversation on this issue, I was struck by this comment comparing the Finish and Australian education scene:
In the Finnish system, early-career teachers are trained well and then, crucially, supported to try new things in the classroom.
In Australian classrooms, the high level of administrative demands, teaching loads, pastoral care and extra curricula activities leaves too little time for collaboration and innovation.
It’s a sad fact that unless you work in education, you just don’t know how hard it can be.
Much has been written about the high attrition levels of teachers in our schools which is said to run between 30%-50% – an astoundingly high figure. Rebecca Vukovic in an article published in HQ a year ago: Early career educators are resigning from their jobs at an alarming rate writes convincingly of the problem as she quotes numerous researchers one of whom claims that “early career exit from teaching has reached epidemic proportions and appears intractable.”
So what can be done to retain teachers who love kids and teaching/sharing their knowledge? One recent article I read aptly concludes:
provide the right working conditions for early career teachers to thrive; and strive to integrate all the elements it takes to educate a child.” (ABC News: We can’t afford to ignore the teacher exodus February 4, 2016)
Many of the articles I’ve read over recent times seem to skirt around the real issues that are causing burnout and high attrition rates among new graduate teachers. Solutions to combat the situation however don’t seem to be as plentiful.
It’s time. Schools need to start addressing the issue!
- support new teachers with experienced mentors who have been taught how to mentor
- involve teacher training academics who have developed a rapport during the teacher training years in the employing schools to support new teachers in their first couple of years of teaching
- ensure ongoing professional learning is relevant and inspirational so that engagement with lifelong learning becomes an integral part of the job
- limit the number of additional duties a new teacher has to complete in a day/week for the first couple of years of their employment
- re-think yard duty and before/after school duty so that new teachers can take this time to recharge their batteries prior to the next lesson
- monitor workloads so that fewer teaching hours for first year graduates are gradually increased so as to guard against burnout
- control the amount of paperwork required of first year graduates so that they are not overwhelmed by the enormity of the job from day one
- welcome graduate teachers into our staff rooms to ensure feelings of loneliness and inadequacy do not set in
- value the ideas, thoughts and knowledge of graduate teachers as they have much to offer, share and teach experienced teachers
- praise of graduate teachers’ achievement and contribution to the class, year level, department and/or school should be liberal and sincere to help boost confidence and self worth
- salary incentives with appealing incremental increases should be available to entice and encourage graduate teachers to stay in the job
- job security in the form of permanent rather than casual teaching positions should be plentifully available to graduate teachers
It was a few years ago that I wrote a concluding paragraph on a post which discussed the value of teachers in schools. My thoughts from then apply equally to the way we need to value our graduate teachers.
It’s incumbent on school administrations to constantly express their appreciation of their teaching staff, to laud them and ensure they know they are of value in the day to day running of the school and the overall achievements and recognition for which the school strives. Schools that treat their teachers well are sure to reap the dividends! (NovaNews: Teachers – A school’s greatest asset! February 19, 2012)