A collective sigh of relief can be heard from teachers across Australia as we bid farewell to a long and somewhat cold Term 3 to commence a two week school break which will provide just enough time to re-charge our batteries prior to coming back for Term 4 – the last term of the 2016 academic year.
For some it is a time of contemplation. For others it is a time of anticipation.
For many school administrators though, it is a time of deliberation as they trawl through the range of staffing issues posed by staff resignations.
Resignations, of course, are submitted for a variety of reasons. New challenges in new teaching positions would, one hope, be the most common reason for submitting a letter of resignation. Yet, a significant portion of resignations of teaching staff in our schools are from those who have simply had enough. Either they have reached a suitable age to step into retirement or they have decided that teaching is no longer what they want to do.
It is this significant number of resignations which has me worried. Sadly, each resignation represents an incredible loss of skill and experience and our school communities are the poorer for their departure.
While I touched on this topic recently in a post which focused on how we should be supporting graduate teachers to ensure they stay in teaching a tad longer than 5-7 years, this time my concern is focused on how schools should be working hard to retain experienced teachers in the profession.
So much has changed over the years I have been in education. Demands on teachers today have dramatically increased from what they used to be:
- Accountability is high on the agenda. The onerous amount of accountability required by teachers to work colleagues, department heads, school administration and of course to parents eats away at the time and energy levels of teachers. On top of teaching duties, accountability has to be fitted into the teacher’s busy week. Just recently I became aware of one school which requires all teachers to call parents twice a term!
- School intranets have taken on a life of their own. Busy teachers today need to find time to document curriculum, record lesson plans, note student achievement on the school intranet so that parents and heads of departments can gain a real picture of what is being taught and how students are progressing.
- Upskilling, particularly in the use and application of technology in the classroom is a constant requirement. The expectation of not just learning to use technology but to be confident and able enough to integrate this into day-to-day teaching is a difficult demand for teachers. For experienced teachers though, this requirement can be quite threatening particularly when learning has to occur on-the-job.
- New pedagogy coupled with new teaching styles are a dime a dozen in education! So much time and effort needs to be expended by teachers to master the latest philosophies embedded in ‘flipped classrooms’, ‘visible learning’, ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘differentiated teaching’ to name just a few. While new methods and teaching ideas should not be discounted, this constitutes yet another demand on teachers’ time and energy.
- Participation in extra curricula activities often involve evening or weekend commitments. As schools compete with each other more and more for school enrollments, the variety and number of extra curricula activities have expanded dramatically from previous years.
Clearly the demands on teachers today are much higher than they were not all that long ago. The ongoing requirement for teachers to stay abreast of new pedagogy, skills, methods and programs is essential. Yet the shift into 21st education for the set of experienced teachers who are now in their mid to late 40’s and older has not necessarily been smooth or easy. While a deep passion for teaching is most probably the key factor that keeps many of these teachers in education, rewards and incentives for them in their chosen profession are severely limited.
It so happened that the year I started my teacher training was the year the basic course qualifications were extended. To my shock, when I graduated and took up my first teaching appointment, my salary was considerably higher than teachers who had been teaching for many years. Within a few very short years, I found that I had reached the top of the salary scale. As my years in schools continued, my salary effectively stagnated. The only way to increase my salary was to take up positions of responsibility which paid an allowance, an appealing choice only if I wanted to devote more of my working time to administration rather than teaching.
The lack of rewards and incentives for teachers has been a sad fact for a very long time.
I was thrilled when a year ago the school in which I work decided to recognize exemplary teachers by inviting them to take up two year appointments as ‘master teachers’ a role which had a significant monetary reward. So chuffed was I at the time that I penned these thoughts off to our school admin:
It is great to see that teachers who excel in the classroom are to be rewarded for their efforts and encouraged to stay in the classroom. For too long salary increases associated with promotion have been linked to teachers taking on greater administrative responsibility. The introduction of a Level 12 salary positively rewards excellent teachers, giving teachers across the school a tangible professional goal to which they can aspire. Such an excellent incentive will also positively impact students’ achievement.
So when I read an article in the news last week – $76,919 max: how teacher pay peaks and how the government wants to fix it The Age, September 15, 2016 – I was equally thrilled to learn that the concept of salary incentives to encourage experienced teachers to remain in the classroom was finally being considered by Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Recognizing OECD figures highlighting that “teacher pay in Australia levels out after around 10 years of service compared to higher-performing countries where the increases are more staggered”
The Turnbull government is pushing for teachers’ salaries to be linked more closely to their skills rather than how many years they have spent in the classroom.”
With support from Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe who stated that
“Experienced classroom teachers should be recognised and rewarded for their high levels of knowledge and skill and their contribution to schools, without having to move into administrative roles,”
it seems that an impasse that has existed for Australian educators is at last being addressed.
One can only hope that the process of introducing such salary incentives occurs quickly, before all the experienced teachers hand in their resignations!!