For those in schools, the ‘looming’ real teacher shortage is absolutely no surprise, nothing to do with mandatory vaccinations. We have been dealing teacher shortages for years. 10 years ago, at my P & C meeting a parent, a retired Maths teacher vehemently put his case forward, we must write to the minister and tell them, we have a crisis in Mathematics teaching, we will not have enough teachers. We wrote to minister of the day. The response was, we will look into that, and we have begun discussion with the universities. That was 10 years ago. Where was the conversations with the schools? Where was the conversations with the principals and teachers, who knew that teaching was becoming a less appealing job?. Because the students saw first-hand how hard the teachers had to work. The long hours, working at night and on weekends, to prepare, mark, and learn new technologies. The ongoing challenges of engaging students, and the growing inequities across communities, that lands first and foremost in classrooms.
Today, students see every day how hard teachers work.
Today, students see every day how hard teachers work, it is a challenging, complex and demanding role, not for the faint hearted. They look into the eyes of their teachers. Our young people who choose to go to universities and enter the work force are not interested in a career in teaching. Or alternately, they do their teaching degree, take up their first position and soon realise, wow, this is very hard, unsustainable work. Why do I know that? I am a principal. This year, like no other, is unprecedented, my young teachers are choosing to walk away. One is going back to Uni to do a masters in speech pathology, one said, ‘thank you for the opportunity, but I need to recharge my batteries, and I know I will be back, but I am not sure when’, another said, ‘I am not sure I can work 5 days, I just need some balance. And my friends have jobs who earn similar and never have to work on the weekend or at night, its not what I thought’. This is the reality. It is hard, complex, demanding, unsustainable and undervalued work. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, a calamity that is destined to undermine our ‘lucky country’. Our biggest asset in our country is our human resources, and our young people are tomorrows future. If we havnt got the numbers of quality teachers, today, this will continue throughout schools, quality leaders are walking out in droves. With 28 % of the teaching workforce retiring by 2024, we have a problem.
Throughout my career, I have been the average age of the teaching force, I am 57. I have been principal at my current school for 10 years, this year I will have another one of my highly experienced, passionate, committed deputy principals retire. This year he was awarded the Education Ministers award for Excellence in Teaching, he walks away having served 37 years in public schools as a mathematics teacher. Everyday at the end of every 10 hour day, he saids, I don’t know how we can sustain this. He is right!
I challenge any CEO
I challenge any CEO to come and shadow me for a week. I earn one-quarter of the salary, yet I manage successfully one of the most complex large organisations in my town, my teachers are all highly committed, and we serve our community with professionalism and passion. Without us, this community would not be what it is. We are a lighthouse, and the fabric of the community, this needs the same respect, salary as all professionals. The declining wages is a disgrace.
It is the complexity of the role and the undeniable challenges of the work that needs addressing, while ideas like incentive schemes, targeting students while still at high school, recruiting from overseas etc etc, might seem reasonable and doable, they will not ultimately address the reality of the work, the equitable working conditions needed, the salary and the respect by governments and policy to address the heart of the issue.
The current realisation of modern schools can be summed-up, by my non-teaching husband. Last week he looked at me, he had this look on his face, as if he saw for the first time the reality of todays classroom, ‘umm so kids aren’t sitting in rows, there is no such thing as no-talking, the teacher isn’t at the front, no copying from a text book, wow!, teaching must be really hard these days!’.
He is a person who has listened to me for decades talk about classrooms, but for the first time he realised the overwhelming complexity. I don’t go through a week, without someone saying to me, ‘gee, I could never do your job’ or ‘I don’t know how you do it?’ It is because we (us teachers and school leaders) are really really good at our jobs, we make it look easy, but its not!
It is hard, complex and demanding work. We are highly trained professionals that should be paid accordingly, we should have the working conditions that are fair, equitable and just. This is not the end of this story.
Deputy President NSW Secondary Principals Council
President Illawarra South East Secondary Principals Council