Is bureaucratic interference in classrooms driving our new teachers to quit the profession?
In an effort to improve teacher quality and reverse the slide of students’ mathematics and literacy outcomes, schools have seen governments – both State and Federal – play an increasing role over what goes on inside classrooms.
However, this is only exacerbating the problem, says Independent Education Union (IEU) NSW/ACT general secretary, John Quessy.
Quessy told The Educator that over the last decade, he has followed research about early career teachers leaving the profession and the drivers that are responsible.
“Once upon a time, that was about a third of teachers. Now, they’re leaving the profession within the first three years,” he said.
“The community is spending a lot of money educating people to become teachers, but graduates are getting junked at the end.”
Quessy said this was because new teaching graduates are unable handle the level of stress that is now involved with the job.
He pointed to a conversation he had with an early career teacher at a recent meeting. She told him that while she had only been teaching for a short time, she was already looking to leave the profession.
“She told me: ‘it’s just not fun anymore – I can’t wait until I retire’. Hearing that was a seminal moment for me, because I think it sums up what’s wrong with the profession,” he said.
“It all comes down to whether people trust the professional judgement of teachers, because the government certainly doesn’t.”
Quessy said Australia’s benchmark academic results – particularly PISA and TIMSS – began to decline when governments began interfering with what teachers do in the classrooms.
Add that to the increasing class sizes and amounts of administrative workloads, says Quessy, and you’ve got a time bomb waiting to explode.
A report by ACER last year estimated that by 2020, an extra 92,000 primary school kids will flow into NSW schools, while Queensland and Victoria are expected to take in more than 100,000 students over the same time.
“They [The government] seem to think that the way we’re going to improve the results is to interfere even more, but it’s clear that our PISA results will get increasingly worse,” he said.
“When the government resorts to teacher bashing, they undermine the professional judgement of teachers and the work they’re doing.”
Quessy said that it is unsurprising that schools, teachers and education in general are not held in anything like the admiration or respect that they were in the past.
“If the government, shock jocks and various other people are continuously running teachers down, why should parents have any confidence in them?” he said.
“Teachers have no control over their own profession. If you look at who runs the professional organisations for teachers at a federal level, they’re dictating what teachers should do in the classroom – and they’re not even teachers.”
Quessy said that unlike professions like real estate agents, teachers are licenced and controlled by politicians, bureaucrats, academics and employers.
“This is partly because teachers are often treated like kids. I think it will only be a matter of time before it becomes very difficult for schools to find teachers of any capacity or standing, because they just won’t be there,” he said.
The declining retention rate of new teachers has prompted one organisation to provide better support for early-career teachers.
Teach For Australia (TFA) aims to help break the cycle of educational disadvantage through the two critical levers that research shows have a marked impact on student outcomes: teacher quality and leadership.
TFA CEO, Melodie Potts Rosevear, told The Educator that graduate teachers are abandoning the profession because they feel unprepared for the realities of teaching.
“New teachers need to be supported through effective inductions, in-school mentoring and specialist coaching,” she said.
“They also need access to high-quality professional development that supports them to work with other teachers, develop their instruction to meet their students’ needs, evaluate their impact on student learning and enhance their leadership capabilities.”