Listen to non-native English-speaking teachers to fix teacher supply

Listen to non-native English-speaking teachers to fix teacher supply

The teacher shortage is undoubtedly a global issue today. In Australia, it has been deemed as “unprecedented” and the “single biggest issue” across the school sectors. The shortage is being faced across the board, with a projection of a shortfall of “approximately 4,100 teachers” by 2025.

The Draft National Teacher Workforce Action Plan, released on 3 November, embodies our first coordinated national teacher workforce strategy, that many have been calling for prior to the shortage reaching crisis point. It is a strong first attempt, with 28 stipulated actions of five themes, but it doesn’t cover all angles.

In a television interview on 4 November, Education Minister, Jason Claire, said the purpose of the draft plan is to get feedback from the teachers and the wider community:

“What did we get right? What did we get wrong? What should be in the plan that's not in the draft plan? And what do you think that we should take out?”

We respond to that invitation and draw on research to consider one aspect of the “improving teacher supply” that focuses on: 

“Prioritise visa processing for qualified teachers and prioritise teachers from State and Territory nominated visa allocations”

Jurisdictions will also work with relevant regulators to streamline overseas skills recognition and consider how to expedite permanent visas for teachers already in Australia.

The Australian Government will work with State and Territory governments to make sure this information points to opportunities in their jurisdictions.

It has already been pointed out that teacher shortage is a global issue now. Migration from English-speaking countries is unlikely to provide a full solution, we need to cover all options, including by making things easy for International Teachers from Non-native English-speaking backgrounds. 

It is claimed in the draft plan that some measures have already been taken and others are being currently worked on. For example, the teaching profession has been made the priority list, and “targeted communications and marketing materials” are being developed to “inform and encourage” potential migrants and employers in the education sectors. The Department of Home Affairs is providing “priority processing for skilled visa applications” across education sectors. Local governments such as Victoria is funding “funding incentives of up to $50,000 for international teachers to work in Victoria, supported by VIT”. There has also been a commitment that new international teacher registrations be processed “within a week of applying for registration” instead of 4-6 weeks.

However, in the brief draft plan all international teachers, from English as native speaking (ENS) and English as non-native speaking (ENNS) backgrounds, have been homogenised. This gives the impression that the criteria for both temporary and permanent visa applications for these groups are the same, they are not and ENNES teachers have had very different experiences of the process. We point to four key challenges in relation to immigrant ENNES teachers, and discuss possible solutions.

Challenges to teacher supply (and their solutions)

  • Teaching workforce does not reflect the diversity

The Australian teaching workforce appears to be somewhat non-diverse, especially in comparison with the Australian demographics and EAL/D students in schools. INNESTs comprise only 10% teaching workforce in Australia where 1 in 2 Australians was either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas. 25% of primary and secondary school students learn English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) and this number in some schools can even reach up to 90%. The percentage of INNESTs is also less than that of the working age Australian population (33.6%).

Findings from a study of 16 INNESTs, analysing the narratives of their professional experiences over time, reveal this: they were treated unequally and inequitably before and after their migration in Australia.

Within and beyond professional contexts, the experiences of repeated professional non-recognition, discrimination, views, and treatments as the linguistic-cultural-racial “Other” impacted their sense of professional self and professional status. The language they would adore and intimately live with since early childhood and teach later stood in the way of their professional identity. From a revered teacher of English language in their countries of origin, they appeared as someone who does not know how to speak so called Australian English.

Solutions: Research and collect data on teachers of INNESTs in Australia, with initial teacher education qualifications and without, who have teaching experience. Provide scholarships for internship, the teachers to undertake teacher training, and development of short courses, and simulation programs. Promote and let international students choose teaching degrees when they are applying from overseas and when they are in Australia. Provide international students option to move to a teacher education course or complete teacher education after their initial degree. Provide scholarships for them. Make trans-national agreements to bring teachers from non-English speaking countries or doing agreements to train teachers equivalent to or according to Australian initial teacher training programs. Even Australian schools and universities can work as stakeholders to create and teach programs online.

Lengthy time frame to transition into the profession

At present, it is more difficult to become a teacher than a doctor with an overseas qualification. The time frame for INNESTs (Immigrant non-native English-speaking teachers) to enter the profession is lengthy. The process is time consuming, onerous and in some cases discriminatory. It includes trials and tribulations for years: pre, during and post migration, settlement, job seeking, waiting to be eligible for HECS-HELP, upgrading qualifications, trying multiple times to meet English language requirement (mostly over years), attending repeated job interviews, and getting rejected even after meeting all the criteria. It is taxing for them economically, socially-culturally, psychologically, and emotionally.

Finding any job including teaching was a monumental hurdle for them. It took years for some of them to enter the profession, especially until they wanted to move to the other sectors, such as adult and university sectors. Desperate and despondent after migration, the teachers started to work low paid un-skilled sectors to make ends meet. For example, a highly acclaimed teacher, Mahati would have the notion that she “would get a teaching job very easily”, but she could not but work in an

Indian/Sri Lankan grocery store (cooking, cleaning, packing, selling, etc – the worst time of my life!

Some INNESTs could not even set their feet in the profession even after meeting all the criteria and some trying for years:

I started shortly as a casual relief teacher. … I got an interview for a teaching position at a public school in Cranbourne. I was unsuccessful on the grounds of lack of experience. Then again, I was interviewed telephonically by SERCO, but could not be successful on the grounds of lack of Australian experience. I took up employment as a Coordinator for an after-school Program (OSHC) with Camp Australia. It utilised my VIT licence and got me into a school. However, it was far from a teaching career. (Jigna)

It also took time for INNESTs to get all the required documents ready for visa application, get the qualifications and experiences assessed for migrations, application process, getting registered as a teacher and learning about job seeking skills, not to mention adjusting with and learning about every step of their new life.

Solutions: Minimise the visa application, processing, assessment, and registration time. Create on arrival job ready programs for the INNESTs. Ensure they are not viewed and treated as deficit but on par with the native English-speaking teachers. Treat them as hybrid professionals who continue to engage in linguistic cultural and professional mixing and accumulations. Make employers aware of the global Englishes and their values. Make employers account for the reasons for not employing an INNESTs. Make employment process blinded.

Discriminatory English language requirements

The English language requirements stipulated for INNESTs  for registration by VIT (Victorian Institute of Teacher) and  for migration AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) are both linguistically and racially discriminatory because the requirement does not apply for native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) from BANA (Britain and the Australasian and North American nations). Laura had to sit for IELTs multiple times followed by a review over two years that cost her three months of her salary in the Philippines. Quang, already with two post-grads (one from Vietnam and another from Australia), said

We had to take the test… then again, we had other means to show out English proficiency. … by going through the course, finishing the course, and by through all the practicum, I think, in way or another, we have proved that at least to communicate in English, and in subject areas. Why do we have to sit for the test again?

The requirement may not even be met by highly educated native speakers.

Some of them struggled to meet again the higher IELTS requirements because due to non- practice their registration lapsed.

Solutions: Provide trainings of intercultural communication and respect in schools both for the students and staff – it can be as specific as how to respect INNESTs. Promote global Englishes and their importance in multicultural contexts. Remove English language test requirement if the teacher’s medium of higher education was in English. If not, create English language courses for the teachers.

Lack of information and support

Lack of information and support also exacerbated the tribulations of the INNESTs’ professional entry in Australia. They were often misguided by wrong information about the pathway courses and other steps to pursue their profession in Australia.

For example, Quang and Natalie opted for their first degrees in Australia as Master of Applied linguistics, misunderstanding that they would be able to teach in schools with that degree. Natalie and Janaki were discouraged from pursuing teaching in Australia because they were non-native English speakers. Natalie was even derided about her career aspiration to teach English in Australia.

Thi said, “I couldn’t even differentiate these different work sectors, so how in the world could I find the right place to look for work?”.

The high school teacher Laura from the Philippines and the cosmopolitan primary school teacher Janaki did not feel confident about their teaching, so they moved to other sectors. Tailored support and mentorship for these teachers would ensure the experienced teachers remain in school teaching, who have already proven their love and passion for the profession.

Another reason why the teachers, Jigna, Mahati and Janaki, did not stay in school teaching was they did not find any fixed term or permanent contract but intermittent casual relief teaching (CRT). Janaki said “I did not like the instability of the fact that I had to teach at different places”.

Solutions: Create professional support programs by connecting the teachers with other teachers, including retired teachers and teacher educators, who would like to be involved in the programs. Make applications or websites with all professional information integrated on platform and that can be accessed by the teachers before they arrive onshore. Create mentorship programs inter/intra schools. Ensure they are permanently employed.

We can solve the teacher supply partially first by recognising the problems and taking actions about these, such as including these in National Teacher Workforce Action Plan.

This article was written by Nashid Nigar, Doctoral candidate, Faculty of Education, Monash University; Rachel Wilson, A/Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Science; and Alex Kostogriz, Professor, Faculty of Education, Monash University.