Teacher Job Shortages

“It is essential for students that all teachers — casual, temporary or full time — meet the Proficient Teacher standards within a reasonable period…[e]ven casual teachers should have a supervisor to support them…this is a reasonable expectation of schools and school systems.” the [Department of Education] spokesman said.
– Alison Branley, The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13th February 2016

I entered university to undertake my initial teaching education at the start of 2010, and I have distinct memories of hearing, for at least the ten years leading up to that point, that there were significant teacher shortages, which, coupled with the apparent looming retirement of thousands of teachers nationally, was leading to a crisis in education. This narrative has continued every since, and I recall when I was in my third year of my ITE that there was an uproar after this article was published by The Sydney Morning Herald.

I was not overly concerned at the time, confident that I would be able to find casual work, as I had also heard that there was a shortage of casual teachers on the Central Coast. There was also an element of that’s-a-problem-for-future-me in my putting off worrying about it. I am conscious of the fact that I was very fortunate that I had no problems gaining regular casual employment almost straight after finishing my ITE and that I was was then offered a contract for four days a week from Term Two last and then for this year as well.

Retrieved from erinclarke.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/the-creaded-first-day-of-casual-teaching/ on 13 February 2016

I attribute this to a few reasons.Firstly, I had an excellent relationship with my supervising teacher, the staff, and students whilst on my first practicum, to the point where I was offered a place on the Year Six Canberra excursion which occurred during my final week there; an invaluable opportunity from which I learned a lot about being on an overnight excursion. After I completed my practicum, my supervising teacher invited to come back in whenever I wanted and help out, an invitation I took him up on, going in to help out when my university timetable allowed.I continued to visit and help out throughout the remainder of my studies, keeping my face known and building rapport with the staff and students, and continuing to learn about myself as a teacher. I was told in no uncertain terms to be sure to let them know when I received my approval to teach so that they could add me to the list of casual teachers. I built that relationship, worked to develop and maintain it and reaped the benefits when I graduated.

The second reason was that in week two of 2015, having allowed schools a week to settle back in, I printed out and hand delivered a copy of my resume and the relevant paperwork to twenty schools, meeting the person who managed the casual teacher list where I was able to, and finding out the name of that person, if unable to do so. I hear a lot of anecdotal stories about people complaining they are unable to gain casual employment, and many of them, from what I hear, have not gone out and done the rounds of their local schools, beyond a small selection of up to four or five. I delivered resumes to twenty and heard back from only four schools, one of whom was the school at which I completed my first practicum and another from whom I did not have a call until around August after I was already engaged on a temporary contract.

I may have ended up working casually at only three schools, however, that was three callbacks from twenty resumes.

Recently, there has been another round of articles talking about this issue, both from a job shortage point of view as well as from the point of view of the tertiary sector’s responsibility to the education industry as the provider’s of ITE programs, as well ongoing discussions about this topic within the education community on Twitter.

“I’m really angry especially with universities because the universities are the ones pushing the line ‘come and do a teaching degree and you’ll get a job’. They must know that’s false.”
– Steve Elliot, ABC News 13 February 2016

The ABC News article, written by Alison Branley, indicates that up to forty percent of graduates are unable to find work within four months of graduating, which can make it difficult to fulfill the requirement to work one hundred and eighty days within a five-year period, which is the time limit to complete the movement from Provisionally to Proficiently accredited.

As someone who is on a temporary contract, I have access to Professional Development opportunities through the school and support to piece together my portfolio of evidence for my own accreditation. As a casual teacher, however, that support is not as readily available to you, as schools’ funding is for professional development is limited, and does not often allow the provision of professional development to casual teachers, without those teachers bearing the cost of the course. Alison cites (uncredited) some interesting statistics, which, if taken at face-value, are frightening:

  • Teacher’s who do not gain sufficient employment become ineligible to teach without restarting a new degree.
  • Since 2010, NSW has lost almost 3,000 teachers from its books

For those who undertake a three-year ITE program (my own was a four-year program), this has a significant cost to the taxpayer, which is essentially wasted money.

  • Student contribution HECS-HELP loan (40%): $18,768
  • Commonwealth contribution (60%): $28,152
  • Total cost of degree: $46,920
  • Multiplied by 2,897 grads (NSW): $135,927,240

Workforce management within education, particularly the training of new teachers is an undoubtedly complex and difficult task. Anna Patty wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 indicating that the just under seven thousand teacher graduates in 2013 were fighting for a mere two thousand two hundred jobs, of which only a thousand were advertised. There were, I believe, around one hundred and thirty (ish) who graduated in my cohort. I am only aware of around six or seven who received permanent positions under the NSW Department of Education’s Targeted Recruitment Program, with the remainder fighting for casual work and temporary contracts, with a small number having gone overseas or put teaching on hold to raise a family.

Retrieved from pbs.twimg.com/profil_images_2612521888/image.jpg on 13 February 2016

The situation is confusing as we are being given seemingly contradictory information, that there is both a teacher glut and a teacher shortage, and this comes back to the treatment of ITE programs as cash-cows, so dubbed by Stephen Dinham in January 2013. In contrast to Finland, where entry into an ITE program requires a Masters degree, as a starting point, a brief search of the UAC Education courses today (13 February 2016) showed that the majority of cut-offs for ITE programs is only sixty.

“We need other measures of suitability to teaching to augment ATAR scores.”
Stephen Dinham, The Conversation. Retrieved 13 February 2016

I agree with Stephen’s call for other measures of suitability, but what they are, how they are judged and how you can tell if someone at nineteen years of age will be a suitable teacher when they graduate at around twenty-three, is open to debate. I have heard calls for an interview process similar to what I understand is required for entry into Medicine undergraduate programs, but I know that if I had gone into one of those interviews in Year Twelve, I would have been deemed unsuitable, as I would likely have been very unsure of whether it was what I wanted to do, and I know of many teachers my age, who did enter university to become teachers straight out of high school, and completed the degree very casually, just looking a Pass mark.

Whilst I am not old enough to know much about the Teachers College indentured employment system which many of my senior colleagues went through, whereby they were guaranteed a permanent posting straight out of university, perhaps a similar program for those willing to be posted to rural and remote locations, or to take postings in areas other than where they had originally considered is an idea worth investigating.

Alternatively, one of my Professors during my ITE who was trained and began his teaching career in the UK told us of how a similar issue was managed over there. Apparently, and I would love to hear from someone who can provide more concrete details of how it worked out, the offered voluntary retirement packages to a large percentage of teachers who were close to retirement age, which freed up a large number of positions higher up the ladder, which allowed those wanted to do so to move further up the chain, freeing up a large number of permanent teaching positions on the bottom rung. There are some obvious potential pitfalls to this concept, not least the loss of corporate knowledge, however, it is an interesting concept.

This is a complex topic, and I welcome any constructive discussion around the issue.

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