More than a quarter of year 7 to year 10 teachers and 15 per cent of year 11 to 12 teachers in Australian schools are teaching a subject they have not studied above first year at university and for which they have not received training in teaching methodology, according to new figures by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
The report showed about 37 per cent of teachers in their first or second year of teaching are in out-of-field roles compared to 25 per cent of those with more than five years’ experience.
Dr Du Plessis, a research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, told Fairfax Media the implications of this on retention rates and the mental health of teachers are widely overlooked.
“You feel guilty because you don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the subject or the skills or knowledge to guide students, especially if they’re in year 11 and 12,” she said.
“If you do this over a long period of time, you get exhausted and feel you’re not achieving what you want to achieve. It can lead to burnout.”
Dr Du Plessis, who is set to release a book on teacher burnout, has in the worst of cases seen teachers put on stress medication and undergo counselling to cope with a lack of proper training.
In one case, a science teacher in her second year had been given physical education classes, but wasn’t comfortable teaching in an open space.
“She said if things didn’t change, she would leave the profession,” Dr Du Plessis said. “I think that’s severe, to lose a science teacher because she’s in an out-of-field area.”
President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council Chris Presland told Fairfax Media burnout is common among teachers placed out of their field.
“They’re on this constant treadmill of just trying to keep ahead of the kids,” he said. “They’re frustrated and they’ll look for another career. That happens a lot.”
In years 7 to 10 about 41 per cent of teachers IT classes, 23 per cent of teachers in physics classes, and 21 per cent in maths classes do not specialise in these areas, according to a 2016 ACER report.
“It’s hard to solve the real root cause of the problem, which is that for people with maths, science and IT credentials, a teaching salary is nothing in comparison to how much they can get in industry,” Mr Presland said.
“The first implication [of this shortage] is that if a school offers a technical subject, they’re likely not to have qualified teachers.”
“The second is that schools may not offer the subject at all.”
Out-of-field teaching is more widespread in schools with a low socioeconomic status; 31 per cent of year 7 to 10 teachers in these schools are in out-of-field areas, compared to 22 per cent of teachers in well-off schools.
In remote areas, 41 per cent of teachers are in out-of-field classes, compared to 24 per cent of teachers in metropolitan schools.