With many new teachers leaving the profession within just five years, teacher retention is a growing concern for schools across the globe. As OECD predictions show a need for even more teachers in the near future, University of South Australia education experts separate the real issues from the myths.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is predicted that globally by 2030, the world will need to recruit almost 69 million teachers – almost 25 million primary school teachers and just under 45 million secondary teachers.
While the bulk of that recruitment will be to replace retiring teachers, demand for extra teachers to expand access to education for as many children as possible, is also substantial.
These OECD predictions come as countries around the world face increasing teacher shortages.
In Australia, New Zealand, England and USA there are widespread shortages of Maths and Science teachers, in Germany there are primary school teacher shortages and in many western nations, low SES and or remote schools are increasingly difficult to staff.
In their latest book, Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers, published by Springer, University of South Australia education experts Associate Professor Anna Sullivan and Professor Bruce Johnson, with local and international research colleagues including Professor Michele Simons from Western Sydney University, take a close look at what is going on with the teaching profession and unpack the politics and myths that may be contributing to an industry exodus.
Associate Professor Sullivan said the book exposed both the mythmaking about the profession and the genuine problems that need to be addressed.
“The research supporting each of the 11 chapters in the book is thorough and what it shows is that new teachers face a dilemma,” she said.
“There is one school of thought that young teachers need to be monitored and mentored, but overdone, that process disempowers them and undervalues the learning and new skills they bring to their role.”
Associate Professor Sullivan added that new teachers still needed to be supported, but it was important “to find a balance that appreciates them as new professionals and supports them to grow into their job”.
“A lot of negative media attention, reinforced by politicking and a conservative view of education, has painted new teachers as ill-prepared and undermines the excellent education and training they undertake to become teachers. There is an expectation that they should be ‘classroom-ready’ – but the sheer diversity of classrooms must make us challenge that idea,” she said.
“As with many debates – the truth lies in the middle ground. Nobody expects a newly graduated surgeon to perform the trickiest heart surgery, yet time and again we see new teachers only able to get full time work in schools where students have the most complex and difficult education needs.
“These are challenging jobs for even the most experienced teachers, so when we put new teachers in that environment, the system is setting them up to fail.”
Associate Professor Sullivan said there are many factors that contribute to poor teacher retention, but key facts that are underreported include the tenuous nature of early employment.
“Most new teachers are unable to land a permanent job, with many only casually employed as temporary teachers. About 72 per cent of new teachers only gain temporary positions straight out of university.
“It would make much more sense for temporary positions to be filled by experienced teachers and for new teachers to gain more stable roles where they can grow in the job.”