Dynamic career pathways may be the key to teacher retention - Education Matters Magazine
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Dynamic career pathways may be the key to teacher retention

teacher retention

Teacher retention is an ongoing issue for Australian schools. New research from Dr Hugh Gundlach, of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, reveals key factors most correlated with teacher turnover. In this Expert Contributor column, he provides some suggested strategies and interventions for retaining teaching staff moving forward.

A high rate of teacher turnover is a growing issue in Australian education. Retaining staff is a challenge for many schools, particularly in the aftermath of the global pandemic. The 2021 Australian Teacher Workforce Data Report identified that one in four teachers intend to leave the profession before retirement age, and over half plan to do so within 10 years.

While teacher attrition rates can be comparable with attrition in other professions, the stakes are higher in the education industry, as the work they do impacts impressionable young people. Teachers carry institutional knowledge and experience working with students, and excessive turnover can have negative effects on student learning objectives and wellbeing.

Keeping good staff is essential so that schools maintain a strong understanding of their students as individuals and their educational pathways. Furthermore, parents want their child to cultivate a strong positive student-teacher relationship because they understand how crucial this can be to educational outcomes.

With the cost of recruiting and training new teaching staff estimated at 25-35 per cent of a teacher’s annual salary, retaining staff is also a good financial decision for schools. So, what can schools do to improve retention and entice more teachers stay in the profession long-term?

EXAMINING THE CAUSE OF HIGH TEACHER TURNOVER

Historically, teacher turnover was viewed as an issue of supply, assuming an increase in the quantity of teachers entering the workforce, would equal to greater retention. Subsequent studies found however, that early-career and pre-retirement teachers is also a contributing factor. At present day, there is a push for more initiatives for improving the wellbeing and job satisfaction of those in the teaching profession.

In my extensive research on the topic of teacher retention, I discovered that broadly speaking, ‘teacher burnout’ is the most powerful factor correlated with teachers leaving.

The cause of burnout has been linked to feeling unsupported, inadequate induction, insufficient mentoring – particularly for early career teachers – and overall lack of support in the role, to create a stressful environment. However, it has also been connected to teachers in out of field areas, and experienced teachers who are simply exhausted from workload and other aspects of the job.

Specific indicators of burnout are emotional and physical exhaustion, developing a cynical attitude toward the job, and reduced efficiency, ultimately proving to be indicators that a teacher will find reason to leave.

WHAT INTERVENTIONS CAN BE MADE?

An anonymous, online survey of over 1000 Australian teachers, Years K-12, allowed participants to share their experiences. A major theme from the survey data was that teachers are passionate about helping their students, but job dissatisfaction often arises when they feel other elements of the job hinder or obstruct their abilities to delivering successful learning outcomes to students.

Another emergent idea from the research was that the person to organisation fit is highly influential. For some participants, it took two or three schools for them to find their ‘best fit’ for a role. Data also indicated that having a dynamic career prolonged an individual’s stay in teaching.

SUGGESTED INTERVENTIONS:

  • Exit interviews with independent personnel to address reasons for departure.
  • An ‘exit room’ program to smooth transitions for departing and replacement staff.
  • Secondments and career leave initiatives that allow a teacher to return to a position while gaining new experiences.
  • Smoother transition between systems (Government, Independent, Religious) to preserve leave and entitlements.
  • Redesigned workloads and duties.
    Alternate models of work such as team teaching and job sharing.
    Wellbeing programs that put responsibility on the system, not just the individual.

Though it appears that most teachers begin their careers with passion, research suggests that rethinking career structures in teaching, with an awareness of and by comparison to other professions, could lead to more satisfying careers and greater retention.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Hugh Gundlach
Dr Hugh Gundlach is a lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

A life-long learner, Hugh has had a close relationship with The University of Melbourne, having completed: a Bachelor of Commerce degree with Honours (Management and Marketing); a Bachelor of Arts (Cultural Studies and Professional Writing); a Masters of Teaching; a Masters of Education (Educational Management); a Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching; and a Diploma of Modern Languages (French). Hugh has also completed a Masters of Business Administration and a Masters of Commerce at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Business and Law, under academic scholarships. He recently completed a PhD in Education under the Research Training Program Scholarship and the Department of Education’s ‘Strengthening Teachers’ Grant, investigating teacher wellbeing and retention.

While completing his studies, Hugh lectured and tutored in the areas of marketing and management at The University of Melbourne and RMIT, as well as Trinity College and Janet Clarke Hall, both residential colleges of The University of Melbourne. Hugh lived and worked in Janet Clarke Hall as a residential tutor and pastoral care provider. He has also taught secondary level English and Business at Ruyton Girls’ School, St Leonard’s College, and Fintona Girls’ School.

This Expert Contributor article was featured in the April issue of Education Matters Secondary. 

Read the full e-magazine here. 

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