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Addressing the Teacher Shortage Crisis

Grattan’s new report on “Attracting High Achievers To Teaching” proposes a $1.6 billion reform that they argue will address the challenge of attracting high achieving graduates to take on the challenge of teaching – it won’t work!

Whilst I’d love to see the status of teaching reinstated, I believe the cheapest of the three strategies proposed by the Grattan Institute is the only one likely to have an impact and they have ignored BOTH the biggest complaint of current teachers AND the ‘elephant in the room’ in Australian education.

The three strategies advocated in the report are $10000 cash scholarships to high achievers, provide career pathways by increasing experienced teacher salaries by an additional $40000 per year by creating what they call “new” instructional specialist and ‘master teacher’ roles and a $20 million advertising campaign to promote the profession and re-position teaching as a career.

Whilst no educator would complain about an increase in salary, the vast majority of teachers don’t “do it for the money”. Engagement guru Ian Hutchinson, in his excellent book People Glue, argues that there are seven engagement drivers – Purpose, Opportunity, Relationships, Work Fulfilment, Work-Life Balance, Leadership and Reward.

I don’t believe many teachers would identify REWARD as their driver. I believe that most educators are driven by doing work that is purposeful, they enjoy the relationships they build and have the opportunity to pursue work-life balance (even though the work is never ending, the days are long and emotionally demanding, they at least have the school holidays off when their children are on holidays).

Pay is the BIGGEST driver for people who are motivated by REWARD. They believe that the harder they work and the better they are at their job, the more they should be rewarded.

Given that most are NOT driven by reward they are unlikely to see increased pay as worth the stress and unrealistic demands being placed on them by parents who are quick to blame others. More needs to be done to manage the workload on teachers. Much of this workload is created by parents that ‘attack’ rather than support teachers and by systems who add additional layers of bureaucracy and compliance. These issues are not addressed in the Grattan recommendations.

Creating additional middle leadership positions to “provide better pathways” as suggested by the Grattan Institute sounds good in theory. However, recent initiatives to identify and value expert teachers and to retain them in the classroom, have become ineffectual and led to ‘Senior’ teacher status and pay being just another step on the salary progression. Years of service rather than quality of service has been the key criteria.

In many schools, middle leaders are unintentionally adding additional workload to the classroom teacher rather than supporting them by lightening the load.

Ultimately the key role of leaders is to create the best possible environment for the magic to happen in the classroom. Leaders need to manage all available resources including facilities, timetables, classroom resources, staffing and funds to optimise the learning of the students. Classroom teachers need the best facilities, resources, behaviour management support, curriculum clarity and professional development to help them be the best teacher they can be.

The workload on classroom teachers needs to be addressed if we are going to make the profession more attractive to high achievers. Teachers need clear guidelines of effective practice and programs. Far too much time is spent ‘reinventing the wheel’. In many schools, programs are being written from scratch and a multitude of initiatives are being attempted. This leads to change fatigue and exhaustion.

Context is important and you do need to tailor a program to meet the needs and interests of students in remote settings versus the needs and interests of students in a green leafy suburb of a metropolitan area. However, the needs and interests of students in the same year level in the same school or in the nearby suburb are FAR more alike than different. Let’s agree to a program across the school, stick to it and make minor tweaks year-on-year!

The ’elephant in the room’ that is not addressed and is contributing to impact on the profession are the ineffective systems in place to address under performance of teachers and the interference of some Unions in protecting their members. Just as a school is impacted by underperforming teachers, they also impact on the reputation of their peers and the profession as a whole.