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Is It Time To Rethink Teacher Workloads?

What we are currently doing to reinstate the status of teaching isn’t working. Only 12% of the over 2100 teachers surveyed in the 2018 Happy School Status of Teaching Survey felt the status of teaching had increased in the past 5 years (down even further than the 2016 result of 19%).

The headline statistics are alarming and reflect a continuing slide in the status of the profession, even from within.

  • 61% of teachers believe the status of the profession has declined in the past 5 years (was 47% in 2016)
  • 66% of teachers indicated they have thought about leaving the profession in the past 12 months (increased from 60% in 2016)
  • 50% of teachers report working more than 50 hours per week (up from 48% in 2016)
  • Only 42% of teachers said YES they plan to be teaching in 5 years (down from 46% in 2016)

The workload continues to ramp up. This year over 90% of respondents said their workload had increased in the past 12 months. This is on top of the 2016 figure where 88% felt the workload had increased in that 12 month period.

This perception is supported by qualitative data from a recent research project, Teaching and Learning – Review of Workload, commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation and undertaken by Sydney University Business School and School of Education and Social Work. This study confirmed there was “a surprising uniformity in responses in relation to high hours of work and administrative sources of workload”, even accounting for school size, type and diversity. The project reported an increase in workload over the past five years, which when coupled with perceived conflicting demands contributed to low morale or stress.

Morale appears to have dropped even further. Teachers are generally a fairly optimistic lot. Even with the concerns about workload and increasing administrative demands, only 29% rated morale in their school as below average. However, this is an increase from 2016 where the level was only 21%.

According to the survey, the 3 BIGGEST factors that contribute to their stress continue to be:-

  • Workload 80% (was 78%)
  • Student Behaviour 59% (was 55%) and
  • Parent Behaviour 48% (was 41%)

A recent study of promoting the teaching profession, commissioned by the Queensland College of Teachers (Bahr, Graham, Ferreira, Lloyd & Waters, 2018), identified “adverse perceptions of task demands (working conditions) that are instrumental in teacher turnover and attrition. These include: workload (the number of annual working hours), likelihood of working in disruptive classrooms, and availability of support staff”.

Lack of Respect (43% was 37%) is identified as the number 4 factor in contributing to teacher stress in the 2018 Happy School Status of Teaching Survey. This factor comes in much higher than the much publicised debate on NAPLAN (National testing) which was listed as the 8th highest factor, out of nine (22% of respondents on both 2016 and 2018). I would argue that it is this respect for teaching as a profession that needs to be addressed.

Staff in schools are placed in a very significant position of trust by our communities. We are trusted to look after, nurture and prepare for complex futures, the most precious, special and significant thing in almost ALL parents lives….their children.

For the vast majority of parents, their children are more precious, special and important than anything they own, including their house and their car. Yet many teachers are reporting that a lack of respect is a significant factor contributing to their stress.

The highest motivators reported by the teachers in 2016 continue to be the highest motivators in 2018. They were:-

  • Satisfaction of contributing to student success
  • Work environment and
  • Feeling part of a team

The least important motivators were also unchanged

  • Work hours
  • Holidays and
  • Pay

Alarmingly the number of teachers who would recommend teaching as a profession to their own son or daughter has also fallen. Only 19% of teachers said they would recommend the profession (down from 21% in 2016). The number who said “NO” rose from 43% to 45%. If we wouldn’t recommend the profession who would?

A recent article in the Australian (Oct 12, 2018) quotes politician Andrew Lamming suggesting that the reforms undertaken in the healthcare sector in the 1990’s to overhaul nursing as a profession may be warranted. Lemming says, “Only paid overtime would force authorities to properly value teacher time and own the human resource chaos across the sector….Only by handing home time back to teachers can it be voluntarily reinvested in the development and qualifications that lead to higher performance and salaries.”

Whilst I’d prefer that teaching wasn’t a political football, it may well be time to take a different approach in reviewing workloads and reinstating the status of teaching as a profession. Lemming challenges our thinking by suggesting that an evening of parent-teacher interviews would earn a $400 call-in fee in the health sector.

Whilst I am challenged by Lemming’s provocation, I’m not convinced it is simply a pay issue. In my opinion it is a matter of credibility and respect. I’d love to see the status of the teaching profession held in high esteem. Unfortunately, the behaviour and lack of commitment of a small number of teachers undermine the hard work and credibility of so many. As a profession, we need to raise the bar and reject unprofessional conduct of the minority and review the workload and demands placed on the majority. As a society, we need to work WITH the teachers of our children, respect their professional judgment and recognize the many dedicated and committed staff who work in schools.