Amanda Heffernan

New research shows we trust and appreciate our teachers – but overworked teachers aren’t feeling it

Teachers in Australia are struggling with workload and feeling underappreciated, and almost six in ten say they intend to leave the profession. These are just some of the many findings of the two large-scale parallel surveys we conducted in the second half of 2019. We asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 members of the public and almost 2500 Australian teachers to share their perceptions of teachers and teaching.

The teacher survey How do Australia’s teachers feel about their work?  became one of the largest to have been conducted in this country. It provided teacher participants the opportunity to reflect on their experiences of being a teacher in Australia.

The data we collected told many interesting stories with rich personal responses from teachers, demonstrating the diversity of their work and the depth of the challenges they face.

The key findings from the two surveys provide useful, and at times surprising, information to contribute to the important discussion of teacher attraction and retention in Australia.

  • Satisfaction with teaching

Just over half of the teachers surveyed expressed satisfaction with teaching (56 per cent) with a further ten per cent being extremely satisfied. However, a third of teachers (34 per cent) expressed dissatisfaction with their role as a teacher.

Satisfaction is associated with teacher retention, where teachers who report satisfaction with their work being more likely to stay in the profession. It is concerning both for teacher retention and for attracting future teachers, that over a third of teacher participants expressed dissatisfaction with their role.

  • Teacher appreciation and respect

This presented interesting and also concerning results. There was a contradiction across the two surveys with the 93 per cent of the public participants trusting teachers to do a good job, and 82 per cent believing that teachers were respected. However, concerningly, 71 per cent of teacher respondents did not feel appreciated by the Australian public.

There are two messages to be taken from this. The first is that trust and respect felt by the public are not always translating into the experiences that teachers have when they interact with the public, whether it is with their local school communities or more broadly with policy and media. Comments from teachers demonstrated that a feeling of being underappreciated was a result of negative personal interactions with parents, media portrayals of teaching and the increasing demands of oversight and accountability that monitor their everyday work. This comment from a teacher illustrates these perceptions,

I feel as though there is very little trust in teachers- this comes from parents, leadership within the school, government, general public and older students. I feel constantly criticised and as though I need to prove myself worthy over and over again. It is absolutely shattering when you’re working hard and with passion, following best practice, constantly building skills to ensure you are continually improving and caring deeply for the individual outcomes of the young people in your care, to be treated as though you are substandard.

The other message from this key finding is that feeling underappreciated contributes to further concern for the retention of teachers and the attraction of teaching as a profession. Ten per cent of teachers who felt underappreciated suggested that this contributed to their desire to leave the profession.

  • Teacher workloads

A large majority (76 per cent) of teachers surveyed responded that their workloads were unmanageable. They described excessive workload that impacted on their physical and mental health and their families, and it distracted them from their core focus of teaching and learning. These comments from participants capture the intensity of workload that is being experienced by so many teachers.

I am currently finding a distinct lack of balance between my work and family life. I take work home to mark every day, I plan, prepare and organise each afternoon for the following day and am exhausted after each day falling into bed. I work hours every weekend and during the holidays. There’s little switch off time.

The long hours, workload and the emotionally taxing nature of the job. It’s 24/7 work and my brain is constantly thinking about school or is at school. I don’t think I can do it for more than ten years as a classroom teacher.

The teaching workload and necessary hours to manage it are extraordinarily unreasonable. The impact of this on those teachers with families or caring for elderly parents is detrimental to their health and well-being.

The perceptions that the workload associated with teaching is a challenge was also noted in the survey of the public, with excessive workload demands identified as a main reason that participants would not recommend teaching as a profession to young people in their lives.

Challenges with managing workload were also reported as contributing to reasons that many teacher participants were considering leaving the profession. This is consistent with recent findings of other Australian research that found that Australian teachers work more hours than most other OECD countries and that high workloads contribute to stress, burnout and ultimately attrition.

  • Feeling safe at work

Most teachers (80 per cent) reported that they did feel safe at work.  However, significantly, one in five (491 participants) did not feel safe and described concerns about physical and psychological risks coming from parents, students and colleagues. Of those who did not feel safe, 54 per cent specifically mentioned violence, aggression or physical assault. Many also described the cumulative impact of regular emotional challenges, stress and unsustainable work/life balance as impacting their physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. These concerns were felt across all career stages. Comments provided showed that these impacts were specifically connected to considerations of leaving the profession.

[Teaching is] too stressful, impact on body health and work life balance. I love my job but it’s not worth the toll it takes on my mind and body

I don’t feel like I can last any longer than this. My job is having a negative impact on my health

Concerns for our teachers and the future of teaching

Our findings suggest there are many teachers in Australian schools who are struggling with their work. Issues of workload, safety and lack of appreciation are contributing to teacher dissatisfaction. Australian teachers go into the profession often because they care about making a difference in the lives of children and young people. But the realities and stressors of the role undermine this sense of purpose and ultimately contribute to attrition, and more broadly to public perceptions of the work that make teaching a less career attractive choice.

Concerns about shortages in the teaching workforce in Australia have been linked to issues of an ageing workforce and high rates of early career teacher attrition. There are many schools, often in rural and remote or other hard-to-staff schools where shortages are already having an impact. Our study adds evidence of what is contributing to attrition rates and the growing lack of interest in teaching as a career. These are issues we need to face to ensure we have a strong Australian schooling system into the future.

Dr Fiona Longmuir is a lecturer in educational leadership in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. Her research focuses on intersections of educational leadership, educational change and social justice with current interests in student voice and agency, social cohesion and alternative approaches. Fiona teaches in the Master of Educational Leadership and principal preparation programs. Fiona can be contacted at and is on Twitter @LongmuirFiona

Dr Amanda Heffernan is a lecturer in Leadership in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. Amanda’s key research interests include educational leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. Amanda also has research interests in the lives and experiences of academics, including researching into the changing nature of academic work. Amanda can be contacted at and found on Twitter @chalkhands

Dr David Bright is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne. His research interests include critical approaches to English as a second/foreign language, Indigenous education, teacher and student identity, international schooling, and post-qualitative research methods. David teaches in a number of pre-service and postgraduate education programs. He can be contacted at and found on Twitter @d_a_bright

Read the full report of our study : Perceptions of teachers and teaching in Australia

Academics and Twitter: the good, the bad and how to survive out there

Twitter is the social media of choice for many academics. At least one in forty academics in an institution is on twitter, contributing to the 4.2 million tweets about education every day. If you are involved in education in any way it is probably a good idea to get on there and see what is happening.

In today’s world of academia where it is essential to show evidence of impact Twitter can be invaluable in helping academics establish their larger digital identities, share their research and publications and mine for data that can assist with their research projects.

Key arguments for academics to tweet

  • Develop and nurture networks
  • Establish and maintain profiles
  • Access scholars they otherwise couldn’t
  • Share work / self promote / increase impact
  • Public engagement
  • Reimagining of ‘what counts’ as impact, quality, etc
  • Push from institutions

Using Twitter to develop and nurture networks

Twitter is a fantastic way to connect to like-minded people and develop an online network. Online professional networks allow educators to connect and communicate with others regardless of location and time zone. Hashtags such as #acwriting #phdchat allow for connection with people going through similar experiences.

We [the authors] first connected on Twitter, then met face-to-face at the Australian Association for Research in Education conference in 2015. This connection has led to friendship and organising a symposium (about Twitter!) together.

Establish and maintain profiles

Twitter can function as a talking business card that complements the other aspects of your online profile, such as an institutional profile, a LinkedIn page, a ResearchGate and/or presence, a google scholar page and or a professional website/blog. For the development of a strong academic digital presence, some (but not all) these elements are necessary. Twitter is useful because it allows for real time interactions and a dynamic online presence, whereas the other elements are more static.

Access scholars they otherwise couldn’t

Twitter allows access to and communication with researchers and academics from a variety of fields, in a way that the day-to-day business/busy-ness and physical layout of universities doesn’t readily facilitate. Many academics on Twitter are generous with their expertise and happy to answer questions tweeted at them which allows for an immediacy of access.

Share work / self-promote / increase impact

If you’re not going to promote your work, who will? If shameless self-promotion is not the only thing that you do on Twitter, and you have built relationships and connections,  people are happy to share your work with their networks. But they can only do that if you tell them about it in the first place!

Public engagement

Twitter is a great way to connect with non-academics and stakeholders connected to your field. As education academics twitter conversations with parents and teachers have shaped our understanding of educational issues and it is good to be able to share research with those that are interested.

Reimagining of ‘what counts’ as impact, quality, etc

Twitter altmetrics (alternative metrics) provide a rigorous measurement of non-scholarly engagement with academic work. This has led to calls for scholars to not only have their h-index considered as a measure of the impact of their work, but to have this considered alongside a Twitter impact factor.

Push from institutions                      

Many universities are encouraging academics to engage with Twitter and offer personal development and information sessions to facilitate this. This institutional push is in response to higher education policy requiring universities to demonstrate the real world impact of their research.

What we see as the good bits of academic Twitter

  • Solidarity
  • People engaging with you about your work
  • Making real and lasting friendships and collaborations
  • Learning the art of brevity
  • Distractions, memes, news


Solidarity can happen through the shared conversation around experiences such as doing a PhD, being an academic mum, the trials and tribulations of academic writing. These conversations are often based around hashtags. In other circumstances, solidarity occurs when academics support each other in online discussions, or by sharing one another’s papers and call for papers and job advertisements.

People engaging with you about your work

One really nice thing about Twitter is having people discuss your work with you. Seeing people share or retweeting your work in a way that indicates they have read it is a good feeling. It’s also great to be able to engage with other academics whose work you enjoy.

Making real and lasting friendships and collaborations

Both authors have had the pleasure of making lasting friendships that started from Twitter conversations. These friendships have led to the development of back channel supportive group conversations, to collaborations that have led to joint writing projects, book contributions, conference presentations and scholarly visits.

Learning the art of brevity

While Twitter isn’t as restrictive as it used to be (it has gone from a limit of 140 characters to an allowance of 260 characters) mastering the art of brevity is a useful skill. You can hone this skill through live tweeting conference presentations or academic papers.

Distractions, memes, news

Sometimes Twitter is just fun. It can be a good way to break up a day of writing, or to catch up with the news. Sharing memes and participating in conversations brings laughter and connection.

The bad bits

  • False sense of security
  • Professional Risk
  • Trolling
  • Free labour for the digital economy

False sense of security

It’s easy to develop a sense on Twitter that the people who read your tweets are the people you’re ‘talking to’ when you tweet out a message. If you have a small follower list, or if you’re regularly engaging with the same people, you might develop a shared language, shorthands, inside jokes, and unspoken understandings. However, as many people have found out in the worst possible way, Twitter is a public platform for public consumption. Jon Ronson’s book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ follows the experiences of people who have tweeted without thinking and faced the consequences. We think carefully about the things we tweet and we remember that, no matter what, we’re speaking to a possible audience of hundreds of millions of Twitter users.

Professional Risk

Following from the above points, participation on Twitter can carry professional risk. It has been described as ‘a robust ecosystem for brand-building, research-sharing, and career-ruining’. It pays to be mindful of your institution’s social media policy and to be sensible in your online interactions.


Some fields of research seem to experience trolling more significantly than others. This article describes an experience of a specific qualitative research methodology being targeted by Twitter users, and Australian academics have written about their experiences  as both researcher and editor when a paper is trolled. The authors rightly note that not a lot of the push for academics to be on Twitter is always accompanied by information about what to do if you are trolled, or what support is available. Articles like this one, however, do provide some useful advice in what steps to take if you’re experiencing something similar.

Free labour for the digital economy

Twitter as a platform largely depends on unpaid labour; which (like ‘women’s work’) serves a reproductive function by normalising particular social and economic relationships. This free labour involves ‘liking’ and sharing of content, the creation of and participation in collective networks, promotion of brands, sharing of news stories and generation of data that is sold to advertisers. And like all social media platforms, in using Twitter your data is collected, packaged, sold and used in the generation of targeted advertising.

Our strategies or rules for surviving twitter

  1. Don’t get into arguments with… anyone, honestly. You’re very unlikely to change someone’s mind via a twitter fight
  2. or Jumbo Privacy (some tweeters use these services to delete their tweets at regular intervals. This article provides some perspectives about why this might be useful
  3. Find a balance of personal & professional
  4. Be prepared to learn
  5. Think really hard and remember point 1 before engaging with people. 

If you are out there, or plan to be soon, and haven’t yet connected with us, please do. Find us at @chalkhands and @rayedish.

Amanda Heffernan is a lecturer in Leadership in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. Amanda’s key research interests include educational leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. Amanda also has research interests in the lives and experiences of academics, including researching into the changing nature of academic work. She can be found on Twitter @chalkhands

Rachel Buchanan is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle. She researches into the equity and social justice implications of education policy and the increased deployment of digital technologies within the education sector. She can be contacted via or found on Twitter: @rayedish.