teacher recruitment

So wrong: Inspirational campaigns will never work. Here’s why

The Federal government recently launched two high profile campaigns to attract people into the teaching profession. 

The first seeks to raise the status of teaching through a series of rather saccharine videos showcasing inspirational classroom teacher stories as “Be That Teacher” “Be That Teacher”. Costing a whopping $10 million this glossy marketing strategy aims to elevate the positive, that teachers are important and they can make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people. The second campaign provides significant scholarships for those undertaking teaching degrees, a response to the fact that university admissions for teaching degrees have slumped by 20 per cent this year. Only 50 per cent see the degree though.   

Both these initiatives are admirable. These campaigns are misplaced. I believe this both as a teacher educator in Western Australia and as an active researcher in the field of teacher wellbeing and retention.

These campaigns fail to address the specific issues which have led to the teacher shortage in Australia, of which the federal Education Department are conservatively projecting the country will be short an estimated 4,100 teachers by 2025. 

Stressed, demoralised, leaving the job

The facts are clear – teachers are feeling stressed, demoralised and many are leaving the job because their workloads are unmanageable. Teachers work excessively long hours and their overall health and wellbeing has hit rock bottom. Most teachers would tell you they have pretty poor work-life balance. Over the last two years I have noticed a substantial shift in the public discourse of teachers work. Both policymakers and media now acknowledge teachers struggle under the weight of unrealistic expectations and mounting responsibilities of modern teaching.

This shift in public perception about the work of teaching has been triggered by a labor force crisis in the school sector, with teacher well-being (or more commonly ill-being) becoming an important issue that needs addressing. What’s noticeable in both ministerial pronouncements and the media cycle is an acknowledgement that when teachers are persistently stressed and emotionally burnt out by their work, they leave. Consistent evidence about teachers’ feelings towards their work collected by education researchers, teacher unions and independent organizations are agreed — teaching is currently one of the most emotionally difficult professions and mirrors much of the service care sector, such as social workers and nurses.  

Our teachers are toiling away as security guards, counselors, data administrators, co-parents, citizen makers and babysitters for the economy. Teachers are at the material face of increasingly diverse communities, weaving learning conversations with an ever-expanding array of neurological, linguistic, cultural, gendered, social and behaviorally diverse young people. 

At risk of violence

At worst teachers and school leaders appear to be more at risk of becoming victims of – or intimidated by –  violence. A newly published report into the state of public education in WA by the SSTUWA, WA’s teacher union, reveals that in 2022, school based violent events are occurring once every forty-five minutes, or 11 times per day. These highly stressful events can involve assaults with weapons, and many require medical assistance or the police. These issues are exacerbated in schools that are socially and economically disadvantaged or in regional and remote locations. 

No wonder so many teachers describe their work as emotionally ‘fatiguing’, ‘draining’ or ‘exhausting’ and walk away from the profession. In Western Australia, the SSTUWA reports that as many as 86% of teachers are seriously considering leaving the profession. Policy makers have been slow to recognize that persistent schooling reforms focused on audit, accountability and data performance regimes have created the conditions for an unprecedent wave of teacher demoralization, burn out, attrition and psychological distress. Teachers feel untrusted by parents, leaders, and policy makers. Teachers’ professional autonomy has been eroded. This is why the “Be That Teacher” campaign has landed with a dull thud amongst some practicing teachers. 

What teachers say

One area of my research is examining the discussions of teachers on Reddit, specifically an online forum where Australian teachers can discuss issues related to their work. On the r/AustralianTeachers forum their comments demonstrate cynicism and derision at the campaign. One teacher comments:

“Oh look, teachers are so special, and they watched Dead Poets Society once, and now come to work everyday for just the love of children, so there’s obviously no need to pay them a decent wage and working conditions”

Another writes:

“Yeah, the whole thing feels like an event in the Martyrdom Olympics. Go for Gold! We don’t need better conditions and less admin, just stories that hit you in the feels”

And a third:

“Pay teachers more. Bring in nationally approved behaviour management systems. Reduce workload. Stick the smoltzy ad campaigns up the govt’s butt”

Fed-up and want reform

These comments show that teachers are clearly fed up and want tangible reforms in their sector. I read these comments as a powerful signal of professionals who are in a state of emotional crisis and we should pause to deeply listen to these people who perform a vital service in our communities. Overall, our public-school teachers are doing an amazing job in very challenging conditions. Despite these issues, they remain committed and caring professionals who desperately want education reform to ensure they can deliver high quality learning experiences to their communities and provide a strong foundation for the future of Australia’s young people.

In order to stem the tide the tide of teacher attrition, policy reforms must focus less on attracting newcomers to the profession and more on retaining those currently teaching. They can do this by radically rethinking teacher workload. As a starting point they must unburden teachers from unnecessary administration.  If we do not address the root causes of why teachers are leaving, even newcomers will not stay long in the job and the funds from these expensive government campaigns will be wasted. 

Dr Saul Karnovsky is a senior teacher educator and course coordinator at Curtin University, Perth which is located on Noongar Country. He is an active researcher in teacher wellbeing, attrition and retention taking an ethical and critical perspective on the profession.

Teachers now: Why I left and where I’ve gone

When you are a high achieving person, teaching sets you up for failure because you are never enough for everybody.”

The teaching profession is in crisis. By 2025, the federal government estimates a shortfall of more than 4,000 high school teachers across the country. While there is a significant body of research that has tracked the influence of teachers’ work and lives and their retention in the teaching profession, less is known about teachers who have left the profession. 

Research, media reports, and anecdotal evidence report teachers’ intentions to leave the profession within their first five years of teaching at a rate of up to 50% of the workforce, leaving Australian schools with further critical workforce shortages. 

This research addresses this claim. In this nationwide study, 255 respondents/those who have exited the profession have provided insights into why they left, the critical factors that influenced their decision to leave and revealed details about the next phase of their lives. As one ex-teacher said,

As a teacher you have never done enough. You work and work and work, creating, thinking, planning to get the best for each student and it’s still never enough. You still can’t help so many students, you never satisfy the administration load and so much pressure from parents. When you are a high achieving person, teaching sets you up for failure because you are never enough for everybody.

Preliminary results suggest that while all Australian states and territories were represented in this study, half of the respondents were from Victoria, and close to a quarter were from both New South Wales and Queensland. Almost two-thirds of those who left were from metropolitan regions and a third of the respondents were from regional areas. Almost two thirds (60%) were from the State sector, a quarter from the independent sector and almost 20% from the Catholic sector. 

70 percent of those who left the profession were full-time employees.

Who is leaving the teaching profession?

Of the 242 respondents 167 were female, 71 were male and 4 identified as other. Most had been working in metropolitan schools prior to leaving (around 60%) and 60 percent were from the state sector. 70% were teaching in secondary schools at the time of leaving and 30% in primary schools. Most respondents were from Victoria, followed by NSW and Queensland. 

The greatest number of respondents had been teaching for 7-10 years followed by those who had been teaching for 11-15 years. Combined this accounted for almost 40% of those surveyed. Fifteen percent left after 4-6 years. Whilst it is evident that we are losing teachers who are early into their teaching career, the majority of those who are leaving the profession are experienced classroom teachers and leaders in their school. Forty percent of those surveyed were in school leadership positions at the time of leaving.

In response to where participants were working prior to leaving the profession, of the 172 responses, almost 57% (98) were working in metropolitan areas; 35% (59) in regional and 13% (8) in rural areas. 1% (2) – remote or other.

Why are they leaving?

Our study shows that teachers are faced with a range of challenges in the profession, causing them to not only rethink their career as a teacher but significant enough to push them to the point of taking that definitive step and leaving it behind. Participants told us that the work environment, school leadership, dealing with student behaviour, administrative load, and workload more broadly were the big contributors to their decision to leave the profession. These ex-teachers stated that they did not feel respected, and their work had failed to bring about or sustain the level of personal satisfaction they sought from their careers. 

“Until teachers are given more time, respect and support to actually do their jobs, more will continue to leave the profession.”

Significantly, these ex-teachers felt that leaving was the result of not just one of the challenges in isolation; but rather “a culmination of many things over a long period of time” that made their jobs untenable. 

“I was just so anxious, unwell, and unhappy. Every day I felt sick on my way to work. I could never get through my mountain of work, I could never get on top of classroom behaviour, and I could never get to a place where I was able to deal with the unreasonable demands of the school.”

In essence, leaving was based on a long list of issues that, in combination, gave them no choice but to walk away. Their disappointment, frustration, and anger were palpable in their responses, as they reported on a broken system, and a ridiculous workload made all the harder by administrative and extracurricular demands. These ex-teachers also spoke of having to deal with challenging leaders, parents, and students. These challenges were then topped off by “a teaching profession that is misunderstood, disrespected and unappreciated”.

“I became a teacher because I am passionate about equipping the next generation to be their best. The education sector is making this harder and harder from a wellbeing perspective and from an educational perspective. The curriculum is crowded, students are pressured to succeed, teachers are trashed in media…There is little understanding of the complexity of these roles by those outside of schools.”

“Misalignment between my values and those of my colleagues and leadership. Not being equipped/ experienced enough to manage the tension that created. Lack of support from leadership when other teachers or middle leadership were treating me, other colleagues, and students in ways that did not align with my values.”

Where are they going? 

Overwhelmingly most of those who had left teaching after 4-15 years were still working but in different professions (90%). Many of those who had left teaching (36%) are still working in education related areas such as devising education resources, developing education policy, consulting and managing education programs in institutions such as museums and art galleries. A surprising number (20%) have transitioned into work in the Higher Education sector. About 7% had returned to casual teaching in one way or another, some had sought further education through study (4.4%) and only 4.4 % had fully retired.   The remaining ex-teachers were involved in work closely  connected to helping people such as in Social Work, sports coaching, counselling and the well-being industry. 

 The implications of these findings are far reaching as they show that teachers are making a notable contribution to the workforce when they leave. It is clear that they take their highly transferable skills built up through training and experience with them. The findings also suggest the continued commitment of teachers to matters educational leaving teaching but not education.

  • I started my own business in the private disability sector. I now work full-time in this space and employ eight people.
  • Working for a company delivering student wellbeing programs 
  • I am still in education but not in schools
  • I am a learning designer
  • I left the teaching profession in a school context. I remain in education and teaching in an ITE context where I can both contribute and be challenged / developed. 

The small number of teachers (almost 10%) who had completely ‘jumped ship’ to another profession demonstrates a variety of new career directions including working in a cattery, as a truck driver, in animal rescue, in the military, in corporate marketing and as an engineer. 

What is the impact?

Whether we have teachers in the first five years in their mid-careers, or in their later careers leave in critical numbers as they now are, the impact will be far-reaching.  Schools are communities that thrive on having teachers from all career stages. When an early career teacher leaves, the school loses that teacher’s inclination for innovation, new perspectives, and in some instances, a future school leader.  When a more experienced teacher leaves, they take with them their experience and expertise and as a result, both students and early careers teachers miss the opportunity to benefit from their accumulated talent.  

As one of our survey participants explained, “When teachers with my years of experience start leaving in droves then that’s truly a truly catastrophic loss to the system. And that’s what we are seeing…”

“I consider myself to be a highly skilled and educated teacher. I have 3 master’s degrees and felt very confident in the classroom. However, the workload required to prove my worth was unreasonable and unsustainable.”

Previous research has spoken to these impacts, yet our study revealed the cost to these participants as well. Having left the profession, they did feel a sense of relief about getting their lives back, and for some the negative impacts to their health and wellbeing experienced while teaching began to dissipate. Many others, however, continue to experience issues related to their physical and mental wellbeing.  As one ex-teacher out it, 

“I was in complete burn out. There were too many administrative changes and expectations that led to unattainable work pressures. My mental health and family life were suffering, and I needed to make a choice. I love teaching and loved working with the students. I miss it but the expectations placed upon teachers is unrealistic and unsustainable without long term damage.”

For many, it also meant walking away from a vocation they still cared about, and they felt a deep sadness at leaving behind their students.

As another participant put it: “The hardest thing was knowing I was walking away from making a difference in the lives of young people, each and every day.”

Eighty percent of those who have left the profession have maintained their registration and while one third of the participants stated that they would ‘definitely not’ return to the profession, almost half were less definite about their future plans. 

We now know more about the problems in the sector and the narratives provided by the ex-teachers shine a light on the personal, professional, health and emotional impacts of not only leaving the profession but on the anguish that many felt prior to making the ultimate decision to leave. 

Many have left teaching, but not education. Some have used the skills and knowledge they have accumulated to begin new ventures in new professions. They have embraced the change.

However, our research shows that there is an opportunity for all stakeholders to address issues of flexibility, school leadership, progression and pathways, including a commensurate salary – “a living wage” – to halt the exodus from the teaching profession.  

From left to right: Robyn Brandenburg is a professor of education in the Institute of Education, Arts and Community at Federation University Australia. She researches teacher education, reflective practice and feedback and mathematics education and is a past-president of the Australian Teacher Education Association. She is on LinkedIn and Twitter @brandenburgr. Ellen Larsen is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ). Ellen is a member of the Australian Association for Research in Education [AARE] executive and a convenor of the national AARE Teachers’ Work and Lives Special Interest Group. Ellen’s areas of research work include teacher professional learning, early career teachers, mentoring and induction, teacher identity, and education policy.  She is on Twitter @DrEllenLarsen1. Richard Sallis is an Arts education academic in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne. He also holds positions with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) and is a leader in curriculum planning and teacher professional development. His research interests include Initial Teacher Education, teacher professional learning, and diversity and inclusion in schools. He is on LinkedIn. Alyson Simpson is a professor of English and Literacy Education in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Her current research projects focus on building an evidence base of teacher quality, the role of children’s literature in education, and the power of dialogic learning. She is on Twitter @ProfAMSimpson

How to fix the teacher shortage

Teacher shortages are not a new thing. It is difficult to envisage a time when every school in the country had just the right number of teachers and with the right subject skills. The labour markets for other occupations are similarly in a constant state of flux.

At the beginning of each school year there is heightened anxiety about teacher shortages, some of which resolve over time one way or another, but could include less than optimal outcomes for some schools with assignment of some teachers to classes for which they are not qualified, larger classes or a truncated curriculum.

As we come out of the pandemic, this year seems a bit unusual however. Unfilled teacher vacancies are much higher, and there are reports of private schools ‘poaching’ teachers from public schools with offers of higher salaries and better working conditions. Has there been a higher than usual attrition of experienced teachers? With the very low overall unemployment rate and shortages in many other sectors of the economy, it is quite conceivable that some teachers may have taken the opportunity in these economic circumstances to change careers and try out something different, especially given that teacher salaries compared to those in other occupations with similar qualification requirements are, on average, lower.    

What could schools and school systems do in the short-term? They could provide incentives for recently-retired and on-leave teachers to return to the classroom. Incentives have to include flexible work conditions such as part-time work, and perhaps only classroom duties and no other pastoral or administrative duties. Teachers on parenting or maternity leave could be offered free quality childcare for their children near or at the school.

In remote and regional areas, are there teachers among ‘grey nomads’ who could fill some short-term vacancies in schools? Given the right incentives, grey nomad teachers who would have a wealth of experience under their belts, could be another source of supply.

In the long-term, better planning is required. There has to be a concerted effort to raise the status of teachers and teaching in society which includes paying teachers better salaries to reflect their qualifications and the high workload. A serious effort is required to map credible career paths for teachers, one that does not plateau five to ten years after their first job. An old idea which could be revived is to provide access to subsidised housing loans for teachers, possibly with superannuation funds acting as banks. This is important as growth in teacher salaries substantially lags growth in housing costs. 

To encourage new teacher graduates into hard-to-staff schools, they should be provided either free or heavily-subsidised housing near the school. This incentive could be offered to each teacher for up to five years.

Quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) is critically important for the cognitive and social development  of all children. But it is also important for improving national productivity and labour force participation, especially among women. Using many existing school sites to co-locate ECEC centres could quickly boost supply at convenient locations. Teachers working at these schools could be offered priority and subsidised access to these services for their young children. Such arrangements could provide an added incentive to attract people into teaching. Nurses in public hospitals, who are also in short supply, could be included in these arrangements. The funding of such a scheme would necessarily require a commonwealth-state partnership.  

Public schools’  budgets are mainly determined on the basis of student to teacher ratios with adjustments for special needs, based on factors such as the socio-economic profile of the student cohort and school location. However, the budget allocation does not fully consider the curriculum range that the schools are expected to provide.

As a result, there will be circumstances in many schools when teachers will be in surplus in some subject areas and short in others. Consequently, some teachers may be assigned to teach in an area in which they are not qualified. Such out-of-field teaching has been shown to result in poorer student achievement outcomes. Evidence shows such out-of-field teaching assignments are more prevalent in public schools than private schools. This is partly because public schools’ budgets are generally tighter, thus restricting the number of teachers for a given number of students that can be employed at any time. Tighter budgets also mean these schools are at a disadvantage in a tight labour market for teachers as they are unable to compete on salaries that they can offer.

The current distribution of public funding for schools has to take account of the total needs and incomes of schools to make it more equitable to address some of these problems. Both short and long-term solutions require additional public investment in education, the benefits of which will be far-reaching and go beyond just education.

Chandravadan Shah is an affiliated researcher at Monash University. For 21 years, Chandra was Associate Professor (Research) in the Centre for the Economics of Education and Training (CEET) at Monash University. He is also Adjunct Associate Professor at CIRES, Victoria University and Fellow of the Global Labor Organisation.

Paul W. Richardson is Professor of Education at Monash University. He is engaged in a longitudinal study of the career choice motivations of teachers, teacher self-efficacy, the career trajectories of different types of beginning and mid-career teachers (www.fitchoice.org), and teacher health and wellbeing across the career lifespan. 

Helen M. G. Watt is Professor of Educational Psychology and Director of Research Development (Social Sciences) at The University of Sydney, Australia. Her longitudinal research is on gendered educational and occupational pathways in STEM fields (www.stepsstudy.org), and the evolution of motivations, professional engagement and wellbeing through teachers’ careers (www.fitchoice.org).

Dear Premier, this will not work. Not now, not ever

A select number of teachers in NSW will soon be eligible for increased salaries of up to $152,000. This comes at a time when schools across Australia are facing devastating teacher shortages, while dwindling numbers of prospective teachers are pursuing teaching as a career. According to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, “This is seismic reform that will modernise the teaching profession and ensure we have the best teachers in our classrooms to benefit students for generations to come.”

Will it, though? Fortunately, we have decades of research about the relationship between teacher pay and performance to make some predictions. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t paint a promising picture about what we can expect.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that teaching is a very complex process and something that is very difficult to measure and to reward. Even though additional pay for our ‘best teachers’ seems like a logical way of improving overall teacher quality, this position is full of assumptions that are rarely (if ever) true. Below are some of the most significant assumptions that need to be addressed.  

Assumption 1: Bonus pay will increase teacher effort (and quality)

When policymakers claim that pay increases for ‘high-achieving’ teachers will lead to better outcomes, this assumes teachers are motivated by financial incentives. This is an economic argument that assumes teachers make rational choices based on the incentives in front of them. It also means that teachers either choose to be ‘high-achieving’ or not, and that money will be the deciding factor.

Should teachers earn more money? Absolutely. However, when linked to indicators of quality (like ‘high-achieving), I’m always wary of how such decisions are made. The truth is that a lot of factors affect how teachers are classified as effective, regardless of how holistically or carefully such systems are designed. Unfortunately, these measures are not always (if ever) true reflections of a teacher’s quality, which brings us to our next assumption.

Assumption 2: Teacher quality is measurable

To be fair, the current NSW proposal does not rely on the same kind of measurement tools that other countries (like the USA) use to measure teacher quality. Some, including the NSW government, even argue that the reform cannot even be considered ‘performance pay’. I disagree, and I think the reform’s title, Rewarding Excellence in Teaching, supports my assertion. 

Therefore, the assumption here is that we can actually know what teacher quality is; we can measure it; and we can reward it. This belief alone is based on many false assumptions. First, quality itself is a slippery construct that experts have been debating for decades. Not only that, but we also know that classifying teachers as ‘high-achieving’ (or not) is always susceptible to several forms of error and bias. For example, we know that teachers who teach students from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to be classified as more effective. We also know that teachers in schools with greater concentrations of disadvantage are more likely to be classified as ineffective. While the NSW reform is not based on test-based teacher evaluation, which is arguably the most susceptible to these biases, there are still concerns about which teachers will ultimately achieve this higher status. We must look at the broader conditions and question whether some teachers will be more likely to miss out, simply because they work in more challenging and unsupportive environments. This, of course, creates new concerns about whether such efforts will actually disincentivise teachers from remaining in already hard-to-staff locations, but that’s an argument for another day. 

Assumption 3: Student performance is a direct result of teacher effort and quality

First, I don’t want to suggest that teachers don’t matter when it comes to student learning and achievement. Teachers do matter, and they can make an enormous difference in the lives of students. It is also true, though, that teachers often have much less impact on student achievement (at least as measured by standardised tests) than many would like to assume. To assume that rewarding ‘excellent’ teachers will necessarily lead to better student achievement is simply not true. We do want consistency in classrooms, and we want teachers who are qualified and proficient. But, we cannot lose sight of the fact that students’ performance and achievement are affected by many factors that are entirely outside of the teachers’ or schools’ control. When it comes to standardised tests, for example, most researchers estimate that teacher differences explain anywhere between 1-14% variation in student outcomes. That means that up to 86-99% of variation in student test scores can be explained by other factors, like socio-economic status, parents’ education levels, and other out-of-school conditions. Therefore, if we really care about raising student achievement, then we must broaden our attention to think about how society is supporting student learning and growth. Continuing to narrowly focus on the teacher will not only be inadequate for raising achievement, but it will also continue to over-burden our teachers and force them out of the classroom. 

Assumption 4: Pay increases for a small number of teachers will lead to higher retention, and it will attract more teachers to the profession

In my view, this is one of the most peculiar assumptions of the reform. The profession has made it very clear that higher pay and manageable workloads are what they need. These requests are also supported by research. Quasi performance pay is not the answer to either of these. While I always want to celebrate pay increases for teachers, I am yet to be convinced that increases for a few hundred teachers will be what keeps the rest in the profession. If anything, I wonder how this will affect school culture. If teachers must compete for promoted status, then we can reasonably predict schools will suffer from decreased morale and collegiality. Even if it’s not a competitive process, we must be careful in how we balance the additional responsibilities with the increased salary. Otherwise, we run the risk of burning out teachers who are promoted to these advanced positions. 

There is still a lot we don’t know about this reform. What I do find hopeful is that teachers and school leaders are involved in developing some of the details. In an ideal world, this collaborative effort will help mitigate some of the concerns I’ve raised. I want to be hopeful. My fear, however, is that we have too many failed cases from around the world that makes it difficult to be optimistic. I hope I’m wrong. 

Jessica Holloway is senior research and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. Her research draws on political theory and policy sociology to investigate: (1) how metrics, data and digital tools produce new conditions, practices and subjectivities, especially as this relates to teachers and schools, and (2) how teachers and schools are positioned to respond to the evolving and emerging needs of their communities.

Header photo from the Premier’s Facebook page

What we must do now to rescue Australian schools

We expect education to be a catalyst for more equitable and inclusive societies yet too often governments and systems deploy one-stop solutions without detailed plans for how exactly improvements will be achieved or at what costs.

The Building Education Systems for Equity and Inclusion report comes from an Academy of Social Sciences of Australia workshop I hosted at the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW. Working with representatives from school systems, academia, professional associations, industry, and teachers, the report offers recommendations aimed at addressing inequities in the school system.

Recommendations centre on five key issues: intergenerational policy failure; the need to look beyond the school gate; raising the voice of the profession; data, evidence and research; and ensuring a focus on teaching and learning.

Intergenerational policy failure

While the Australian Government is spending more on education than at any point in history, disparity gaps endure for various equity groups on a range of outcomes. Needs- based funding tied to the implementation of evidence-based reforms hasve been distorted courtesy of the unique policy architecture of Australian federalism. School systems have limited resources with which to pursue their objectives and the design of school funding policies plays a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference. 

Australian federalism means there is neither a national system nor a state/territory system of school-based education. Common critiques focus on overlap in responsibilities and duplication. Achieving uniformity is difficult, time consuming, and frequently limited to the lowest common denominator. However, education is a complex policy domain whose actions impact well beyond state or territory borders. Currently, no jurisdiction wants to be the first to admit there are problems meaning systems can deteriorate substantially before action is taken. Asserting jurisdiction independence and sovereignty surrenders some of the strengths of federalism and removes important failsafe mechanisms targeting overall health of the system.

A significant policy problem for education is the current teacher shortage. Substantial attention has been directed at Initial Teacher Education programs, and the attraction and retention of educators. Less focus has been granted to affordability of housing for teachers. With housing (ownership and rental) costs rising, servicing commitments on a teachers’ salary can be difficult – particularly in major cities. The ability to live near the place where one works, or the drivability or commuting infrastructure means that workforce planning needs to take a multi-dimensional approach built on more than just raising the public profile of the profession.

Beyond the school gate

Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data indicates that 22 per cent of children in the first year of formal schooling are vulnerable in at least one domain (e.g., physical, social, emotional, language, and communication), and 11 per cent in two. Early data indicates that the AEDC is a predictor of NAPLAN performance nine years later and with 8.1 per cent of early childhood providers operating with a staffing waiver due to a lack of qualified staff, early intervention is a difficult task.

School-based education exhibits many layers of segregation and stratification. The distribution of students from socio-educational disadvantage or requiring adjustment due to disability are not evenly distributed between sectors (government, catholic, and independent). Peer effects can influence outcomes as much as individual socio-economic status. Cultural context has a large effect (between 33 and 50 per cent) on student performance, and the further a school is located from major cities the lower level of student outcomes. Failure to control for segregation and stratification makes it impossible to identify the drivers of school improvement in different locations and better design interventions aimed at equity and inclusion.

Voice of the profession

Education is seen as ‘a’ if not ‘the’ solution to most social issues and the result is that schools are constantly being asked to do more without having anything removed. Many of the decisions to add things to schooling take place without any engagement or consultation with educators – not education bureaucracies but the educators who work in schools. The result is frequent changes in curriculum documents, additional mandatory training programs, shifting accreditation requirements, updated and expansive administrative requirements, all with negligible impact on student outcomes. This not just intensified teachers’ work but de-democratising the profession. TALIS data indicates that only 28.7 per cent of Australian teachers feel that their views are valued by policy makers. With declining educator well-being and in the context of a teacher shortage, it is timely to establish a forum for representatives from the profession to have a voice in decisions regarding the form, objectives, targets, and outcomes of schooling as articulated in the national agenda.

Data, evidence, research

Improving the equity of education is not possible without data and evidence. You cannot improve that which you do not measure and monitor. An effective school education system needs sufficient data points and appropriate data linkage to understand how well it is performing and robust evidence to identify priority areas for planning, intervention, and policy. While the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia details nationally agreed performance indicators, inconsistencies across states and territories datasets means that crucial insights for informing policy at a national level are being lost. Data linkage is an urgent task for understanding the relationships between multiple factors and their impact on education and social outcomes to inform effective policy making, program design and research at a national scale.

Systems and schools that embed data-driven evaluation as a core professional responsibility have a greater impact on student outcomes. This has led to schools increasingly being asked to provide evidence of their impact. At the same time, despite an impressive track record, education research is under-funded. Despite the establishment of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) seeking to position Australian educators at the forefront of education research, without increases in total funding available, it is unlikely that research of the scale and scope necessary to effectively inform policy can be conducted. A promising avenue for increasing the quality of evidence and data use in schools and systems is co-design. However, it requires strategic leadership and matching incentives (including funding mechanisms) to better enable a systemic approach to research use, knowledge translation and breaking down boundaries between stakeholders.

Focus on teaching and learning

Pedagogical reform is a low-cost high-return approach to addressing distortions in a school system. Australian research (for example, Quality Teaching Rounds) has demonstrated that targeted and tailored interventions can positively impact student outcomes and teacher well-being. Yet, 76 per cent of teachers describe their workload as unmanageable. Australian schools have more instructional hours (828) than the OECD average (713), with teachers engaged in far more administration and school management than higher performing systems (e.g., Finland, Estonia). Attempts to recognise quality teaching through accreditation have received little uptake with only 0.33 per cent of the workforce certified at Highly Accomplished or Lead. Addressing equity and inclusion requires attention to how systems are designed to focus on the instructional core of schooling and making sure that resources (human, physical, and financial) are targeted towards achieving the highest quality of teaching in every classroom.


As the world re-sets to life under pandemic, the internal tensions for differentiation and external pressures for standardisation on education policy have never been greater. With increasing costs for public services at the same time as government revenue and household incomes falling, issues of educational equity, inclusion and excellence are amplified. The pressure to consolidate resources and pursue cost efficiencies will be felt most significantly by the poorest and most marginalised children and communities throughout the country. The stakes are high. Education is critical to human welfare, especially in times of rapid economic and social change.

Ensuring that resourcing and oversight focuses on the health of the system, with wraparound services supporting the workforce to have a voice and what they need for high quality instruction give Australian school systems the best chance of delivering equitable outcomes for all. 

Participants in the workshop

Professor Scott Eacott, Gonski Institute for Education, UNSW Sydney

Professor Eileen Baldry, UNSW Sydney 

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, University of Newcastle 

Professor Chris Pettit, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Professor Suzanne Carrington, Centre for Inclusive Education, QUT 

Dr Goran Lazendic, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Dr Virginia Moller, Steiner Education Australia 

Dr Rachel Perry, NSW AIS Evidence Institute

Dr Bala Soundararaj, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney 

Rebecca Birch, Teacher, Independent School 

Cecilia Bradley, Australasian Democratic Education Community 

Zeina Chalich, Principal, Catholic Education

Mark Breckenridge, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Elizabeth Goor, Montessori Australia 

Alice Leung, Head Teacher, Concord High School

Alex Ioannou, Montessori Australia 

Matthew Johnson, Australian Special Education Leaders and Principals’ Association  

Maura Manning, Catholic Education Parramatta 

Andrew Pierpoint, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Daniel Pinchas, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)  

Diane Robertson, Principal, NSW Department of Education 

Michael Sciffer, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

Scott Eacott PhD, is deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education, and professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney and adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan.

Just like us: why Australian students need teachers from everywhere

Our dwindling teacher workforce makes headlines every week and new Education Minister Jason Clare calls it “a massive challenge”. A wide range of strategies have been proposed: increasing the respect and reputation of teaching as a job, raising completion rates in university teaching programs, attracting more mid-career professionals into the teaching, offering bursaries, paid internships and reducing university fees for students studying teaching. There are also conversations about keeping teachers in the classroom by making the pay more competitive. 

Another option on the table is to fast-track visas for teachers from overseas. But can recruiting teachers internationally work?

Australia hasn’t previously welcomed teachers with overseas qualifications, especially those from language backgrounds other than English. The English Language proficiency scores required by AITSL are higher than is required for migrant doctors (and any other profession we could find). Likewise, the English proficiency scores to enter an Initial Teacher Education program are higher than for any other degree, including HDR programs. This creates expensive additional barriers for non-native English speakers, and could be considered discriminatory, given that native English speakers aren’t required to demonstrate the same level of proficiency.

These barriers are impacting the level of diversity of the teaching profession.  Less than one-fifth of of teachers (17 per cent) identify as being born overseas, compared with 33.6% of the wider working-aged Australian population. Further, it reinforces  a deficit view of teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, overlooking the contribution that such teachers might make to school communities. 

Teachers in countries such as China are highly respected. In Japan and South Korea teachers are well paid and valued as highly educated professionals. Australian ITE programs go through rigorous accreditation to ensure that new teachers have the knowledge and skills they need to be effective teachers, as do other countries. Some countries require all teachers to hold Masters degrees, some require teachers to be bilingual or multilingual. Overseas teachers may actually be more qualified, not less.

A diverse teaching workforce allows culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families to see themselves reflected in their education system. Students will find role models that reflect their life experience, allowing them to feel more comfortable and more able to flourish in learning environments where their home culture is valued. Teachers from racial minorities can understand the experience of racism, and help prevent it from happening, as well as offer empathy to students experiencing prejudice. Studies from the USA have found that teachers of colour are more likely to have higher expectations of students of colour. Studies also found less absences and less disciplinary issues when students of colour were taught by teachers of colour. Most importantly, racially diverse teachers can play a key role in challenging stereotypes about racial minorities among the wider community. In short, everybody benefits from a diversified teacher workforce. 

However, our current highly homogenised workforce doesn’t allow for these benefits to be realised. While the few teachers that we have from minoritised and racialised backgrounds bring much needed diversity to the workforce, they can become victims of racism themselves. They regularly fend off criticism about everything from their accents to their dress, skin colour, religion or beliefs. Their pedagogies and knowledge of curriculum are often subject of criticism, whereas for their white anglo colleagues, nuances in teaching practices are accepted as part of individual difference in the profession. 

There’s sadly a lack of information about cultural diversity among teachers. Country of birth is a crude measure of diversity, and AITSL admits that it currently doesn’t have more detailed information.

Examining the experiences of teachers from different cultural groups, especially with regards to their intentions to remain or leave the profession, will become available in the ATWD in future, and will provide insight into our understanding of cultural safety in schools for students and teachers of different cultural groups. (ATWD report, 2021, p. 18)

However, we also need a far greater understanding of the contributions CALD teachers can make to school communities, and the circumstances that contribute to schools being the kinds of places where diverse teachers – and diverse students – can thrive.

Welcoming teachers from overseas can do much more than address our teacher shortage. While there does need to be some briefing and orientation into Australian teachers’ legal responsibilities, our curriculum and expectations of teachers, we can find ourselves enriched by a workforce that is more representative of our multicultural, multilingual population and our globally-oriented curriculum. More than just a solution to the teacher shortage: A diverse teaching workforce would add value to Australian schools.

Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in Creative Arts Education at Western Sydney University and a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist. Her research interests include assessment in the arts, language acquisition through the arts and decolonised approaches to embodied learning. 

Dr Rachael Dwyer is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy in the School of Education and Tertiary Access, University of the Sunshine Coast. She is also the president of the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME), Queensland Chapter.

Why is there so much talk about teachers right now? Because we are afraid of them

The federal minister for education Jason Clare convened a roundtable to solve the teacher shortage on the eve of the new government’s Job Summit. Items on the agenda? It wasn’t hard to go past working conditions, status, and a growing, chronic teacher shortage as the impetus for history-making industrial action and considerable media coverage.

Concerns about teachers’ working conditions have themselves arisen out of a context in which teacher quality, figures of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teacher, the fear of indoctrinating teachers, have been increasingly constructed as ‘policy problems’ to be addressed. ‘The teacher’, it seems, is becoming one of the most contested figures in contemporary education policy debates.

We have recently edited a Special Issue of the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives in which the collected papers reflect on the current positioning of teachers across a range of international policy contexts. This journal, unlike the majority of academic journals, is run by a university and is entirely open access, which means you can read the full issue. You can also watch a video introduction to the issue. 

Look at Australia, for example

In our introduction to the issue, we use Australia as an example of a country in which responsibility has been placed on teachers to ‘fix’ perceived educational crises, often through policy reform that requires teachers to be ‘better’ trained, more professional, more accountable and more standardised. Here, the past fifteen years of education policy has featured: the introduction of standardised census testing of students via the National Assessment Programme, the results of which are made public via the My School website; the introduction of national teaching standards and accreditation requirements; and repeated inquiries into initial teacher education, with the introduction of program standards and, more recently, mandated teacher performance assessments.

Why are teachers so central to education policy?

Given all this policy change, we think it’s reasonable to claim that teachers are the targets of much political and popular consternation. But what is it about teachers that makes them such a matter of attention and concern, and how does the current political climate contribute to these (often unrealistic) expectations?

According to Wodak, populism has an “appeal to the ‘common man/woman’ as opposed to the elites”. She has argued that in populist regimes, ‘difference’ is denied and the ‘common’ is valorised, creating “a demos which exists above and beyond the divides and diversities of social class and religion, gender and generation”.

We argue that it is possible to view schooling (and teaching) as a logical site of public commentary because of the common experience amongst most populations. Indeed, it is often suggested that everyone knows what it is like to be a teacher because everyone has gone to school. As Lortie put it, there is an ‘apprenticeship of observation’ in school education that means everyone, regardless of whether they become a teacher or not, forms ideas about the work of teaching simply because of their ongoing interactions with teachers throughout a significant portion of their lives. In terms of populist tendencies, this widespread experience and presumed knowledge about how schools should operate, positions teachers as a common ground upon which critique can be aimed.

At the same time, teachers increasingly bear the burden for the economic, social and political wellbeing of the countries within which they teach. As the global economy becomes understood as essentially knowledge-based, the need to track and compare student achievement within and across nation-states has taken on a broad prominence typified by, for instance, the regular Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Indeed, teachers are an increasing point of focus for the OECD, which now also runs the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) examining teachers’ work and working conditions. This, we argue, reflects a revived and rearticulated emphasis on the teacher.

The teacher as an object of fear

Yet despite this apparent importance, teaching does not often become an object of respect, but rather of fear, emblematic of growing national and international anxieties around knowledge, success and the moral character of the next generation. This puts the figure of the teacher in an uncomfortable position. Paradoxically, teaching is known to all (“anyone could do it!”), yet also unknowable (as a university-based, complex and contested form of expertise). Teachers’ success is supposedly important for global competition, but teaching is not necessarily viewed as worthy of professional status and fair working conditions. Within this context, ongoing attempts to control, standardise and responsibilise teaching and teachers becomes a rational, even urgent pursuit. So much so that the resulting hyper-focus on teachers-as-solution has created what Wodak calls a “fear ‘market’”, where teachers become the target of an expanding “cottage industry” of commercial products (e.g., professional development materials, data-tracking platforms, etc.).

It’s time to destabilise global narratives of teachers

The papers in our Special Issue explore teachers’ work across contexts including the United States, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific. The journal in which the issue has been published is based at Arizona State University, meaning that the inclusion of studies from places like Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands may make somewhat unfamiliar reading for many subscribers. This was intentional.

In Australia, education policy is often developed and analysed in reference to what Lingard has termed our common ‘reference societies’ of the US and UK. As researchers and authors, we are routinely asked to make our work ‘relevant’ by situating it in relation to such dominant international reform contexts. But what would happen if this demand was reversed? Should research emanating from dominant contexts instead be required to make itself relevant to more diverse, local spaces, and what analytical possibilities might this open up? Possibly, what is needed is to reimagine teachers and schooling in ways that are less limited by the systems and structures that have led us to this point. Perhaps it is time for teachers and those who research them to truly warrant their positioning as an object of fear, by destabilising the taken-for-granted terms under which they work.

From left: Meghan Stacey is senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, researching in the fields of the sociology of education and education policy. Taking a particular interest in teachers, her research considers how teachers’ work is framed by policy, as well as the effects of such policy for those who work with, within and against it. Mihajla Gavin is a senior lecturer at UTS Business School. Her PhD, completed in 2019, examined how teacher trade unions have responded to neoliberal education reform. Her current research focuses on the restructuring of teachers’ work and conditions of work, worker voice, and women and employment relations. Jessica Gerrard is an associate professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Jessica researches the changing formations, and lived experiences, of social inequalities in relation to education, activism, work and unemployment. She works across the disciplines of sociology, history and policy studies with an interest in critical methodologies and theories. Anna Hogan is senior research fellow in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. Her research focuses on education privatisation and commercialisation. She currently works on a number of research projects, including investigating philanthropy in Australian public schooling, the privatisation of global school provision, and the intensification of teachers’ work. Jessica Holloway is senior research and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. Her research draws on political theory and policy sociology to investigate: (1) how metrics, data and digital tools produce new conditions, practices and subjectivities, especially as this relates to teachers and schools, and (2) how teachers and schools are positioned to respond to the evolving and emerging needs of their communities.

Why that one tweet went viral (and what we must do now to fix “teacher shortages”)

I almost never post on Twitter. Sometimes I like other people’s posts, but I’ve been a reluctant Twitter user. However, last week I posted this statement: There is no ‘teacher shortage’. There are thousands of qualified experienced teachers who are no longer teaching. There’s a shortage of respect and proper compensation for teachers allowing them to actually teach. In fact, as full disclosure, I paraphrased this from something posted by Professor Kara Mitchell Viesca | College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with whom I’ve worked. By the time I woke up in the morning, the tweet had gone viral. It’s been liked more 229.5K times, shared 44.2K times and commented on 1,937 times.

Nearly all these comments were posted by teachers or ex-teachers who emphatically agree that a change is needed in how we frame “teacher shortages”. These comments were from all around the world, mainly from the US but also from Australia, Canada, the UK and elsewhere. I haven’t yet sifted through all the comments, which keep on coming.

Overwhelmingly, these teachers (or ex-teachers) perceive the discourse of “teacher shortages” as misguided and even hurtful. As they point out, there are thousands and thousands of well-prepared, passionate, skilled, knowledgeable teachers. Comments on the original post recount how much they put into their teaching,  how well qualified they are yet how little they felt valued. The constant criticism of teachers is something Nicole Mockler has written about recently, in her review of media representations of teachers.

Those who posted explained how much they loved the kids in their classrooms, created and taught creative, content-rich lessons. Many said they had been fully planning to teach for the rest of their lives. In other words, there was never a ‘shortage’ of good teachers who might have stayed had it not been so hard. They grieve their loss of career. Many say they didn’t really want to leave teaching, but as widely reported, they could just no longer teach how they wanted to – nor in some cases could they maintain their mental and physical health under current conditions. Teachers talked about the pressures of only ever receiving impermanent contracts, of endless reporting, of unreasonable workloads dominated by non-teaching tasks, of being on the receiving end of constant teacher-blaming. They also wrote about the de-professionalisation of teaching and their loss of autonomy.

Some mentioned other reasons for leaving, such as poor student behaviour but by far the majority of comments simply responded ‘truth’ or ‘yessss’ or ‘agree’. The sadness on the part of teachers who no longer feel they can remain teaching is palpable from these responses.

Some teachers who have left the profession have found a way around those pressures by taking advantage of government schemes, both in Australia and elsewhere that are designed to address teacher shortages but may have created a different set of problems. For instance, in Victoria significant funding has been allocated through the Tutor Learning Initiative https://www.vic.gov.au/tutor-learning-initiative-2022-information-for-prospective-tutors which employs part-time tutors in schools to ‘catch up’ students who are academically behind since the pandemic. One unintended consequence was that exhausted and often very experienced teachers took the opportunity to take well-paid tutoring jobs that relieved them of the parts of teaching they liked least, such as duties that could be carried out by administrative staff. Again, the ‘resignation’ from teaching cannot be perceived as a ‘teacher shortage’ but as a kind of redistribution of talent. Good or ‘quality’ teachers have chosen to move sideways (in fact downwards, taking less pay and security but with less stress) to stay in schools.

In fact, there is no lack of research on why teachers leave. There have been numerous teacher attrition and retention studies over a great many years. Except for pandemic related workforce issues (sickness and lockdowns) we’ve been warned for a long time that we needed a teacher workforce renewal strategy, not just because of an ageing workforce but because of the increasing accountabilities and pressures on teachers. These issues are widely reported, not just by other researchers, but in recent reports such as the  Grattan Institute report Making Time for Great Teaching.


Along with Amy McPherson, Bruce Burnett and Danielle Armour, our recent review of twenty years of government, ITE and private initiatives to attract and retain a teaching workforce conservatively found 147 government, ITE or partnered initiatives that have been trialled over the past twenty years. One recommendation is that understanding the retention of teachers at key ‘walking point’ moments would assist policymakers in designing longer-term, more impactful interventions to attract teachers towards hard-to-staff schools (especially when they are considering leaving the profession).

This review of the many initiatives that have already been funded and implemented is just one research project repeating what seems to be clear. Incentives may attract people including career-changers, to teaching, but it’s a whole of system issue. The problem isn’t Initial Teacher Education on its own, which has been graduating very good (sometimes great) teachers for many, many years. The problem isn’t a lack of smart, passionate, and committed people who want to be teachers. But the well may go dry – we can’t keep looking elsewhere for teachers if we aren’t able to keep them in the profession. There’s little question that this is a crisis. We do need teachers in front of students; and there is no doubt teaching workforce issues are urgent. But sending teachers our there more quickly or prescribing curriculum to ‘help them manage their time’ is a misunderstanding of what’s going on.  And by the way, school leaders agree. There were many comments from Principals as well.

I want to make it clear that I had not expected this post to go viral. I have been coordinating social justice teacher education programs such as the Nexus alternative pathway into teaching for a very long time . I see amazing schools and dedicated teachers ever day who are doing remarkable things under difficult circumstances. I am ‘for’ teachers and schools.

If 229.5K isn’t evidence enough of how teachers are feeling I’m not sure what is. I’m also very reluctant to focus only on “teacher grief”. Let’s also tap into the stories of teachers who remain in schools, especially now. Let’s find out what their working lives are like. Their lived experience will tell us how close they are to walking, why they stay, what keeps them going. Nobody knows how to find solutions better than those most affected.

On August 8, the Minister for Education Jason Clare published the Teacher Workforce Shortages Paper in advance of the Teacher Workforce Roundtable to tackle the national teacher workforce shortage

Maybe we should stop using the term teacher shortages.

We have a teacher workforce issue without a doubt. We need more teachers urgently. But some of us are nervous about recruiting new teachers at the same time as we are sorting out their workplace conditions.

Jo Lampert is Professor of Social Inclusion and Teacher Education at La Trobe University. She has led alternative pathways into teaching in hard-to-staff schools for over 15 years, most recently as Director of the Commonwealth and State supported Nexus M. Teach in Victoria, a social justice, employment-based pathway whereby preservice teachers work as Education Support Staff prior to gaining employment as paraprofessionals (Nexus). She tweets at @jolampert.

Desperate and despondent: the truth about the way we treat immigrant teachers

In the battle to fix teacher shortages, much is made of recruiting teachers internationally. Three researchers reveal what happens when non-native English speaking immigrant teachers try to join the local workforce.

As Australia faces a serious shortage of teachers, how do we treat teachers who come to Australia as non-native speakers?

Non-native English speaking immigrant teachers (NNESITs) comprise around 10 % of teaching workforce in Australia today but we know little about their professional experiences impacting their professional selves. 

Early results of a large-scale study of 16 such teachers, analysing the narratives of their professional experiences across sectors, reveal this: they are treated unequally and inequitably from pre-migration up until they access their profession in Australia. 

Some take years to secure jobs.

Their experiences of marginalisation and differentiation repeatedly challenged them to claim their professional identity before and after migration to Australia. This continued in varied forms within their professional contexts and beyond. 

The key unique challenges involved are meeting requirements of the English language multiple times, getting their experiences and teaching qualifications fully recognised, and in some cases accepted even after their qualifications were recognised and upgraded to those of local equivalents.Then, despite meeting all eligibility criteria, these teachers still don’t get work. 

These challenges impacted them differently at material, social, cultural, emotional, and psychological levels. Even after accessing the profession, they were constantly judged by their non-native status, non-native English language uses, and their ethnicities.This leads them to feel like an imposter

Some did experience assistance in developing their professional identity but in our research we are focusing on the data of how the constitution of the professional identity of these teachers in Australia was challenged throughout the stages of migration and settlement, and how that impacted their professional identity. 

Before and after migration, these immigrant teachers (NNESITs) faced many professional challenges because of their cultural differences. Their professional status drastically dropped from a very high professional and social status to the one of the lowest. For instance, they had to meet English language requirements multiple times, such as for the purposes of immigration and for teacher registration. This also involves the change of requirements while applying for or renewing visas and applying for migration and  teacher registration.

For example, a high school teacher, Laura said, for migration, she “took the IELTS test (one of the many requirements for a Secondary Teacher) four times. … applied for reassessment of the result of the fourth take”. She had to spend around three months of her salary to pay for the fees for IELTS tests and review. 

The English language requirements stipulated by for NNESITs by VIT (Victorian Institute of Teacher) and AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) are both linguistically and racially discriminatory because the requirements do not apply for native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) from BANA (Britain and the Australasian and North American nations). 

Despite meeting all criteria, including gaining Australian qualification/s, getting an English language teaching teaching job was a monumental hurdle for them. Despite the English language and English language teaching being similar around the globe, it took months to years to access the profession before and/or after meeting the country-specific criteria. Most of them had no choice but to work in discriminatory cash-in hand, and/or low paid unskilled sectors: hospitality, cleaning services, children’s and aged care services, call centres, taxi industry and community services.

Raphael reminisced,

“I wanted a job. It didn’t matter what job I did. So I went and applied for a job as a train conductor … my first job in Melbourne. I’ve never found it hard to get a job, but I was willing to do some very, very low paid work. … I was a taxi driver for 10 years.”

A highly revered teacher from India, Mahati, landed a job in a Sri Lankan grocery that still haunts her like a nightmare, “cooking, cleaning, packing, selling, etc – the worst time of my life!”

Frida felt utterly despondent and “discouraged” finding herself unemployed after having been employed full time in the Philippines and internationally “since graduating from university”.

Failure to show Australian job experiences led Mandy to determine “I would apply for any kind of job [to] create income …”.

Jasha almost gave up and thought “I would never find a stable and interesting job”.

The impact of working in professionally unrelated and exploitative industries, the teachers’ professional identity was negatively impacted, their self-esteem and professional spirit were greatly diminished. 

Some were not called for job interviews until they had Australian qualifications and volunteer teaching experience, and some were repeatedly rejected after they were interviewed. Even after upgrading her teaching qualification at a renowned university in Melbourne, another high school teacher, Jigna, could not set her foot in a high school. 

“I started shortly as a casual relief teacher. … I got an interview for a teaching position at a public school in Cranbourne. I was unsuccessful on the grounds of lack of experience. Then again, I was interviewed telephonically by SERCO, but could not be successful on the grounds of lack of Australian experience. I took up employment as a Coordinator for an after-school Program (OSHC) with Camp Australia. It utilised my VIT licence and got me into a school. However, it was far from a teaching career.”

Now a TAFE teacher, Jasha believes “some schools even today are looking for ‘native speakers’ only”. She had a job interview for “TESOL training to international students” but shortly after the interview finished she received an email: “Unfortunately, the position has been filled.”

Some of our participants, despite being qualified and/or experienced high school and primary school teachers, chose to be employed in TAFE, community and ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) sectors because they did not wish to be unemployed.

Immigrant teachers face many challenges to reconstitute their professional identity in Australia. If Australia wants to utilise immigrant teachers to address the current teacher shortage, then it must address institutional and micro socio-cultural and professional barriers to entry. To accept NNESITs’ cultural professional repertoire as assets rather than deficit is the first step. Customised transition programs such as mentorship  and ongoing support within and beyond professional contexts are also essential to transition and develop them further in new interculturally enriched processional context. It is both ethical and ecological to recognise and fully include NNESITs as legitimate teachers within Australian teaching sectors. It is suggested to engage in intercultural dialogue productively and to listen and be open to those who appear to be culturally and professionally different and be responsible to them. 

When immigrant teachers no longer suffer the discrimination and marginalisation due to their cultural, linguistic and racial difference, they are then assured of equal rights and empowered to freely negotiate their professional identity. 

Nashid Nigar teaches Master of TESOL and Master of Education programs at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. She is a PhD candidate at Monash University, investigating immigrant teachers’ professional identity in Australia. Amongst her study interests are teacher professional identity and theories, career development, academic literacy, curriculum development, and English language teaching and learning in intercultural contexts. 

Alex Kostogriz is a Professor in Languages and TESOL Education at the Faculty of Education, Monash University. Alex’s current research projects focus on the professional practice and ethics of language teachers, teacher education and experiences of beginning teachers.

Mahtab Janfada is a Lecturer in Language and Literacy department at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, She coordinates subjects in the Master of TESOL/Additional Languages and Master of Education programs. Mahtab’s research captures Critical and Dialogic philosophy and pedagogy, and Academic Literacy in the plurilingual context of education.

Here’s what a brave new minister for education could do right away to fix the horrific teacher shortage

The new Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare announced last Friday he would convene a Teacher Workforce Roundtable focussed on tackling the nationwide teacher shortage, to be held on August 12. The roundtable will include principals, teachers and education experts.

The critical shortage of teachers is a crisis of our own making. 

We knew the teaching workforce was ageing a long time ago and we knew we would reach a point where we would have so many teachers retiring that we would need to increase the number entering to make up the gap. 

Too many pundits are blaming the stress of the pandemic – but this is not the consequence of COVID. It is a failure of workforce planning by successive governments and now we all have to take some responsibility for – and find new ways – of working together to address the problem.

First, let me say that the ministers, both Federal and State, must urgently address the disparity between state schools and private schools in the recruitment process.

As head of the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work, I observe closely what happens to students in their final year who are able to apply for Conditional accreditation, and to teach up to a recommended 0.6 of a full time teacher’s load. Some of my colleagues have wisely pointed out the risks of mixing work and study, and the potential to hasten burnout.  

The final year, with its long placement (internship), and opportunities for well-managed Conditional accreditation, is also a great opportunity for schools to assess a student teacher’s capacity and whether they are likely to fit within the school culture. 

Independent schools use this as a kind of probation period, and some provide scholarships to students in the final year of their teaching degrees AND, if they work out well,  guarantee them permanent, secure jobs. That’s not something public school principals are able to do. I hear from so many public school principals who say they would love to be able to offer similar incentives.

Instead, the majority of young students eager to stay in the public system have to work years as casuals before they can get a permanent secure job. We have outstanding student teachers who are committed to the public system but the public system is not committed to them.

Why is the public system so hamstrung? Our students, not just at Sydney University but across the nation, should be snapped up and looked after, instead of being abandoned to such a casual approach.

We need to value the contributions of those who have committed to a career in education. Instead, there is a chorus of critics. The immediate previous federal minister for education Stuart Robert attacked public school teachers as duds without a shred of evidence. While it is pleasing to note that the new minister has a vastly different approach, the general attitude of politicans and pundits is poor. As my colleague Nicole Mockler has written elsewhere, there is a lot of focus on “teacher quality” but none on system quality. Poor performance is blamed on “teachers themselves, rather than to the system in which they practise”.

As Mockler says: “It has been used to justify tighter controls on who enters teaching, denigrate teachers and evade difficult questions of equity and funding.”

For a moment, at the height of lockdown, I thought that changed. The work of teachers was valued, particularly by parents trying to teach their children at home. Suddenly everyone understood how hard it was to teach just one or two children. Imagine 30 in a classroom at once.

But that momentary shift in attitude appears to have disappeared and there has been a return to denigrating the profession, those who enter teaching, and those who teach teachers. This has an influence on recruitment and an impact on young people’s choices. Why would you join a profession that is so lacking in value and respect. 

We also need to do a much better job looking after and retaining the teachers we have. Almost two-thirds (59%) of teachers surveyed from New South Wales, the Northern Territory and South Australia indicated that they either intended to leave the profession before they retire, or were unsure if they would stay until retirement. If we think the problem is bad now, imagine what it will be like if those teachers do leave.

Public education must be made more attractive to our graduates but also to the teachers who are already in our public schools. It is difficult to maintain a steady flow into the public school system for the reasons I’ve outlined above – but even teachers early in their careers are deterred by the lack of security and flexibility. The incentives to work in regional, rural or remote areas are not enough to attract and keep teachers. Many of our graduates want to make a difference but they also need to be able to look after themselves and their families. Without any prospect of a permanent position, other systems and occupations become too attractive, especially when they offer higher starting and award rates, and more opportunities for earlier progression to higher rates of pay. This is especially so in the current tight labour market.

This is what poor workforce planning looks like.

It is not the time to shake up initial teacher education because it is not the problem causing a shortage in teachers, and we must not risk undermining the quality of these programs or of the graduates they produce.

We can have confidence in initial teacher education in this country. It is in very good shape. There is too much focus on the intake into teacher education. The fact is that, in NSW for example, school leavers wanting to enter an education degree must have three band fives in their HSC (including English) or equivalent – and those who don’t must do well in the first year of university studies before they are admitted. 

We can also have confidence in the quality of our graduates because of the standards they have to meet to become accredited. But what we must do is mentor our new graduates. Give them additional time for preparation, to continue to learn the craft of teaching. Don’t just throw them into the deep end and expect them to swim, because the job of teaching is complex and difficult and without proper support they are likely to not thrive, and may not survive.

It is great that new federal education minister, Jason Clare, has called a meeting of his state counterparts and other key stakeholders because to solve the teacher shortage, we must all  work together and be solution-focussed. The Labor Party has committed to new ‘universities accord’. What better challenge to meet first through this collaborative approach than bringing all stakeholders together to fix the teaching workforce crisis?  

This can’t just be another opportunity to continue unhelpful criticism of teachers or of young people who choose to be teachers or of initial teacher education. We must stop criticising people who are committed to teaching.

But there is something which can be done immediately in schools to help address the crisis. We can employ many more paraprofessionals, who can undertake the tasks that teachers currently do that don’t require a teaching qualification. Relieving teachers of these time-consuming administrative tasks is likely to assist in retaining our existing teachers.

There is also something that can be done in funding arrangements. State health systems receive large amounts of Commonwealth funding for teaching, training and research activities which occur in public hospital services. NSW alone gets $750m this year and the Commonwealth hands over $2billion nationally for it. This funding is provided to state health systems in recognition of the critical importance of education, training and research to the ongoing quality and sustainability of our health system nationally. This kind of funding is not available to school systems. 

Pay our teachers better. Improve their conditions. Invest in training and research in our public, catholic and independent school systems to improve quality and a pipeline of skilled graduates to renew our ageing teaching workforce. Teachers are striking because their pay and conditions are not adequate for the work they do. Entice back the teachers who have left by easing the burden of accreditation. Drop so many of the barriers we have.

The deans of education across Australian universities are wanting to work in cooperation with systems and with ministers. We are keen to do our bit by continuing to produce high quality graduates who will help to fill the teaching shortage.

The views expressed here in this blog are those of the author alone and are not made on behalf of or are intended to represent the views of the University of Sydney.

Debra Hayes is professor of education and equity, and head of the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work.  Her most recent book (with Ruth Lupton) is Great Mistakes in Education Policy: How to avoid them in the Future (Policy Press, 2021). She tweets at @DrDebHayes.