teacher shortage

New teachers and their leaders: what they need to thrive

Australia faces teacher shortages with the government forming expert panels and creating action plans aimed at increasing the profession’s status, enhancing working conditions, and improving initial teacher education. 

The purpose of educational research is to develop new knowledge to address educational needs through practical applications and policies. My experience as a teacher, coach, and researcher ideally positions me within pracademia, or what Hollweck and colleagues recognise as translating “research into practice/policy and practice/policy into research”.

In my doctoral study, three NSW schools participated in interviews and provided coaching documents for their established school-embedded coaching programs. Although coaching was available to all teachers, my research focused on coaching Early Career Teachers (ECTs), with the term coaching representing mentoring and coaching. The demographics of the participant schools are illustrated in Figure 1. I analysed the data using thematic analysis to explore the factors contributing to a conducive environment for the implementation of a coaching program for the professional growth of ECTs. Professional growth included learning and wellbeing, given their interdependence and mutual influence.

My research study indicated that it was not coaching alone but contextual coaching and the learning environment that collectively supported ECTs’ wellbeing and influenced their motivation and learning. While contextual coaching addressed current school needs and shaped the school environment, it required strategic planning and resourcing. Based on my research findings and experience in coaching, teaching, and accreditation, I propose a distinctive induction program that requires a collaborative effort from all levels of the education system. This proposal is pertinent to four priority areas of the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan designed to improve teacher supply and retention in Australia through additional support and processes. These include-

#7 States and territories to investigate the potential to promote teaching, mentoring, and other opportunities to people who are registered but not currently working as teachers.

#14 Develop national guidelines to support early career teachers and new school leaders, including mentoring and induction.

#17 Streamline Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs) processes, making it less burdensome for teachers.

#22 Identify and assess the effectiveness of initiatives to support teacher retention.

All coaching programs differed in my study, revealing one size does not fit all. But at the school level, contextual coaching was evident in all three cases. This finding suggests that ECTs across Australia need a coaching program that is consistent in approach yet accommodates and values contextual differences. While AITSL provides guidelines for induction and coaching resources, this does not guarantee consistent implementation or effectiveness. While the guidelines allow context variations, the loophole permits inequitable support for ECTs, with induction programs being inconsistent across Australia. Regardless of school location or financial status, all ECTs deserve support in their learning and wellbeing through a national induction program.

My study offers three crucial ideas for the design, implementation, and evaluation of an induction program to support, develop, and retain ECTs while at the same time yielding multiple benefits for other stakeholders.

1. Principals catalyse a positive learning environment that supports and sustains programs.

This study revealed the significant impact the three principals had on their learning environment and the success and sustainability of the coaching program. The positive learning environment conducive to coaching reflected a strong commitment to learning, staff, coaching, and research. Every principal in my study collaborated with a coach leader and coaching team, supporting the concept of distributed leadership. The proposed induction program requires distributed leadership, shifting the important yet arduous induction and accreditation processes from the school principal to school leaders with the support of universities, education authorities, and AITSL. Before commencing the program, the principal and relative staff could complete a survey based on the learning environment to determine suitability. Furthermore, questions generated from my research findings may provide provocations for the leadership team to discuss before implementing a coaching initiative and may assist in the selection of coaches and a coach leader.

2. Programs require clearly defined, well-comprehended, and evidence-informed concepts and practices.

Terms such as induction, coaching, and mentoring require unambiguous definitions and practices known Australia-wide. The “jingle-jangle fallacy” refers to using one phrase to express various concepts or when several terms represent the same concept. In my research, induction incorporated concepts such as coaching, mentoring, accreditation, and school orientation and, when used synonymously, created ambiguity. Terms that include multiple concepts hinder comprehension and practice. In an effort to reduce inequity and the variability of induction program experiences across contexts, a collaboratively designed induction program that spans Australia could clarify concepts and practices, thereby promoting consistency. Teachers unaware of what induction entails cannot reliably evaluate a program.

3. An induction program that supports ECTs’ professional growth requires suitable funding, and the findings suggest those supporting ECTs’ professional growth require knowledge of adult learning, contextual coaching, accreditation, wellbeing, and emotional intelligence.

Based on the findings, effective coaches integrate principles of adult learning and emotional intelligence with coaching elements that include knowledge, skills, and dispositions. All coaches received training, but similar to teacher quality, quantifying or developing coach dispositions is challenging. Training experienced teachers to coach ECTs as self-determined learners results in the development of collaborative and reflective skills, as well as reciprocal learning. A university graduate certificate based on a context-specific action research project could integrate coaching, accreditation, emotional intelligence, and wellbeing. All research participants agreed that coaching was beneficial for professional growth, despite time being a consistent barrier. Implementing and sustaining effective contextual coaching demands support and funds from sources beyond the school.

The proposed induction program requires shared responsibility, fostering collective accountability across systems, schools, authorities, organisations, and universities to design and assess impact. In Wales, the Government, seven universities, and essential stakeholders collaboratively designed a postgraduate program to ensure all participants receive the same high-quality program, improving consistency while enhancing teachers’ professional learning. My proposed initiative could support ECTs’ learning and wellbeing while offering numerous benefits to other stakeholders.

·   Experienced teachers could learn how to effectively support ECTs’ accreditation process.

·   University course participants could disseminate research-based information and create a positive learning environment.

·   Universities could access data from school leaders, coaches, and teachers and work collaboratively with other universities, education authorities, and school systems.

·   Participation rate of teachers participating in post-graduate studies or higher levels of accreditation may increase.

A considered induction program recognises the time and financial investment that a university teaching degree entails while ensuring the continuation of teacher learning and wellbeing support. Creating a postgraduate university course incorporating induction, coaching, accreditation, and wellbeing with an overarching inquiry project would provide program and practice consistency, additional school support, and shared professional accountability. This may reduce the inequity of professional support for ECTs while building the capacity of teachers and middle leaders. The initiative could contribute to various accreditation requirements and involve stakeholders such as universities, schools, education authorities, and AITSL to ensure program effectiveness and integrity while providing equitable access for ECTs’ professional growth.

The teacher shortage is at a “crisis” point, and long-term alternatives include the improvement of the profession’s status and working conditions. Focusing on strategies to attract teachers requires considerable investment in time, effort, and funding, whereas this suggested program takes a more pragmatic approach, prioritising and supporting current teachers’ professional growth. By providing strategic support for two years, the induction program creates a positive environment to retain effective teachers, nurture future leaders, and support early career teachers’ professional growth.

Andrea Stringer completed her doctorate at the University of New South Wales and is passionate about supporting early career teachers and creating environments to retain effective teachers. Accredited through the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, she coaches educators and leaders to develop professionally and increase wellbeing. Andrea connects research with practice, working collaboratively with school leaders and educators to build their capacity. Contact her andrea@contextualcoaching.com.au

Teacher shortages: Is teaching family-friendly now?

Once upon a time, teaching was seen as a favourable job, especially for women. The public perception was of teaching as a family-friendly profession where teachers could be out the door by 3pm and had school holidays off to spend time with their own families. 

This belief about teachers’ work as family-friendly is part of the lore of teachers’ work. The compatibility of the school calendar, the hours of work with domestic responsibilities especially with child-bearing has been a ‘selling-point’ of teaching for generations of women thinking about teaching careers. In the 1960s, women’s magazines supported teaching as a good profession for women because it was a job that suited women’s interests as well as their responsibilities as wives and mothers.  

Of course, to an extent, the idea that teaching is family-friendly was always a myth and it has often been contested. Even way back in the early 1900s it was ‘definitely not a family-friendly profession’ considering married women were banned from the professional altogether and in many places pregnancy bans remained until the late 1960s. 

Teaching has rarely been a job where you could go home, simply forget about work and relax every night. However, even when the truth of the myth of family-friendly statements are interrogated, there remains public perception that teachers get ‘excessive’ holidays. What some people think of as family-friendly work environments, others criticise, claiming teachers have it too easy. 

Whether teaching is a family-friendly career for women (or indeed for everyone) is directly relevant to understanding the unprecedented teaching shortages we are experiencing in Australia. 

Our Australian Research Council study of the working lives of teachers who remain teaching in high-turnover schools is in its very early stages, but already this issue is raising its head as a largely unexplored topic. Even it was always a partial myth, recruitment of teachers drew heavily on the narrative of teaching as family-friendly. Teach Queensland’s website Why teaching is a rewarding career still recruits teachers, by advertising the career’s balanced lifestyle, claiming 

The teacher lifestyle provides many perks, including flexibility to work close to where you live, guaranteed holidays, and time to spend with your own kids (if and when you have them!). There’s also support for flexible work practices and varied employment options including permanent, temporary and casual roles.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, we are noticing that teaching may have transitioned from at least one of the more family-friendly professions to one of the very least! 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census data shows that of the 12 million people employed on Census day (10 August 2021), more than 20 per cent (2.5 million) worked from home. With the ability to work from home much more common now than at any time in history, teaching has become one of the few professions where such flexibility is much more rarely supported. 

Similarly, where more professions encourage part-time or flexible work, many school leaders actively resist part-time employment or job-sharing arrangements for their staff. Despite this, recent workforce data published by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership shows that 36% of all secondary and 45% of primary teachers are working part-time.  The appetite for more flexible working conditions is clearly there. 

Despite the necessity of teaching online during Covid, very few changes have been made to facilitate ongoing online or even hybrid work environments for teachers. Thus, while their friends and partners may now work from home on a much more regular basis, this is not true of teachers. While some reports, such as Next Steps: Report of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review – Department of Education, Australian Government recognise how family responsibilities restrict many Preservice Teachers from taking remote or regional placements father from their homes, there is little mention of family work-life balance when it comes to employed teachers. 

As outlined in the Productivity Commission’s Working From Home Research Report (2021) teachers saw the pros and cons of working from home (which wasn’t, on its own, seen as easier or even necessarily more family-friendly). In the Commission’s analysis, teaching is one of the few occupations regarded as not being able to be done from home. Nonetheless, the Australian Education Union’s Victorian Branch recommends that schools provide more flexible employment opportunities, including better access to part-time employment for staff transitioning toward retirement and those returning from leave, such as parental absence.

However, there may have been an opportunity lost such as understanding how some teacher’s work could in fact be done remotely, particularly during non-teaching hours. Chats on Reddit suggest some teachers envy their friends and families who have much more flexible jobs than they do.  

And even if it is the case that ‘good teaching’ can’t really happen remotely, it makes the career less attractive to future teachers who might see such inflexibility within the profession as a deterrent. Teachers report un-family friendly teaching environments as one reason for burn-out which clearly should be added to all the other reasons now understood as leading to teaching shortages.

This makes us wonder whether an increased focus on schools as family-friendly workplaces could be part of the solution to the current teaching shortages. 

Jo Lampert is a professor of teacher education at Monash University. Amy McPherson is senior lecturer in the School of Education at the Australian Catholic University. Bruce Burnett is a professor of education at the Australian Catholic University.

Good question: Did the teaching panel even look at what’s available now?

There are very few days of the week where I don’t receive urgent emails or phone calls from school principals pleading for graduates or current pre-service teachers who can fill vacant positions in their school. Those desperate communications reflect the harsh reality that many school leaders and teacher educators face daily in the struggle to minimise the impact of the current teacher workforce shortages in Australia. 

This is the backdrop against which the recently published Teacher Education Expert Panel Discussion Paper is set as teacher educators, school leaders, government departments, regulatory authorities and policy makers seek to engage with what has been proposed in the document. The discussion paper reflects the work of the expert panel (led by Mark Scott, pictured) in responding to Priority Area 2 of the Education Ministers’ National Teacher Workforce Action Plan which was released in December 2022.

The teacher shortage backdrop is a stark reminder that many factors contribute to graduate teachers’ early career experiences in schools, as they seek to move from graduate teacher to proficient. Issues already highlighted in the National Workforce Action Plan, such as unsustainable workloads, perceived status of the profession, prevalence of short-term employment contracts (perhaps now less of an issue), increasing complexity of student behaviours, and many others factors that influence a graduate teacher’s decision to stay or leave the profession, independent of the quality of their initial teacher education. It must be recognised that conditions in our schools are also the conditions in which our pre-service teachers are learning as an essential part of the professional experience dimensions of initial teacher education. My point is that we cannot separate the conditions in which teachers practise their profession from the activity of initial teacher education, because they combine to mediate the ‘quality’ of a pre-service teacher’s collective experience of initial teacher education. Starting from this point, it is helpful to work through some of the key considerations proposed in the discussion paper.

The proposed core content outlined in the discussion paper addresses the four areas of: (i) the brain and learning; (ii) effective pedagogical practices; (iii) classroom management; and (iv) enabling factors for learning.

It is not clear if the panel had undertaken a thorough review of what is currently included in a range of ITE programs addressing knowledge of how the brain learns, but it is likely that many programs do address this very topic already as part of achieving graduate standards 1.1 and 1.2. However, I would concede that in the absence of any such curriculum-wide review, there is no guaranteed national consistency on whether this important aspect of teacher education is included in all accredited programs. But in considering the need for the brain to be included as core content in all ITE curriculum programs, it is equally important to remember those other aspects of standard 1.1 and 1.2 which remind us that ‘brains’ don’t learn in isolation in classrooms, and that the life circumstances of young people influence their learning opportunities. In considering the possibility of core content related to cognitive science, it is important not to dichotomise such content with understandings about the sociology of teaching and learning. Perhaps the answer may be to develop a more accurate description of standards 1.1 and 1.2 to reflect the importance of cognitive science in the preparation of teachers, but not at the expense of the sociological and physical dimensions.

The panel’s considerations related to effective pedagogical practice and classroom management as core are also likely to be identifying areas already addressed in initial teacher education programs against multiple graduate standards.

Having been a reviewer of many ITE programs myself, I have seen a relatively high degree of consistency in relation to what is being taught, practised, and assessed regarding effective pedagogical practice and classroom management.

Having been a reviewer of many ITE programs myself, I have seen a relatively high degree of consistency in relation to what is being taught, practised, and assessed regarding effective pedagogical practice and classroom management.

Damian Blake

Although my personal experiences of reviewing ITE programs does not constitute a systematic consideration of what all programs address on these important topics, I do return to my earlier observation that what students learn about effective pedagogical practice and classroom management in any ITE program is equally dependent on what is learned during their professional experience placements. I would suggest the panel’s reform area 3 addressing the quality of professional experience is actually threshold to any considerations for core curriculum related to effective pedagogy and classroom management.

The final element of core included in the discussion paper addresses developing teachers’ understandings of enabling factors for learning, including those related to First Nation’s Peoples, cultural responsiveness, family engagement and diverse learning needs. I would agree that there is much work to be done in all of these areas, but perhaps a more genuine starting point would be a respectful and systematic approach to decolonising initial teacher education in Australia. That means coming to terms with the unintended consequences of previous ITE reforms that may have adversely impacted access to initial teacher education for our First Nation’s Peoples in particular.

The panel proposes to link funding to performance measures in categories related to: (i) selection of diverse and high quality candidates; (ii) retention; (iii) classroom readiness; and (iv) employment outcomes.

This section of the discussion paper will draw much attention from university leaders, as it is likely to impact individual providers’ ongoing commitment to deliver initial teacher in their institution. The proposed categories have some alignment with elements of Stage 2 accreditation, and many providers already seek to achieve continuous improvement in relation to these elements. However, I am not aware of any evidence that would support publicising a table of comparative performance as the most productive way forward for achieving continuous improvement. In contrast, it may risk providers adopting a gamified approach to funding and completely distract from the genuinely important elements of increasing diversity in the teaching workforce.

I would also note that some of the challenges already faced in relation to these measures are genuinely outside the control of ITE providers. As noted earlier, the perceived classroom readiness of graduates and their likelihood of continuing employment in the early career years is linked to the conditions in which they are working. And despite many of the selection measures already being adopted under previous ITE reforms to strengthen the ‘quality’ of ITE entrants, their experiences of the reality of classroom life in all its glory does impact their commitment to completing a program and becoming a teacher.

Rather than funding linked to these performance measures, it would be more productive to have a serious funding discussion focussed on enabling high quality and scalable professional experience arrangements that serve as threshold dimensions in the provision of quality initial teacher education. I think this third element of the discussion paper does provide a real opportunity to improve one of the most important, threshold aspects of initial teacher education which, unfortunately, is also one over which ITE providers have minimal influence. It has been highlighted for its importance in most previous reviews and I would suggest it should be leading the charge in any genuine attempt to further improve the quality of initial teacher education.

Professor Damian Blake is the Head of School for Deakin University’s School of Education, after 15 years as associate dean, teaching and learning.

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

Education: the five concerns we should debate right now

Meghan Stacey on the trouble with teaching

Deb Hayes on making school systems more equitable.

Phillip Dawson on how we should treat ChatGPT.

Sarah O’Shea on widening participation at university.

Scott Eacott on the Productivity Commission’s review of the National School Reform Agreement.

The trouble with teaching by Meghan Stacey

Last year was a big one for teachers. In NSW, where I live and work, years of escalating workload, the relentless intensity of the job and salaries that are declining in real terms were compounded by reports of debilitating staff shortages leading to considerable strike action. The latter half of 2022 then saw a NSW inquiry and a federal action plan aiming to address such shortages. Nevertheless, government responses to these issues have been critiqued as focusing too much on supply and not enough on retention. Concerns about teachers’ working conditions do not seem to have really been heard, and there’s not much point talking about supply, or any other challenge for education in 2023, until we truly have that conversation. 

Australian teachers work long hours, and complete considerable administrative labour when compared internationally. It is true that some steps are being taken to reduce teachers’ administrative load, but not always in a way that recognises the intellectual and creative complexity of their work. And according to the Teachers Federation, when NSW schools go back in just a few days, they will be starting their year with a whopping 3,300 vacant positions. So there is much still to be done, and I wonder: in 2023, will action be taken that adequately addresses the depth of disquiet rumbling amongst the profession?

Making our schooling systems more equitable by Deb Hayes

This draws on parts of my book with Craig Campbell.

In terms of funding, how much is enough to provide a good education to an Australian child? This question has occupied policymakers for decades. 

In 1973, a Whitlam-appointed committee proposed eight school categories A-H, A being the highest. It argued that support for schools in Category A with resource levels already above agreed targets be phased out because government aid could not be justified for maintaining or raising standards beyond those that publicly funded schools could hope to achieve by the end of the decade.

Today, Commonwealth funding for schools is needs-based and calculated according to the Schooling Resource Standard, which estimates how much public funding a school needs to meet its students’ educational needs. 

Sounds good? Well, not really, because schools that already have enough to provide a good education receive federal government funding due to an amendment by Fraser to Whitlam’s proposal. Under current funding arrangements, public schools in all states except the ACT will be funded at 91% of their SRS index or less by 2029.

It’s time to pause government funding to non-government schools that already have enough to provide a good education until all public schools are funded at 100% of their SRS.

Challenges for Widening Participation by Sarah O’Shea

2023 will usher in both challenges and opportunities for widening participation in Australian higher education, not least of which is the predicted growth in school leavers. Those born under the Costello ‘baby boom’ of 2005-2008 will be leaving school from 2023, with an almost 20% increase in this age cohort by 2030 (Productivity Commission, 2022). While this is good news for a post pandemic higher education sector, ensuring equity in the face of greater competition for places will be an important challenge moving forward for the sector. 

Given the greater number and diversity of participants, how we conceive and categorise what ‘equity’ is, will be key. The current six equity categories were defined in the eighties and research has indicated the limitations of these outdated classifications (Tomaszewski et al, 2018). The diversity of current and future student populations requires expanded definitions of ‘who’ our equity students are, definitions are that are both more granular in nature and also, responsive to emerging trends in higher education participation. Any changes in definitions need to be accompanied by a better measurement of cumulative disadvantage, recognising that students often belong to multiple equity groups and that this membership has distinct impacts at different stages of the student life cycle (Tomaszewski et al., 2020). 

For 2023 and beyond, contextualised and targeted approaches to supporting growing diverse populations will be required. Approaches that cater to both the uniqueness of our students and also, specific learning environments. Of course, such bespoke approaches to widening participation are resource intensive. In an environment of reduced funding and pressure to meet equity performance benchmarks, this too will be a challenge for institutions, particularly regional universities who are often serving the most disadvantaged communities. 

ChatGPT is the least capable it will ever be. What can we do about it. By Phillip Dawson

I asked ChatGPT to “Write 200 words about the challenge that ChatGPT poses to education
in 2023”. It gave me a 283 word response, starting with:
“ChatGPT poses several challenges to education in 2023. One of the most significant
challenges is that it has the ability to generate human-like text, which makes it difficult to
distinguish between machine-generated content and that written by a human. This can lead
to concerns about plagiarism and the authenticity of information, making it more difficult
for educators to ensure that students are producing original work.”
Like much of the media commentary, ChatGPT has jumped straight to academic integrity
concerns. Yes, this is a challenge. Assessment has become harder thanks to the emergenceide
of generative artificial intelligence.
But that’s not the whole picture. These tools are getting more and more sophisticated, and
are already used in society to be creative, have fun, and get stuff done. Rather than focusing
so much on the threats posed by ChatGPT traditional assessment practices, we might need
to question how fit for purpose our assessments are for the world our students will inhabit
when they graduate. Because these tools are currently the least capable they’ll ever be.
I hope 2023 is the year where we double down on what we could call “future-authentic
assessment”: assessment that considers what’s likely to happen to the world.

Where’s the discussion of funding? Scott Eacott on the Productivity Commission’s review of the National School Reform Agreement.

Setting national education policy is a complex task. This is made even more difficult in Australia given the constitutional responsibility for education lies with the states and territories but the
commonwealth government controls the finances. Therefore, while legislation and national
declarations establish the social contract between government and its citizens (equity and
excellence in school provision), jurisdictional sovereignty can get in the way of reform.

Friday’s release of the Productivity Commission’s review of the National School Reform Agreement
(NSRA) highlights the complexity. The NSRA is a joint agreement between the Commonwealth,
states, and territories with the objective of delivering high quality and equitable education for all
Australian students (the social contract). There is a lot to unpack in the review with considerable
media attention on the failure of the NSRA to improve student outcomes. I want to raise three key
systemic points:

1) Common critiques of federalism focus on overlap in responsibilities (e.g., funding of schools) and
duplication as state and territory groups replicate national policies and initiatives (e.g.,
professional standards, curriculum). This imposes artificial divisions in a complex policy domain
whose actions impact well beyond state or territory borders. There are reduced opportunities
for engagement, surrendering some of the strengths of a federal system of government and the
removal of important failsafe mechanisms, as each jurisdiction seeks to assert its independence
and sovereignty. Achieving uniformity across eight jurisdictions is difficult, time consuming, and
often reduces initiatives to the lowest common denominator.
2) Despite some concerns about new data points (e.g., additional testing, administrative
paperwork), the review calls for greater reporting and transparency from states and territories.
In most – if not all – cases, the data points already exist. What the review argues is for a common
basis for new targets but greater flexibility in how jurisdictions pursing delivering on them. This
flexibility comes with greater accountability for performance of reforms against benchmarks.
That is, each jurisdiction will be held to accountable for how their reforms deliver on targets.
Such reporting would make it clear when reforms are, and are not, working for students.

3) Funding was excluded as a topic for discussion in the review. Since at least the first Gonski
Report, the funding of Australian schools has been a central issue. As the NSRA was established
on the back of a $319B funding deal for schools, the achievement of its objective cannot be
achieved unless funding mechanisms ensure equitable distribution of funds to schools and
specifically the targeting of funding to those schools and students most disadvantaged.

As noted, there is plenty to unpack, and the above just point to some key systemic issues in design in a
process focused on improving outcomes for students and holding jurisdictions to account for their
reforms in meeting agreed targets.

Meghan Stacey is a senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, researching in the fields of the sociology of education and education policy and is the director of the Bachelor of Education (Secondary). 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. She is an associate editor, The Australian Educational Researcher Links: Twitter & University Profile

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.

Professor Phillip (Phill) Dawson is the Associate Director of the Centre for Research inAssessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University. His two latest books are Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World: Preventing E-Cheating and Supporting Academic Integrity in Higher Education (Routledge, 2021) and the co-edited volume Re-imagining University Assessment in a Digital World (Springer, 2020). Phill’s work on cheating is part of his broader research into assessment, which includes work on assessment design and feedback. In his spare time Phill performs improv comedy and produces the academia-themed comedy show The Peer Revue.

Sarah O’Shea is a Professor and Director of the National Centre of Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University. Sarah has over 25 years experience teaching in universities as well as the VET and Adult Education sector, she has also published widely on issues related to educational access and equity.

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.

Distorted reports keep coming. This one will make you livid

What should we be talking about when we talk about teachers? Teachers’ pay, working conditions and the looming teacher shortage. 

What are media talking about instead? A commonly suggested ‘solution’ to address concerns about standards in teaching: pre-prepared lessons, or, as the Grattan Institute describes them in a recent report, ‘high quality teaching materials’. 

The Grattan Institute, a thinktank, notes in its summary of the report that: “of 2,243 teachers and school leaders across Australia, … only 15 per cent of teachers have access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all their classes.”

In a departure from any claims to objectivity, the report paints a picture of teachers “being left to fend for themselves, creating lessons from scratch and scouring the internet and social media for teaching materials”.

This is yet another example of a large scale survey conducted by those with only a tangential relationship to the profession. It ignores the views of many teachers and offers a ready-made solution – one likely to become another costly and wasted expense for taxpayers. It also fails to note such approaches have been tried in some jurisdictions in Australia – with limited success, for example, the Curriculum-to-Classroom program in Queensland was found to be deficient. The surest outcome of such an approach would be a new revenue stream for specifically chosen edu-businesses as they rush to be selected as the provider of choice.   

There are already a range of paid options for teachers to access similar resources through sites like Twinkl, Teachers Pay Teachers, TES and others. Admittedly, these are paid resources; we argue it is unreasonable for teachers to pay for any curriculum resources out-of-pocket. However, even a ‘free’ version seems misguided because it does not pay attention to the work – and the expertise – that is central to teachers’ practice. And this practice includes the careful design and development of learning materials. This is not something that can be outsourced. 

As we say, the assumption and positioning of highly trained and university-qualified teachers, many of whom have trained for 4 or more years, as vulnerable and ‘fending for themselves’ is odd.

Planning lessons, finding, curating and developing resources is central to the work of teachers. Many teachers take great delight in carefully crafting lessons that leverage students’ interests; education is not, and never has been a one-size-fits-all model and any claim otherwise is undermining teachers, leaders and education support staff around Australia.

Teachers delivering content via a pre-prepared script or lesson might seem easier and simpler, but it remains difficult to see who benefits from a lifeless and unthinking teacher delivering someone else’s content. The key to teaching – and learning – lies in the human relationships between teachers and students. Those human relationships allow for careful contextualisation and design. It is that which drives teachers to search for just the right YouTube clip – the one that will appeal to that particular Year 9 Science class – not a sense of ‘fending for themselves’. Whereas teachers are responsible for their school students, families and communities, creators of ‘teacher-proof’ lesson banks are accountable to their corporate employers. As Lucinda McKnight reflects, ‘who would we rather have designing learning experiences for our own children?’. 

Our new book, Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Perspectives from Australia has taken the focus of empowering teachers and outlines alternative, human-centric ways that teachers can be trusted and empowered to make decisions about their work, with the shared goal of democratising approaches to education. By combining theory, academic thinking and teachers’ best practice examples, the book provides a range of suggestions on many of the key challenges facing Australian education. For example, George Lilley outlines the way that teachers have been sidelined in favour of a rigorous adherence to educational research.Alex Wharton’s chapter   imagines what an education system might look and function like if teachers were respected across all facets of their domain. 

Polly Dunning’s chapter articulates the range of pressures placed upon teachers – and the effects this has on children. Not surprisingly, the nature of lesson planning is not mentioned, but rather the rise of administrivia and additional expectations placed upon teachers without additional time or funding provided. 

As with many things in education, the best solutions require humans to be empowered to find their own solutions.   Education is filled with complex, ‘wicked’ problems, where solutions can take time, and require contextual nuance. ‘Solutions’ such as those suggested by The Grattan Institute ultimately misunderstand the work of the teacher as technocratic and therefore something that can be standardised. Until we appreciate the complexity of what it means for teachers to teach, we will continue to be presented with claims of ‘teacher-proof’ policies and materials that ignore the diversity of the students, whilst disenfranchising the teaching profession. 

If we are aiming to recruit and retain teachers, poorly thought out solutions such as providing teachers with pre-prepared teaching materials, as suggested by the Grattan Institute, is not the answer. This will do little to reduce workload, and it will also further damage the reputation of the teaching profession by limiting the expertise of teachers. These outcomes will do little to encourage people to become or remain teachers.  

Instead, we must look towards long term solutions that recognise the expertise of the profession. Trust, empowerment and listening to the voices of the profession is key. 

Keith Heggart is an early career researcher with a focus on learning and instructional design, educational technology and civics and citizenship education. He is a former high school teacher, having worked as a school leader in Australia and overseas, in government and non-government sectors.

Steven Kolber is a teacher at a Victorian public school, the founder of #edureading founder, secretary of Teachers Across Borders Australia and a proud member of @AEUvictoria. #aussieED Global Teacher Prize top 50 Finalist

Tom Mahoney is a teacher and educator of secondary VCE Mathematics and Psychology students, currently completing a PhD in Educational Philosophy part time through Deakin University. His research explores the influence of dominant educational ideologies on teacher subjectivity. You can keep up to date with Tom’s work via his fortnightly newsletter, The Interruption, via Substack. Tom is on Twitter @tommahoneyedu  

Why teacher unions matter now more than ever

Teachers are striking. Not just in NSW, Australia, where the NSW Teachers’ Federation went on strike when it took to the streets in late 2021. Teachers in the states of Washington, Ohio and Seattle in the United States also took strike action this year in response to similar pressures that Australian teachers are facing. They are demanding smaller class sizes, more specialist support for teachers, higher wages, and better conditions to prevent teacher burnout.

My research has focused on school education mainly in NSW where market-driven agendas have entrenched competitiveness in education systems, contributed to the rise of precarious work in the teaching profession, slowed the growth of teacher salaries, and increased the workload and administrative burden on teachers and school leaders. For the last 40 years, neoliberal policy agendas in education have threatened to undermine the democratic foundations of public schooling and weaken education unions that represent the voice of thousands of teachers.

Research on teacher unions is lacking

Although public education is an issue at the forefront of society, what is lacking in the conversation about neoliberal education reform agendas is how teacher unions attempt to challenge such agendas. Teacher unions are important civic and economic associations that articulate teachers’ collective and professional voice.

As an interdisciplinary researcher spanning the fields of industrial relations and education, my research focuses on the interrelations between employees and employers and their representatives, and the state. For nearly 10 years, I’ve examined the complex contexts in which teacher unions organise and campaign in an effort to understand the strategies they use to resist neoliberal agendas.  

My chapter, recently published in Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Perspectives from Australia, contributes to understanding how teacher unions build grassroots activism and shape campaign strategies to resist neoliberalism and inspire action towards a more democratic future. The chapter is nested in a broader conversation in the book, alongside contributions from teachers and researchers, which is focused on giving primacy to teachers’ voices in education scholarship and public debates. The chapter draws upon insights from my doctoral thesis which examined how one teacher union in Australia has campaigned over the last 40 years in response to various education reforms and threats to teachers’ working conditions.

Lessons in building union power

There are contemporary reports of a teacher shortage crisis in New South Wales. Compounding this is an ageing teaching workforce. While the education and training industry has the highest proportion of employees who are trade union members, revitalising how unions recruit and engage the next generation of activists is a key concern of unions today, not only for teacher unions. According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics union membership data from August 2020, only 5% of employees aged 15-19 years are trade union members; this is only marginally higher at 6% for those aged 20-24.

In addition to the profile of unionism changing, the social, political, economic and cultural environment of organising is also evolving. One Former Assistant General Secretary of the teachers’ union I spoke to in my research reflected on this: “[when] you started teaching, you joined the superannuation scheme, you joined the health fund, and you joined the union, and you were just active in the union”.

Renewing strategies to engage an incoming generation of teachers into the profession has been an important task for teacher unions. Strategies have included organising beginning teacher conferences for teachers new to the profession, establishing networks to connect young activist teachers, and offering training and professional development opportunities for members.

Campaigning to advance alternative ideas in public education

The concepts of governance, accountability, efficiency and competition are also changing the way we think about public institutions and public services. Freedom within education is being constrained and democracy is being threatened by neoliberal logics. Such ideology has challenged the fundamental values on which public education systems have been built.

Research shows that teacher unions have responded to this in various ways, including ‘organising around ideas’, connecting with community and campaigning for social justice. This means presenting alternatives to dominant (neoliberal) ideas and campaigning for a vision of quality public education based on the values and principles of democracy and social justice.

Framing campaign messages in response to different contexts enables unions to set the agenda for public education and articulate the voice of the profession.

For instance, using ‘local stories’ can be a powerful way to appeal to parents and community members during campaigns. In one education funding campaign I researched, a Union Organiser from a teacher union spoke about how their campaign was framed around:

“not talking about the billions of dollars and talking about macro level, but just saying to the community this is what it means to you, this is what it means to Billy in kindy when he arrives at the school and he can’t speak a word of English, he’s able to get access to support . . . Those stories can’t be refuted and they can’t be talked down . . . [i]f you’re actually talking about a real human from a real place in a real situation.”

Empowering teachers has also been important in the face of threats to their core industrial and professional conditions of work, as well as the strong criticism and blame that has been placed on teachers over many recent years.

Teachers and their unions are working in challenging times. Continuing to foster a sense of empowerment in teachers and placing the voice of teachers at the centre of education debates is crucial in order to protect and advance the conditions of one of the largest occupations in the world.

Mihajla Gavin is a lecturer in the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, and has worked as a senior officer in the public sector in Australia across various workplace relations advisory, policy and project roles. Mihajla’s research is concerned with analysing the response of teacher unions to neoliberal education reform that has affected teachers’ conditions of work. Mihajla is on Twitter @Mihajla_Gavin

Why restoring trust in teaching now could fix the teacher shortage

Burnout is blamed for an exodus of teachers contributing to ‘a teacher shortage crisis’ in Australian schools. The teacher burnout argument offers a ‘convenient’ explanation of why teachers leave – they burn out as external pressures wear them down. Yet, framing the problem as one of teacher burnout diverts attention from ‘the moral crisis’ with which our teaching workforce has been grappling for years. 

The moral crisis is rooted in despair when teachers face persistent and chronic challenges to the values that animate their work. It emerges when the ‘call to teach’ as a moral practice meets an inequitably resourced education system that prioritises test-based accountability and top-down engineering of teachers’ work. 

The teacher shortage crisis 

The crisis talk has brought attention to some of the most legitimate grievances of teachers in Australia. Inadequate remuneration, unsustainable workloads, administrative burdens, and growing bureaucratic requirements have had irrefutable negative effects on teachers’ morale and their sense of career optimism. 

The teacher shortage crisis has also highlighted the importance of retaining teachers who are already in the job. This has led to a focus on improving teachers’ working conditions. At the same time, front-end-focused measures are introduced to address teacher supply issues. These policy solutions, including the recent Labor’s Plan to Fix Teacher Shortages, are aimed at making teaching a more attractive career option.

While these measures deal with elements of what has contributed a teacher shortage crisis, they remain largely oblivious to a less visible moral crisis that has haunted the teaching profession, a crisis rooted in tensions between the view of teaching as a caring practice driven by a sense of calling and education policies, school practices and working conditions that sit in tension with the call to service. 

A spectre is haunting teaching — the spectre of a moral crisis

A burnout explanation of why teachers leave the profession would lead to solutions that aim, at least in principle, to alleviate what burdens teachers, and burns them out. The New South Wales’ plan to support high-quality lesson planning is an example of such solutions. Universal access to centralised learning materials is offered to “free up lesson planning time each week” (Premier Dominic Perrottet). 

From a teacher burnout perspective, this policy response is adequate as it alleviates ‘the burden’ of lesson planning. This is, however, a problematic proposition. Many teachers view creating engaging lesson plans as part of their core work, something that provides them with the ownership of their practice.

A moral crisis explanation provides an alternative explanation of what wears teachers down and paves the way for their exit decision from teaching. Teachers may leave not because they burn out and have nothing more to offer; they leave because their call to service is consistently challenged by the realities of an inequitably resourced school system that pursues top-down engineering of their work. 

Viewed as such, teachers’ exit decisions can be interpreted as an ultimate act of dissent; it is a refusal to bear witness to and endure dehumanising conditions that undermine their professional autonomy, compromise their wellbeing and overlook what they cherish most in their work: making a positive difference in the lives of children and young people through the actual practices of teaching and learning. 

To exit, therefore, may not be a symptom of burning out. It can be an exercise of agency and a rejection of the top-down recipes that ignore the moral core that orients teachers’ practices.

Addressing the moral crisis

Addressing the moral crisis requires attending to what has eroded the fabric of education as a public good. This includes the school choice model and funding inequities that have created a two-tiered education system in which the least-resourced Australian schools cater for the most under-served students and their communities. Many of these schools have unsustainable working conditions that require teachers to forego their own wellbeing to do their job well. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that the least advantaged schools in Australia are six times more likely to report teacher shortage problems compared to more affluent schools.

Attending to the moral core in teaching also requires a return to a view of education as a domain of possibility, agency and growth. It needs doing away with policies that prioritise compliance with centralised systems of monitoring tied to narrow test-based accountabilities. These practices have been shown to adversely impact on teacher morale and student wellbeing. We need to put the trust back in our teachers and their professional judgements. To do this, an audacious reform project is needed to rekindle an old flame amidst the ferocious onslaught of forces that codify teaching in purely managerial and technical terms.

Revisiting the teacher shortage crisis through a moral lens is more than reframing an existing problem in new terms. It requires us to attend to the values that sustain teaching as a caring form of practice. The moral argument disrupts the narrative that equates exit to a deficit in resilience and adaptability. Instead, it brings the focus back on teachers duty of care (for self and the other), and their agency to say ‘no’ to the conditions that dampen their morale, compromise their wellbeing and stall their care work. 

Babak Dadvand is a senior lecturer in Pedagogy, Professional Practice and Teacher Education at La Trobe School of Education. Babak’s research is in areas of teaching and teacher education with a focus on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in relation to teachers’ work and student experiences. Babak’s current research is focused on the challenges that teachers face and the types of support that they need stay in the profession, especially in the more challenging working conditions of schools that serve communities that are socially-historically marginalised. Twitter: @DadvandBabak

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.