Monash University says that Australia is facing a teacher shortage that has been looming since before the pandemic. A recent paper by University researchers looks at the reasons that teachers were looking to leave the profession prior to the impacts of COVID.
Dr Fiona Longmuir, with colleagues from Monash University, conducted a study drawing upon questionnaire results from 2,444 Australian primary and secondary school teachers.
Only 41 per cent of those respondents indicated that they planned to remain in the profession.
‘We were surprised by the number of responses we received,’ says Dr Longmuir. ‘It was clearly a topic that teachers felt compelled to speak out on.’
The split of teachers was relatively even across primary and secondary, with the bulk of respondents coming from the public system. There was a geographical spread across Australia, and a mix of new and established teachers.
Pressure, burnout and low esteem
Three main areas were cited as being the reason that teachers were looking to leave the profession: workload pressure, burnout and wellbeing related issues, and the low esteem in which teachers are held in the public discourse.
Workload was the most commonly cited reason for intending to leave the profession. Among teachers who intended to leave the profession, 62 per cent referred to workload pressures and their impact on health, wellbeing and other aspects of respondents’ non-working lives.
‘Teachers routinely described their workload as “excessive”, ”unrealistic” and “unsustainable”,’ says Dr Longmuir.
‘Workload pressure, particularly administration requirements and the expected amount of time I spend doing school things outside of direct teaching (co-curriculum hours, meetings, etc) seems to increase; however, the number of hours in a day is finite,’ responded one teacher.
Unnecessary and overburdening paperwork
In particular, teachers expressed frustration with what they saw as unnecessary or overburdening paperwork, administration and reporting. Such task were seen as a mechanism for compliance and control of teachers, who expressed a lack of trust in their work.
‘These aren’t all teachers who have slogged away for years turning away from teaching – there is research that indicates that up to half of teacher graduates will have left the profession in their first five years. They are studying for as long as they are teaching.
Issues relating to health and wellbeing, including relationships, exhaustion, stress and burnout, were mentioned by 21 per cent of respondents who planned to leave the teaching profession.
‘Respondents frequently used the terms “stress” and “burnout” as part of their descriptions about why they intended to leave the profession,’ says Dr Longmuir. ‘In addition, they wrote about the pressure they felt to emotionally support their students.
‘And it wasn’t just the teachers leaving the profession who spoke about health, wellbeing and burnout. The teachers who planned on staying were also saying this was a significant challenge in their profession.’
Negative media portrayals
The other issue – the negative media portrayals of teachers and schooling, and negative political discourses about teachers – were cited as having a negative effect on respondents’ experiences and their subsequent turnover intentions.
Respondents referred to feeling undervalued, under-appreciated and disrespected by the ‘community, public and media’.
The researchers found that there were two main levers that could halt the drain of teachers from the profession: a meaningful reduction in workload, and an increased understanding or awareness of the complexity of teachers’ work. This would ultimately lead to a more positive discourse about teachers and the profession.
‘Teachers don’t mind hard work, but they do feel overwhelmed by the ever-increasing administration and standardisation being thrust upon them, which is arguably not benefiting students, and is in fact taking teachers away from their core business of actually teaching,’ says Dr Longmuir.
Surveillance and monitoring of teaching
‘There is so much marking, reporting, assessing, paperwork, differentiating for different students. At the same time, there is increasing tangential tasks related to the surveillance and monitoring of teaching and learning. These ‘extras’ can threaten teachers’ capacity to focus on student learning.’
Increased public recognition of the profession and appreciation of the work would lessen the likelihood of some teachers leaving and improve the attractiveness of the profession for future teachers.
‘As well as these indications of attrition, attracting teachers to the profession is also a concern and in combination suggest a dire situation for Australia’s teaching workforce.
‘We are not suggesting that raised awareness about the complexity of teaching, or a raised status of the profession, would alone be sufficient to reduce turnover,’ says Dr Longmuir. ‘But it could mitigate against some of the issues of stress and burnout.
Recognition for hard work
‘If teachers feel that their work is appreciated and that the workload and emotional intensity of their work is being recognised, that might make them feel less inclined to walk away.’
Researchers are currently asking Australian teachers to participate in this research project.
‘Three years interesting years have passed since the 2019 survey, and it is timely to again seek the voices of teachers to understand the experience of teaching in schools in 2022.’
If you are an Australian teacher, or know of one, please complete and/or share the latest survey: https://monash.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_blOG0bWNdvW91ZA‘
To view the original report: Heffernan, A., Bright, D., Kim, M., Longmuir, F., & Magyar, B. (2022, 2022-05-06). ‘I cannot sustain the workload and the emotional toll’: Reasons behind Australian teachers’ intentions to leave the profession. Australian Journal of Education, 000494412210866, visit: https://doi.org/10.1177/00049441221086654