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Fixing the Teacher, (not teaching) crisis in Australia

Cheering from the sidelines during an important and urgent discussion on the Australian Education sector, led by Pasi Sahlberg, I sat with my colleagues, on Tubowgule land and reflected on the now and the future.

The room was full of like-minded educators who took the time to travel from all over Sydney and beyond to hopefully hear some good news about our beloved profession.

However, whilst the discourse was robust and impassioned, my colleagues and I were left feeling empty and dissatisfied. We came looking for solutions and we didn’t get any. We heard more ‘blue sky thinking’ that all made perfect sense, but the sky is so far away from the coalface; from the here and now.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric around pay and conditions, time to collaborate, actual hours worked, resources to support beginning teachers and a much needed shift in public perception of teachers. And whilst the panel consisted of the esteemed Prof. Geoff Gallup (AC FASSA), Alice Leung (Secondary School Educator), and Prof. Adrian Piccoli (former politician - National Party), some of the most impactful comments came from the attendees and guest panel members, Dr Paul Kidson and our greatest advocate, Angelo Gavrielatos.

Voices from the trenches:

Problem: A former corporate lawyer who retrained as a primary teacher was aghast that, despite her level of expertise, spends countless hours each term copying, pasting, laminating and cutting personally designed or purchased environmental print. Is this the high value work that we have come to do?

Solution: Teachers’ Aides or admin assistants, employed by the school to take this load and thereby enable teachers to collaborate, plan, and you know, teach.

Problem: Another former lawyer with a Master of Teaching and an additional Master of Educational Leadership expressed perplexity with the absence of rewards or recognition for continued pursuit of excellence. Has our education system lost faith in, or not even value…’education’?

Solution: Recognition of ongoing professional learning through appropriate remuneration per level of attainment.

Problem: How do we measure teacher success when the work that we do is so complex? Is it the work of a Chemistry teacher who leads students to a Band 6, or was it those students’ Kindy teachers who taught them how to read and write, or possibly, applied the ‘just in time’ early intervention to support their learning?

Solution: Focus on the profession, not the narrow view of success which is largely measured by ATAR scores. We wish so much more for our students.

Problem: Millions of public funds being spent on further research reports to investigate the prevalent teacher crisis in Australia.

Solution: Spend the millions on time spent working shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers in order to truly understand the challenges.

Problem: Application process is outdated and arduous. Prospective teachers are put off the application process due to unrealistic demands. It is not uncommon for applicants to prepare and present new, evidence-based approaches to address current school initiatives, and when unsuccessful, simply leave the intellectual property, with compliments. Colleagues complained that it took more than six weeks to receive access to the mandatory, online Principal preparation course, prior to applying for Principal level positions in NSW Government schools.

Solution: Greater transparency and prioritising a positive experience for all applicants.

Problem: Teachers are taking sick leave in order to have ‘uninterrupted time’ at home to complete administrative tasks, report writing and marking.

Solution: After the ‘collective groan’, solutions offered included Executive Assistants to do the heavy lifting in administrivia. In the long term, this is a more economical solution, as opposed to constantly advertising for teacher replacements.

Problem: Everyone in education is accountable; everyone except the system.

Solution: Back to square one.

The solutions to the problems above came from the forum and clearly, are not intended to be an over-simplistic view of the challenges facing teachers on a daily basis. There are of course, other, even more pressing problems that are appearing in the literature concerning behaviour of students, and the impact of AI on teaching and learning. The intention behind this post is to share concerns and insights from just some of our colleagues who had the opportunity to share in a time-bound forum. You're welcome to add to the discussion.

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