More than 200 people responded within three days to our callout on the effects of teacher shortages in Australia. Current and former teachers, and some parents, expressed their anguish at what unbearable workloads were doing to staff and students. Many referred to the casualisation of the workforce and the increase in administrative tasks asked of teachers.
Some also said they were routinely expected to deal with a rising number of behavioural problems of students, and others cited aggressive and unrealistic demands of parents as factors that contributed to burnout.
Below is a small selection of responses, which broadly reflect the range of those we received. Thanks to all those who contributed.
‘I am constantly in a state of high anxiety’
Crippling workload, the unrelenting intense nature of your daily work and undertaking 10-20 hours of unpaid work at home each week as the norm makes the profession highly undesirable. As a teacher with 27 years’ experience, I have not experienced conditions so bad. This week we farewelled yet another highly intelligent and proficient young staffer who, after a short spell, quit to pursue a profession that would not take such a toll on her physical and mental health. I know my stress and workload is having a negative effect on my family, including my two young children.
Frank, Melbourne, secondary public school teacher
Four years into teaching and leading a team, I am burnt out, constantly in a state of high anxiety and counting down to the end of each term. My social life is dramatically impacted, as is my physical and mental health. I love my kids and the people I work with, but find I am questioning my choice of career on a daily basis. My main concern is that I cannot believe the level of stress and pressure is worth it (financially).
Annie, Melbourne, primary public school teacher
Just when you think they couldn’t possibly ask us to do more, they do. Most teachers at my school are taking home at least 10-15 hours of work every week. It is unsustainable and if teachers actually worked to the hours we are paid, the whole system would collapse.
Janet, Tasmania, secondary public school teacher
There is the expectation that you just ‘get on with it’ when given yet another task by heads of department or the admin team. I find my non-contact time is increasingly filled by admin tasks like photocopying student assignments, uploading documents, filing, data entry, and tick-a-box tasks for admin. I teach during lessons, but I don’t spend much time outside of the classroom actually doing classroom prep that would benefit students. It’s all admin! We are expected to just pick up the slack/help new contract and supply teachers when they come in. We need more permanent teachers to ease our mental load, and we also need more teacher aides to help with admin.
Grace, Brisbane, secondary public school teacher
My husband is a maths teacher and I am a science teacher. We live in regional NSW. He’s currently employed full time at an independent school, and I am just starting to return to casual work after having kids. I could have casual work at any school in town, every day of term, as there just aren’t enough teachers. I could have a part time or full time position very easily, because I’m science trained. And yet I am seriously hesitant to return to teaching because I see through my husband and colleagues how stressful and overworked all teachers are. Public, private, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need better pay, I need a lower workload/better conditions!
Libby, Tamworth, secondary independent school teacher
Teacher shortages have meant that we are all teaching out of area, and in some cases we have had whole days of minimal supervision where one teacher is responsible for 100+ kids because there are no teachers to cover classes. Who wants to walk into a situation like that? It is dire, and teachers have lost the PR battle because everyone thinks we work 9-3 and have 12 weeks’ holiday.
Anonymous, Dubbo, secondary public school teacher
‘I started passionate, and finished exhausted’
Many respondents told us they had left the profession or were seriously considering it, largely because of workload pressures.
I’m one of the many teachers who have given up on teaching. I quit because I found the workload was ever-increasing (large class sizes, constant curriculum changes), the pay was insufficient, the parents were insufferable (constant arguing, helicopter parenting etc), and the number of jobs available was limited (the casualisation of the workforce meant that it was impossible to get your foot in the door). I was also assaulted numerous times as a teacher. I’m out of teaching and couldn’t be happier.
Nicole, Orange, public primary school teacher
I have returned to teaching after 10 years in other roles. I am shocked by the low morale of teachers and the workload, which has dramatically increased since I was first teaching. I have decided that once the role I have finishes at the end of the term, I will seek employment outside of teaching. Public schools are severely underfunded and the facilities at schools I have taught at are run-down and need major improvements.
I taught in primary schools in inner Melbourne. The workload was enormous. I worked at least 10-hour days. There are no breaks (lunch time is not a break for teachers) and I worked all day on Sundays to prepare for the week. In my first and second year teaching I had 28 prep students, insane. The expectations are extremely high from school leadership and parents. Parents are often disrespectful or unsupportive, sometimes awful. Some students are very challenging and school leadership does not assist effectively. It’s an incredibly hard job that is not given the respect or pay it deserves. I started passionate and dedicated to teaching and my students, and finished exhausted and defeated.
Alex, Melbourne, primary public school teacher
‘A revolving door of unqualified casual staff’
One severe consequence of the teacher shortage was the inability of schools to put teachers with the appropriate qualifications in front of students, particularly in Stem subjects, respondents said.
I am the teacher that can teach engineering so I am writing curriculum, teaching other teachers, and have no ability to apply for positions of responsibility as we have no one to cover my subjects. I’m also very reluctant to take sick days as it is difficult to find teachers that can cover my classes, and when I do, I spend a majority of my time getting the equipment fixed when I return, in my own time.
Russell, Victoria, secondary public school
We have a severe shortage of maths teachers. We have had one position vacant that hasn’t been filled since last year. These classes are covered by a revolving door of unqualified casual staff. We have staff teaching maths from the science and PE faculties that aren’t qualified.
Joanna, NSW, secondary Catholic school teacher
‘Young teachers are put on the merry-go-round’
Two factors that worked against teacher recruitment and retention came up repeatedly – low pay and the dominance of casual and contract work over permanent positions.
As a teacher I am painfully aware of how the shortages have come about. I have two brothers who have spent about the same time at university and they are now on three times the money in other sectors. I have hit the highest pay scale and so with stagnated wages growth I am basically on $95k PA for the rest of my life. Add the ever expanding workload, weak union support and parents who daily put you on trial, it is obvious why good candidates are choosing other fields.
Nick Barker, Brisbane, secondary public school teacher
At my workplace there are classes that have had constant casual teachers – there is no consistency for the students and their learning. A casual teacher cannot cover content when it is not from their specific subject area. I have many colleagues who are stuck on a contract – and it rolls over year to year. It is so hard to get a permanent position in a school. Many colleagues, including myself, don’t feel secure in their roles because of this. Pay is not reflective of our abilities and the amount of work we do. The pay scale is so limiting when you compare it to other professionals who have worked for the same amount of time in their careers.
Hayley, Sydney, secondary Catholic school teacher
For us it is not the teacher shortage but the fact that many teachers are not retiring. They have not accrued necessary superannuation because effective super came into being 10-15 years into their careers. This holds back young teachers from getting permanent positions. Many young teachers are put on the merry-go-round. They get contract positions but have to move from school to school, not knowing where the next contract is going to be. They do not get a chance to put their feet into a permanent door. Not surprisingly they get disillusioned and look at other more stable and certainly lucrative careers.
David, South Australia, secondary Catholic school teacher
There are plenty of teachers on temporary contracts or casual who move on to other jobs because of the lack of job security. Teachers such as myself have worked for five years or more in the same school and yet have to wait until mid December to see if they have a job the following year.
David, Newcastle, primary public school teacher
Our school struggles to attract teachers willing to move to the regions. Even a big town like ours. Most vacant positions are offered as 12-month contracts only, as new permanent positions are offered to existing staff first (fair enough). It is so hard to convince someone to move to a new region for a 12-month contract, especially an experienced teacher who may have a family established elsewhere. The impact on children is a revolving door of casual and short-term teachers who never get a chance to develop an understanding of their students and their individual needs, regardless of their skills or good will. The disruption results in behaviour problems.
Fran, regional NSW, parent of primary and secondary Catholic school children
‘A detrimental impact on student learning’
Teachers told us their workload struggles had potentially disastrous effects on the quality of education they could offer their students. Staff shortages contributed to poor behaviour by students, which in turn only made disillusionment among teachers worse.
Teacher shortages have a crippling effect on the logistical operation of a school, a detrimental impact on students’ learning which under the current model of education (limited scope to repeat a grade) cannot be ameliorated, and exacerbated behavioral problems due to the inability to maintain high standards and community connections. Classes are often cancelled if a teacher is absent and yet teachers are expected to plan lessons anyway. Non-qualified teachers taking a subject means that planned lessons need to account for this, thus reducing the quality of the lesson further. Teachers are expected to pick up the slack with minimal time to prepare and nothing taken away from their time.
Aaron, Lewisham, secondary public school teacher
There is never enough support in the classroom for the increasingly diverse needs of students with social, behavioural and medical issues.
Georgia, Melbourne, primary public school teacher
Shortages are critical but the real issue is the changing nature of a teacher’s professional responsibilities. Teachers take up the slack in counselling and behavioural problems in a student population with unrealistic community and parent expectations about success and achievement. I am now retired, earlier than I hoped, under the stress of increasingly unfulfilling years as the teaching environment deteriorated.
Bill Tomalin, Tasmania, former secondary public school teacher