Teacher shortage? Meh!

Looking into a dark chasm of a stairwell

Jo Lampert, La Trobe University’s Professor of Social Inclusion and Teacher Education, contested the claims of a teacher shortage with her viral tweet in early August 2022, saying thousands of qualified, experienced teachers no longer teach.

Respect and proper compensation for teachers to let them actually teach is the real shortage, she wrote.

The shortage issue is on the table today [12 August 2022] with a national roundtable of education ministers from across Australian states and federally.

I’m one of those experienced teachers who’s recently dusted off her shingle to give teaching another go.

I graduated in 2011, lugging a mega-thousand-dollar HECS debt for my masters teaching degree.

Then I worked in schools on and off until April 2019.

That was until NESA (the NSW teacher registration authority) said, ‘no, we will not accept any teaching evidence from you from just two terms to gain proficiency’. That was deadline gaining proficiency.

As a casual, relief, and temporary (CRT) teacher, I’d had five years to reach this deadline.

So, I left teaching.

I cried in the car, talking about it to my partner. Incredulous.

I’d taught in more than 20 schools in Central West NSW and the Blue Mountains of NSW, travelling an hour or more to some jobs.

I’d fielded constant calls for CRT teaching work, and had long stints in particular schools.

Still, not one principal was willing to support me to achieve proficiency, observe my classes, to sign any lesson plans or assessments I’d created/delivered.

I kept asking.

If a school fobbed me off, I would pack up and offer my services elsewhere.

I didn’t have time to waste.

This is what I heard from principals:

  • I’m too busy,
  • I don’t know what’s involved,
  • I’m about to retire,
  • Ask teacher X about it (who wasn’t someone who could supervise me, just a teacher … another dead end), or
  • We’ll think about it and let you know later.

When I did find a school that said ‘yes’ to supervision, they futzed around, deflected my questions and pleas for over a year, and never assigned me a mentor, in fact, they weren’t even aware I was primary-school and not mathematics trained.

They were too busy to worry about my quest for proficiency.

As a CRT teacher, you fall through the cracks because most of us don’t have a mentor.

We just fill holes, day to day, or are grateful if we get a longer stint.

In 2018, The Sydney Morning Herald reported a shift in education department policy to penalise wanna-be permanent public-school teachers who’d completed their education degrees online.

That was me.

There was an assumption we didn’t do the 12 weeks of in-school practicums that in-person students did.

I figure they may have ditched the policy by now.

Finally, last month, I decided to try again.

Re-accredited.

Once again, provisional, but I have two years to gain proficiency.

I’ve found a school that’s said ‘yes’ to supervising me — it’s a high school as that’s where my interest lies.

Despite the behaviour management challenges, I’m there one day a week.

I can’t yet afford to work more in teaching — it pays just a third of what I earn as a writer, and I need to pay my mortgage.

I’m hoping to create a nest-egg with writing so I can take on a temp contract, and work a few days a week next year to notch proficiency.

I might fail, but I have to try.

There’s no way I would ditch my writing business for the uncertainty of full-time teaching.

Yet, something draws me back to teaching.

It’s the rapport you build with students over time, nudging them to learn, and seeing that spark of understanding happen.

Fingers’ crossed; I won’t feel ‘meh’ about teaching in two years.

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Margaret Paton, Aussie-based education writer

PhD student at Deakin University, Australia, using netnography to explore out-of-field teaching. GradCert Ed Research MTeach|GradDip Comm Mgmt |BA Journalism.