How to solve Australia’s teacher shortage.

Australian schools face an unprecedented teacher shortage and myriad solutions have been proposed to find more teachers. None of them will work.

None of the proposed solutions will succeed unless one simple action is taken.

Primary and secondary schools are struggling to find teachers to deliver lessons to students throughout the country, and students are missing out on an education that was already truncated due to COIVD-19 lockdowns. Many schools cannot even find casual teachers let alone permanent teachers to deliver lessons. According to a recent article by Ruby Cornish from the ABC:

To date, teachers have taken more than 350,000 days of sick leave — up from 215,000 days during the same period in 2020, according to the education department. 

And in the words of NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos:

We are losing teachers every single day. Every single day hundreds of classes are being interrupted.

Politicians have proposed myriad solutions:

Subsidised housing

Subsidised housing would allow teachers to live close to their school if it is in an affluent area. Yes, even teachers of rich kids are underpaid. Currently, teachers of schools in affluent areas must pay an enormous portion of their income to live close to school, or face a long commute to live somewhere affordable.

University students

2,600 final year education students have been given permission to work as casual teachers in NSW schools, despite not being formally qualified. Some of them are excellent, some are not. Teaching is one career in which years of experience make an enormous difference to performance. The scheme helps student teachers, who can start paying off their uni fees, but does it help the students?

Is this legal?

When student teachers do practicums (prac) they are not allowed to teach a class of students without a fully-qualified teacher being present for legal reasons. Has the law been changed?

Corporate staff

Non-qualified teachers have been accredited to teach. Accreditation is normally only given to fully-qualified teachers with legitimate degrees and only after they have submitted notarised qualifications, plus Working With Children Check and other documents, to the relevant authorities. Now, corporate staff are being accredited despite having no qualifications or experience. It doesn’t help students, and it dismisses the years of valuable experience of existing teachers.

FIFO Teachers

New South Wales proposed flying teachers from cities out to regional and remote areas where the shortage is felt most acutely. The government would cover the cost of flights, and pay the teachers for their work. The duration of the contract was not specified, but Gavrielatos quickly exposed numerous flaws in this opportunistic political announcement:

Well, where are they going to find the teachers from? What schools, from what cities? We have a shortage.

Also, where are these FIFO teachers currently living? They’re likely to be renting, and would have to pay dead rent while teaching in the remote location. They would expect accommodation to be provided to compensate for the dead rent, so the government would have to cover flights and accommodation. Also, casual teachers in urban areas are likely to be working already, because there’s a huge teacher shortage, so would give up work at existing schools to go bush – and they would expect to be paid a lot more than they earn at urban schools. This costs the government even more money.

Victoria is apparently offering Melbourne-based teachers up to $700 a day to teach in regional schools. The incentive applies to teachers relocating from metro areas, interstate, or overseas who work in a regional role for at least two weeks. Other financial incentives are also involved.

However, it doesn’t appear to cover accommodation.

What’s harder than finding teachers? Finding and affording rental properties in major cities. If teachers leave their current rental to take up this offer for say 1 term, they then have to find, and afford, a new rental back in the city.

Loophole?

There is a potential loophole in Victoria’s plan. A current teacher in a regional school could quit their job upon learning of this plan. They could then re-apply for exactly the same job and earn $700 a day instead of about 350 – 400 a day. If they’re prevented from doing this due to technicalities, they’re likely to be upset that they are earning less than casuals despite committing, sticking around and devoting themselves to the students despite all of the disruptions and challenges at their school. There’s a reason these schools are understaffed.

Where is the reward for staying committed to the profession and to regional students?

Retired teachers

Retired teachers have answered the call of desperate schools. If retired teachers are happy to go back into the classroom, that’s great. They would also be prime candidates for FIFO teaching. However, haven’t they already done enough? Haven’t they earned a rest?

Career change

Governments are also attempting to lure professionals from other careers into teaching. Prior learning credit would be given to professionals who would be accelerated through a teaching degree. They might come, but will they stay?

Free University

High achieving secondary students are also being lured to teaching. Governments are offering to pay some or all of the students’ university fees to entice them away from other professions. This will attract some students. However, it exposes one fundamental flaw of all of the aforementioned proposals: teacher retention.

Teachers are leaving the profession because of poor conditions. What are those conditions? They are far too many to list here. Bright students might be attracted to teaching with free university study, but will they stay if conditions are so bad? These students are bright enough to succeed in another career, and bright enough to know that.

All of these methods have been suggested because schools are so desperate for teachers and/or because a politician thinks it will help them win the next election.

What do all of these suggestions have in common?

They all cost money.

And therein lies the solution to the teacher shortage.

Pay teachers more.

Higher wages will bring teaching into line with other professions.

Higher wages will convince some teachers to stay in the profession. Poor conditions also need to be improved, but many teachers will put up with these conditions for lucrative salaries. Doctors, engineers, lawyers and architects don’t love every aspect of their jobs. Dentists even more so.

Australia is a capitalist society. Young people make career choice based on salary, and society makes assumptions about careers based on salaries. Low pay is one reason Australians don’t respect teaching or teachers, and this in turn causes some of the terrible conditions under which teachers work.

Teaching is a job. It is a vocation, a profession, a craft and a passion. It is also how teachers pay the rent and support their own families, and cover the costs of their daily lives. With the increased cost of living in Australia, the first step to attracting and retaining capable people to the profession is to pay teachers more.

Image: Element5Digital

The leftist agenda in the Australian school system.

A leftist agenda is taking over the Australian school system and conservatives blame it for declining educational standards and many of the nation’s problems.

Is the claim true?

If so, can the leftist agenda be removed?

There is some truth to the statement. Classroom discussions and activities in Australian secondary schools are more likely to favour a left wing world view and the teachers delivering those lessons are also more likely to hold a left wing world view.

Language and Humanities subjects (and even the all encompassing subject of PD/H/PE) contain modules which conservatives would consider left wing, and it is certainly difficult for a student to defend a right wing world view in the classroom, or in a written task, when discussing a social issue.

One specific issue is Transgender people in women’s sport. Arguments exist on both sides of this issue, but it would be very difficult for an Australian student in English, History or PD/H/PE to argue that Transgender people should be banned from women’s sport, despite the fact that students are taught to express (almost) any viewpoint as long as they support the viewpoint with legitimate evidence.

How am I qualified to comment on this issue? I’m a teacher of English and History with many years experience in the Australian school system. Subjects such as English and History invite discussions on social issues and History is famously contentious.

Who makes these claims?

Conservative politicians, conservative media commentators, some academics and, according to an ABC article, One Nation voters.

According to the ABC article:

“One Nation voters are turning on the mainstream education system as conservatives across the country express a deep mistrust of what they say is a “leftist agenda” taking over the classroom.”

Why the ABC devoted an entire article to the thoughts of One Nation voters is probably a more appropriate subject of investigation. One Nation voters, however, are not the only critics of Australian schools and teachers.

One legitimate critic is education expert and former English teacher Kevin Donnelly who points to a “march of the left through the institutions”. His book, “How Political Correctness Is Destroying Australia — Enemies Within and Without” was launched by Tony Abbott and Alan Jones, and includes chapters such as “Thought police screening schoolbooks” and “Culture wars: the left’s university loonies”.

Seemingly extreme, but his classroom experience does add some legitimacy to the claims. On the other hand, the statement makes a number of broad assumptions.

Firstly, it assumes that teenagers listen to teachers long enough to be influenced.

Secondly, it implies that Australia as a nation is moving to the left. This position is difficult to sustain. The Liberal National Party ruled for nine years and became more conservative and right wing under Scott Morrison, and don’t appear to have changed under the leadership of Peter Dutton. Furthermore, that same government oversaw policies which were extremely ‘right wing’ in regards to issues such as the environment, immigration, gender equality and treatment of workers. Even the allocation of educational funding was anything but left wing – stripping funding from public universities and awarding millions of dollars to private schools while public schools remain underfunded. Australians voted them back into power in 2019.

If Australia is as ‘left wing’ as critics claim, why is the country planning to open new coal mines?

Why were we forced into a ‘gas-led recovery’ and why do fossil fuel corporations continue to be subsidised by the government? This would never happen in a country with a ‘leftist agenda’.

In addition, the claim ignores another vital fact. School curricula are created by governments. Education departments, politicians and bureaucrats combine to create the content of school subjects. Teachers deliver the subjects. History is extremely political. A teacher’s natural bias can never be removed from a subject, but as Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates reminds us:

“I think that unfortunately what’s happened in terms of the commentariat is these throwaway lines about the left being dominant in education etcetera — it’s nonsensical,” he said.

“The national curriculum is determined as a collective effort from education ministers, from all the states and territories and the Federal Government.”

Even if it is true that Australian schools carry a leftist agenda, can this be changed?

Yes, it can.

The solution is to increase teacher’s salaries.

Teachers salaries in Australia are famously low compared to other professions. So low in fact that many Australians probably don’t consider teaching a profession, certainly not on par with medicine, law, engineering or architecture.

Low wages mean people enter teaching for altruistic reasons. People who are motivated by altruism are more likely to be open minded and tolerant, to believe in the greater good, to want to contribute to society, to defend the natural environment, the oppressed and the marginalised – characteristics which define a person as left wing.

If anyone enters teaching for the money, they’re in for a rude shock.

Therein lies the solution: pay teachers more.

Raise the standard salary of every school teacher in Australia. This must be done at government level. The LNP could have done it during the nine years they spent in power until the recent federal election. They didn’t. Ironically, the same conservatives who bemoan the leftist agenda in Australian schools could have done something about it. They didn’t.

Raising teachers salaries, substantially and in real terms, will attract young people more motivated by money than pure altruism. It will attract people who prioritise the lifestyle afforded to them by a lucrative salary. These people, motivated more by more than altruism, are more likely to be individualistic, conservative and ‘right wing’.

More ‘right wing’ teachers would offset the influence of ‘left wing’ teachers in Australian schools as they deliver the mandated school curriculum, and restore the perceived imbalance. Conservatives, especially politicians, should stop whinging about a ‘leftist agenda’ and address the issue by raising Australian teachers’ salaries.

Image: Element5Digital

Australian teachers are respectable, but not respected.

The occupation of teaching is respectable but not respected in Australia. The nation’s teachers are considered to be law abiding, trustworthy, patient, kind, reliable, dedicated and altruistic, but their profession is not afforded the same status as other professions.

Australians collectively adhere to the adage,

If you can, do, if you can’t, teach.

There is an underlying assumption that English teachers are all failed writers, Maths teachers are failed engineers and Art teachers are failed artists. PE Teachers are failed athletes, and none of the teachers could ‘hack it in the real world’. Teaching as a profession, especially at primary or high school level, is perceived to be well below other professions such as medicine, law, finance and IT.

Academia and intellect have never been highly valued in Australia. The country’s national heroes are athletes, farmers, soldiers and lifeguards, despite the fact that Australians have been behind inventions such as WiFi technology, the cochlear implant, the black box fight recorder, spray-on skin, the electronic pacemaker and permaculture…

Better you than me…

Australians constantly remind teachers of the challenges of their profession with remarks such as these. Aussies tell teachers, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, or ‘what you do is so wonderful’ – but underneath all of these statements is the message,

I’m glad you work as a teacher, so that I don’t have to.

Parents themselves will tell teachers,

you must have the patience of a saint‘ to put up with teenagers, even when it is their own teenager who most tests the teacher’s patience. These are all nice things to say, but none of them convey any sense of respect.

The land Down Under also has a famous disrespect for authority, including teachers. Secondary school teachers understand this and know that earning the respect of their pupils in the early stages of the school year is imperative. This is forgivable – students are children. A lack of respect from adults indicates underlying cultural issues in Australia, in which a profession so vital to the prosperity of the nation is severely undervalued. It is, however, possible to transform the respectable profession into a respected profession, in order to benefit teachers and the nation as a whole.

Pay the teachers or pay the price

Australian teachers need to be altruistic, because they earn so little. In NSW, the average, experienced teacher earns about $80,000 per year. This is a decent wage when compared to other occupations, but not when compared to other professions such as law, medicine and IT, and not when considering that a public bus driver in Sydney can earn the same amount.

Salaries must increase in order to attract the best and brightest graduates to the profession. Society complains that many young teachers lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, and that criticism is often justified. The best way to attract more capable graduates to the profession is to raise salaries. Don’t forget, Australia is an expensive country, and a capitalist country in which income determines the worth of an occupation, and in which income determines a person’s ability to enjoy a decent standard of living.

The country is already paying the price for a lack of respect for teachers. Literacy and numeracy rates among children continue to fall, and the country trails other comparable nations on standardised education outcomes. University undergraduates display poor command of literacy and numeracy, and Australia’s youth will be competing with young people from all over the world for employment in a globalised world.

What’s wrong with a country in which those educating the next generation will struggle to buy their own house?

If Australia is to compete as a nation at international level, it must give more money and more respect to teachers.

Parents

Parents used to support teachers, now they attack them. This paradigm shift has been great, but recent. Modern parents will almost always side with their children and will blame teachers for their child’s poor behaviour, poor work ethic and poor grades. Some of the treatment of teachers is shocking, and it points to a diminishing respect for the teaching profession.

Data collection

Data collection is the new fad in education. Politicians and bureaucrats demand more and more data collection from teachers. It is mostly unnecessary and adds more paperwork to overworked teachers, who then can’t concentrate on teaching their students.

Data collection implies a lack of respect for teachers. It implies that teachers don’t know the individual and collective strengths and weaknesses of their students. NAPLAN is a classic example. It is a very time consuming task designed to show teachers and schools where their students are succeeding and failing. The bureaucrats ignored the fact that teachers already know this. Furthermore, excessive data collection provides no educational benefits, and exists primarily to provide politicians with statistics for their press releases. Most other professions would have an administrative assistant to carry out the same administrative tasks.

Ironically, Australian society shows little respect for teachers, but charges them with enormous responsibility. The curriculum encompasses everything from English and Maths to driver education, drug and alcohol education, cyber safety, anti-bullying, and so much more. On the one hand, it is natural to deliver these lessons in a place where young people are assembled en-masse, but how much of this can, and should, be taught by parents? To understand the enormous scope of the modern curriculum, look at the topics covered in the PD/H/PE subject.

Politicians and bureaucrats must take blame for this also. When a teenager dies of ecstasy, a new drug education program is demanded. If a child drowns in a backyard pool, a new water safety program is demanded. When a new educational program is demanded, it is implied that existing education programs are insufficient, and that teachers are not doing their job.

Bleeding heart lefties

Another criticism of teachers is that they are now all bleeding heart lefties, and that a left wing ideology has taken over Australian schools. Conservative voices love to make this claim.

If you want less left wing influence in schools, pay teachers more. People enter teaching mainly through a sense of altruism – to serve children, to serve society and to make the world a better place. Altruistic people are not motivated by money or wealth and their world view is thus likely to favour the common good and the health of the society, and not the individual. If conservatives want less left wing influence in schools, they could pay teachers what they are worth, and perhaps attract graduates who are currently chasing money in other professions and have a different world view.

That said, most secondary teachers would be very surprised if any of their students listened to them long enough to become ‘bleeding heart lefties’.

Australia now belongs to a global community. It must compete with other nations like it never has before and it’s prosperity depends greatly on the health of its education system. A strong education system is comprised of teachers who are not only respectable, but respected.

Image: Element5Digital

Australian Government to Pay Prisoners.

The Australian Government has shocked the world after launching a program to pay lucrative salaries to criminals. The world-first program will award salaries of up to $AU550,000 to prison inmates who have been found guilty of a range of crimes.

Prisoners will collect anywhere between $AU200,000 to $AU550,000 per annum depending on the nature of their crime and their status within the prison system. Prison gang leaders who achieve their title through bullying, cunning, treachery and cruelty stand to benefit the most from the scheme.

The plan was announced during the worst recession in the country since the great depression as Australia continues to suffer the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fact has drawn strong criticism of the scheme from an already frustrated populace, who witnessed the damage to the economy even before the pandemic.

“This plan is preposterous, outrageous, unfathomable and the worst example of public policy in Australian history” claimed critics across mass media.

“Anyone who has been proven to have committed a crime should not be paid a salary by taxpayers, let alone a salary as high as 500,000 dollars. Crimes of any form destroy the fabric of a society and detract from the lives of the victims, and in many cases they threaten the safety of the country and its institutions.”

Commentators questioned how the government could justify the policy when university academics are taking pay cuts or losing their jobs, when workers at the front line of the pandemic are denied sufficient personal protection equipment and when support for family child care expenses is being taken away.

One critic also highlighted the fact that many prisoners would never be able to earn $AU200,000 a year out in the real world.

In response to the criticism of the program, the current Australian government circulated a photo of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, building a hen house in his backyard.

Critics and everyday Australian citizens are also horrified that the scheme will award a pension to law breakers once they leave prison. The pension will gift criminals an average of $AU150,000 a year.

“Providing yet more taxpayers’ money to people who have committed crimes is even more ludicrous, especially since many criminals walk out of prison straight into a role as a consultant.

The public would be amazed to discover how many criminals are collecting handsome pay packets from book publishers and from streaming services who pay for inmates’ inside knowledge every time they need to make another gritty reality series about crime and prisons.”

Image: Milad B. Fakurian