I’ve been trying to write this article for almost three months now, but struggled to express myself in a way that would be clear for non-teachers. I was scared to write about the issue as I’m expecting some amount of backlash from the public. I’ve finally taken the plunge and tried to explain why there is such a huge teacher shortage in NSW, from my own experience.
A lot of different things led up to me quitting the teaching profession. Big things and little things. In New South Wales, the teacher shortage is undeniable — as much as the government is trying to hide it from the public.
Some teachers feel that we should be paid more. I understand and respect this perspective but for me, it isn’t about the money. I’m well aware that by moving into a different profession (journalism) I’ll be taking a pay cut. Beginning teachers in the public sector are paid $73,000 a year, which increases to around $88,000 after they gain proficiency. This doesn’t bother me because I know that by changing careers I’ll be better able to look after myself — especially my mental health and wellbeing.
As for mental health, the expectations put on teachers are so high that it’s fatiguing. Teachers are expected to handle behaviour management while teaching large groups of students — and in doing so meeting the diverse needs of every student. Being a teacher requires an immense amount of emotional investment. You need to care about education, about the students, about the stakeholders (including parents). Yet if you care too much, it can destroy you emotionally. It’s about finding a balance between caring and not caring. “You need to have thick skin”, young teachers are told. But I don’t think having thick skin should be a solution to the problem of overwork.
It’s irrefutable. Teachers are overworked. The extra work they do involves creating programs, creating and marking assessment tasks, reporting on student outcomes and behaviour to the school, other teachers and parents and carers, attending meetings, participating in professional learning and development just to stay qualified to teach. All of this happens outside teaching hours — both before and after school as well as on weekends and holidays. Imagine in your eight hour work day you have six hours worth of meetings before you can do any of the work your supervisors have assigned to you. And if you don’t get that work done, you take it home. That’s what it’s like.
Yet people who have never stepped foot in a classroom are trying to tell teachers what it’s like. They try to tell teachers that they get twelve weeks of holidays and therefore have no right to complain. I try to stay away from news articles published about education because I know if I read the comments I’ll see people telling me how to do my job, even though they don’t have an education degree. If they aren’t telling me how to do my job, they’re just plain teacher-bashing. Everybody thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher just because they were a student once. Being told that I was just greedy and lazy hurts when I was doing my best for all of my students. I tried to give them the tiny amount of emotional energy that I had left — not even enough for myself or my partner or my family.
The teaching profession is an essential part of society, but the flaws in the system are causing burnout and have caused the teacher shortage. Change needs to happen, but it’s in the hands of the state government, and as a result, in the hands of the public. It’s in the hands of people who have been students but not teachers, and that’s what scares me the most. Let’s ask some teachers for once. Because I can guarantee that teachers are the ones that care the most about their profession and the people that it affects.
Courtney Borrett is a writer with a background in languages and education. She loves writing about Japanese language and popular culture, especially anime and video games. You can contact her via her Twitter (@koutonii).