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New book explores the global problem of teacher retention

We need a lot of teachers but many of the best stay a short while in the profession and change jobs, it’s a global problem and one that resists any single solution.

Globally by 2030, the world will need to recruit almost 69 million teachers – almost 25 million primary school teachers and just under 45 million secondary teachers.

And while the bulk of that recruitment will be to replace those retiring from teaching, the demand for extra teachers to expand access to education for as many children as possible, is substantial.

These OECD predictions come as countries around the world face increasing teacher shortages.

In England, Australia, the US and New Zealand there are widespread shortages of maths and science teachers, in Germany primary school teachers are hard to come by and in most western nations, low SES and or remote schools are increasingly difficult to staff.

And against all of this strain on the system, teacher retention, especially the retention of teachers who are new to the profession has become a troubling issue, with many leaving the field within just five years in the job.

In their latest book, Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers, UniSA education experts Associate Professor Anna Sullivan and Professor Bruce Johnson, with local and international research colleagues including Professor Michele Simons from Western Sydney University, take a close look at what is going on with the teaching profession and unpack the politics and myths that may be contributing to an industry exodus.

Assoc Prof Sullivan says the book exposes both the mythmaking about the profession and the genuine problems that need to be addressed.

“The research supporting each of the 11 chapters in the book is thorough and what it shows is that new teachers face a dilemma,” she says.

“There is one school of thought that young teachers need to be monitored and mentored, but overdone, that process disempowers them and undervalues the learning and new skills they bring to their role.

“At the same time, to leave new teachers completely unsupported is unreasonable, so we need to look for a balance that appreciates them as new professionals and supports them to grow into their job.

“A lot of negative media attention, reinforced by politicking and a conservative view of education, has painted new teachers as ill-prepared and undermines the excellent education and training they undertake to become teachers. There is an expectation that they should be ‘classroom-ready’ – but the sheer diversity of classrooms must make us challenge that idea.

“As with many debates – the truth lies in the middle ground. Nobody expects a newly graduated surgeon to perform the trickiest heart surgery, yet time and again we see new teachers only able to get full time work in schools where students have the most complex and difficult education needs.

“These are challenging jobs for even the most experienced teachers, so when we put new teachers in that environment, the system is setting them up to fail.”

Assoc Prof Sullivan says many factors contribute to poor teacher retention, but key facts that are underreported include the tenuous nature of early employment.

“Most new teachers are unable to land a permanent job, with many only casually employed as temporary teachers. About 72 per cent of new teachers only gain temporary positions straight out of university.

“It would make much more sense for temporary positions to be filled by experienced teachers and for new teachers to gain more stable roles where they can grow in the job.”

She says making judgments about teacher retention and teacher education predicated on 20th century understandings of the education landscape is unwise.

“So much has changed in education, in learning theory and in the environment in which children learn and teachers teach,” Assoc Prof Sullivan says.

“In this book we are bringing to light some important issues about teacher retention, and we hope to ignite intelligent, informed debate that will help to encourage more teachers to stay in the education sector.”

Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers is published by Springer.
 


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