I read within interest the idea that the government was exploring the idea of introducing a scheme to place anyone with a masters degree into a classroom as a way to respond to the demands of an ageing teaching workforce. This is the second time in the last few months that the idea of placing untrained teachers into classrooms has been mentioned as a way to remedy the perceived problem of a lack of supply in the New Zealand teaching workforce.
I say perceived because the comments of a teacher shortage seem so far removed from my reality where there is a huge demand for places not just in teacher education programmes but also to get a teaching job at the end of training.
Both institutions I applied to had far more applicants than spaces available for places in their graduate diploma programmes and in general my feeling is that we don’t have a supply problem in the teaching market right now with large numbers of last year’s teaching cohort unable to secure teaching jobs. So there’s a policy problem right there, our university system is churning large numbers of teaching graduates into a market that doesn’t have the capacity to cope with the demands of inducting new teachers who, I hasten to add, already hold teaching qualifications into the profession.
This might just be a case of bad timing as current teachers wait out the recession before retiring. The statistics definitely show a large skew towards the 50+ age group within the teaching workforce with not many teachers under 30. It’s worth realising that not everyone enters teaching as young 20 somethings fresh out of university. I’m *ahem* not in my 20s however even as an ‘older’ 30 something student there’s still a good 30 years worth of work ahead of me in teaching.
But perhaps I am being a bit short-sighted and maybe the problem is that we have oversupply problem in certain areas of the teaching workforce. I’m willing to wager a raspberry lamington that the area where the teacher skill shortage is most acute is probably secondary teachers of maths and science plus Maori medium teachers at all levels. I’m willing to wager another lamington that outside of the main centres the numbers of teaching applicants get a bit thinner on the ground.
So with these caveats to my argument acknowledged, I still think there needs to be a bit of unpacking of the idea that New Zealand needs untrained teachers due to a lack of supply and the first thing that strikes me is the use of language that is often associated with these schemes.
Prestigious is an odd word to sell people on the idea of taking up teaching as a career. To me it conjures up images of the glassy law firms down Shortland Street which seem far removed from the realities of the world of the classroom where any delusions of grandeur on the part of a teacher are quickly bought back to earth by having a student throw up in class or a ‘well duh’ roll of the eyes from a teenager. But perhaps what this language means is that the current crop of would-be teachers aren’t the sharpest tools in the academic toolbox and we need to do more to get the graduates who are vying to join the ranks of the Shortland Street law firms into teaching.
So lets address the elephant in the room right now.
I’m going to go out on a limb and wager a third lamington to say that the reason that the graduates vying to enter the ‘prestigious’ professions wouldn’t entertain teaching as a career is due to a lack of salary rather than a lack of prestige in teaching. There’s an argument to be made the low salary of teaching in comparison to the other professions likely contributes to the lack of prestige so I’ll do a quick analysis.
According to their website, a police officer starts out on a salary of $57,000 after just 19 weeks of paid training. In comparison I’ve already got an honours degree (that’s a bachelor’s degree with an additional year of post-graduate study) and I’m currently part-way through a graduate diploma in teaching. This means that when I graduate from my teacher education programme I’ll have 5 years full-time study under my belt, including two above bachelors level, which cost in excess of $20,000 just in tuition fees (not to mention loss of earnings as well as interest charged on my student loan before they went interest-free). I looked up the Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement and I will be earning less than a police officer before I’ve even factored in the costs of my education. I haven’t done a comparison of engineers, lawyers or accountants who all have 4 years of university education under their belts but I’ll go ahead and put another lamington on the table to say salary wise teaching doesn’t come out well.
Money is important to get people in the door but what are we doing to keep new teachers in teaching apart from ensuring our new graduates have employment in the first place?
Over the weekend I went to a birthday party of a good friend of mine who quit teaching after 5ish years on the job. He holds a first class masters in science and is a qualified teacher. My friend is person that we presumably want to attract into teaching (male, highly-qualified in science) and our education system lost him.
So how do we attract and retain talent in the teaching profession? I can’t help but quote from the brilliant RSA animate lecture by Daniel Pink who says that once you pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table, there’s three factors that lead to better performance:
- Autonomy – What if our educational policy was centred around the idea that teachers can and want to do awesome stuff and left them to do it while celebrating best practice when it occurs?
- Mastery – What if our education system said that after 5 years service, we’ll pay for you to do a masters in a topic of your choosing so long as you take what you learned back into the classroom? Also just as we wouldn’t expect our hospitals to be working with the same equipment as 40 years ago, neither should our classrooms.
- Purpose – This is the easiest sell. Purpose is what gets me excited about my upcoming teaching experience and the reason I quit a prestigious-type job to go teaching. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a group of kids take an idea you’ve introduced to them and make it into something far more awesome than you could have ever imagined.