Setting new teachers up for failure – Does the New Zealand education system eat its young?

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An interesting article appeared in my newsfeed this morning on retaining ‘quality’ teachers.

The first thing that struck me was the use of language. Would the study of retaining teachers have been as newsworthy if there wasn’t  ‘quality’ or ‘elite’ teachers to contrast with the legion of ‘bad’ teachers in our classrooms.

There’s often a red herring put out when talking about teacher conditions are talked about in the media that our education system and economy would be better if we fired all that bad teachers. However as this article demonstrates we don’t need to worry about that particular problem.

Our system is doing a great job of getting rid of young teachers.

Welcome to the educational hunger games.

Getting a job – good luck

It disheartens me how many excellent teachers New Zealand loses before they’ve even stepped foot in the classroom. Out of the people I know on my primary course at university maybe only a quarter had permanent positions post-graduation. Some eventually find a job through relief teaching. Many more get disheartened about the lack of job security and leave the profession permanently. That’s a huge waste of resources both a personal and state level to train large numbers of teachers for small number of positions.

Novopay – don’t stuff around with people’s salary
The quickest way to ensure people want to leave a job is not pay them what you promised. In 2013 my annual salary increment was months late. The situation was something that was gnawing away at me and definitely affected my teaching. By the time my salary arrived, it was a large lump sum which also tipped me into a higher tax bracket and I ended up with a tax bill at the end of the year. Awesome.

Teaching in a public school is quite possibly the only job where you will steal things from home to bring to school. The annual school bunfight where schools ask for donations to cover costs and parents quite rightly exclaim that they are entitled to a free education often leaves teachers in the middle. Teachers hate asking, but at the same time that salary will only stretch to a certain number of boxes of tissues.

Best and brightest – pay is only one factor
Don’t demand the best and then set up a working environment that micromanages the teaching profession to the point where all creativity, innovation and passion that new teachers bring to the education system is progressively squeezed out of them. Yet if we look at the current educational policy environment that’s exactly what’s happening. National standards, PaCT, a code of teacher conduct rather than ethics and stripping teachers of the right to democratically govern their profession goes against teacher opinion.

You can’t demand a cordon bleu chef to flip burgers at McDonalds year after year and then act surprised when they look elsewhere for opportunities.

New teachers won’t save a bad school culture
Far from being the superhero there to save the day, no number of new teachers will affect change in a school where the leadership is not inspiring its entire staff to professionally develop. New teachers are a good canary in the bird mine for bigger problems. A good school will ensure that their newly qualified teachers are well supported and mentored in order to establish themselves in the profession. They’ll also have plenty of teachers on staff who could fulfil that role. If you want to retain good teachers, school leadership is a huge and largely unexamined factor.

Class sizes matters
The claim that class sizes doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the teacher is often made by economists who have never set foot in a classroom. Class sizes matter a great deal to the people on the ground who have to prepare lessons, resources, assess, keep in touch with families and write reports. Hattie’s research says class size doesn’t matter, effective feedback does. But simple maths would show that the finite resource of teacher time becomes smaller when it is shared amongst a greater number of people.

Career opportunities
I’d hazard a guess that the problems with retention start occurring around the fifth year in teaching. Management units are often used as a way to financially reward teachers for taking on responsibilities in curriculum and managing extra curricula activities. But often that means more meetings and paperwork. Like most teachers I teach because I loathe meetings and paperwork!

In a school with a distributed leadership there will be plenty of opportunities to develop specialities and share expertise with others.

But is that enough?

Further study, opportunities to travel and connecting with the private sector will also grow a teacher. We should want our teachers living interesting lives. Part of the job description is inspire those around them that being an adult is awesome.

But to be inspiring sometimes you need time to be inspired.

A global education market 
New Zealand teachers are well regarded overseas and can be found at prestigious international schools the world over and that market continues to increase. Yes adventure plays a part but the standard of living is so much higher than what I had in New Zealand. I currently teach in Singapore where my salary is above what I would expect to make at the top of the teaching scale back home. Throw in small class sizes, resources, a classroom assistant and not having to play social worker means that I can actually focus on what I trained to do, teach.

5 thoughts on “Setting new teachers up for failure – Does the New Zealand education system eat its young?

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  1. From my limited experience it’s the same in Australia. And having recently gone through the teacher education system, I can say that the government and academia loves to tell us what we should be doing, but not how we can actually do it given the realities of the job.


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