THE TEACHER DROUGHT - Is it really a bad thing?
When I stumbled half-asleep into my morning lecture, I could have easily been mistaken as one of the library gremlins that always arrive at least an hour early to all of their classes. The university’s largest lecture hall that lay before me was barren and empty, except for a depressed looking lecturer praying for just one more student to walk in.
It is unfortunately a familiar story. Australia is in the midst of a ‘teacher drought’. According to the Bureau of Statistics, nearly 60% of all teachers in Australia leave education within the first five years of their careers. The Education faculty boasts one of the highest dropout rates, despite their courses being branded as some of the easiest. Student teachers and young educators are marching in a mass exodus that has left schools and universities scratching their heads for answers. However, after experiencing this ‘exodus’ first hand, it has led me begging the question, “is it necessarily a bad thing?”
I would personally be worried if 100% of these Education dropouts resembled the late Robin Williams from the Dead Poets’ Society. In reality though, the unfortunate school students that encounter these Uni dropouts are much more likely to cheer when they hear of their prac teacher’s tertiary exit, than stand on their tables in solidarity and chant “Oh captain, my captain”. There’s something vital that’s missing. Ask any educator that’s been through the ringer, this is a career that consumes lives. Afternoons and weekends are eaten up by meetings, planning, professional development and let’s not go into the vortex of free-time that is co-curricular activities. Yet, the sheer volume of teachers-to-be that only half-jokingly stated that ‘the holidays’ is the main reason they decided to pursue this career at my first ‘getting to know you tutorial’ was appalling.
I believe that the low intake score (currently an O.P 13, 71 Rank) disguises Education as being easy. Many people make the mistake of believing O.P is somehow related to difficulty, not demand. The world is demanding more quality teachers, not more lawyers and doctors. As Harper from the New York Times showed, there are now double the amount of law students than there are lawyers! Yet education can barely get 40% of its national cohort to graduate? This quagmire is leading to a tertiary craving for quality educators, but an influx of students with no real passion or drive. These students are evidently only in teaching because they could not think of anything better to do, or fancied themselves as being half-good at long division in grade school.
Naturally, when these students are hit with the harsh realities of practicum, the dropout rate is brutal, leaving only the fittest to survive. Personally, I have seen my cohort roughly halve each time we return from our practical experience. Yet, when I notice that some of these familiar faces are no longer with us, I am never surprised as to who decides that ‘teaching is not for them’. Is this a bad thing? I agree that more supportive tools need to be implemented to motivate young teachers, however it is hard to argue with a system that is only leaving the best of the best.
Finland, who has long been held up as the national standard for education believe that the ability to teach is something genetic, not learnt. This beats the western philosophy of, “Those you can, do. Those you cannot, teach”. Perhaps the question should not be about improving the tertiary system, which has been established to reward the natural born teachers within their cohorts. The question should be about the educational culture within Australia.
If being a teacher was a more respected profession, perhaps we would have a higher number of capable students choosing Education, rather than running off to be yet another lawyer or doctor. If a macro approach to fixing the teacher drought was taken, instead of focusing on micro issues, perhaps more of these capable students would see their course through, lowering the dropout rate in the process. I would go and ask my teaching mates what they thought, but I heard their Journalism course is going really well since they changed…