The question of teacher supply is a problem looming on the education horizon.
Professor Barry Harper, Dean of Education at the University of Wollongong, recently raised the need for the Australian community to prepare for a looming teacher shortage. If educational systems ignore his advice, this may well result in schools without teachers.
Harper, in his paper ‘Factors fuelling the looming teacher shortage’ (Media @ University of Woollongong) advises that a significant percentage of teachers will be retiring within the next five to ten years. Educational authorities understand that a vacuum in teacher supply will create problems. He states that “ … efforts to plug the gaps left by retirees are being thwarted by two factors. … One is the attraction of teaching overseas … the other is a desire by a significant number of teaching graduates to only teach for a short period of time before moving on to other careers.”
The number of teaching graduates attracted to overseas teaching destinations runs into the thousands. As far back as 2003, British school principals had headhunted 3,000 Australian teachers. “There are also hundreds of Australian teachers working in New York schools with many more scattered throughout North America … and Canada.” (Harper)
Harper suggests that Australian teacher graduates are classroom ready because their training includes first hand practical teaching experience. They are attracted overseas by salary and the experience of living abroad. An upside for Australia is that they don’t want to stay away forever. They come back with a world view of education ready to commit to teaching in our classrooms.
“Unfortunately Australian public school systems do not recognise (their qualities). Rather, teachers returning from overseas find themselves behind their colleagues who stayed at home, both in pay and promotional opportunities.” (Harper)
Adjusting the profession to accord equity to both returning from overseas and stay-at-home educators, may help to boost overall teacher numbers.
The more significant issue is that of graduating teachers opting for short term rather than long term careers. Various studies referred to by Harper confirm that fewer graduating secondary students are opting to train as teachers, with 25% of graduating teachers opting out within five years of starting their careers. “Around 32% of qualified teachers (are) working outside the profession.” (Harper).
This issue is one that must be addressed before chronic teacher shortages become a school and classroom reality. The jury is out on whether education ministers and their departments “ … can make our schools attractive for a long term (teacher) commitment rather than as staging posts for other careers.”