Why They Leave

There has been more exposure in the last week, in the broad media, regarding the increasingly high numbers of teachers leaving teaching. One such article suggested that 53% of trained teachers are no longer working in the field. They always focus on the young teachers. Older teachers are leaving or taking extended periods of leave too. Like me. 

The reporters state that there is not enough data about why teachers aren’t teaching. I scoff at this. The Department has our details. Call them. Or continue reading …

When I decided to be a teacher, I felt the calling. I was only 5 so I couldn’t articulate why, I just knew teaching was what I was meant to do. Initially I wanted to be a primary school teacher but by the time I was seventeen, I had moved into a calling for high school teaching. I loved English, so high school English became the dream.

My home experiences during my adolescence also impacted this change. After my parents divorced when I was in Year 8, and fighting in both homes became the norm, culminating in me moving between my mum and my dad’s houses, and ultimately living in a caravan in a friend’s backyard for a few months after receiving the beating of a lifetime, I didn’t want any child to feel as alone as I had during my high school years. I vowed that whilstever I was in a school, kids would have an adult they could turn to for support, whether I taught them or not. For me, it was the responsibility of the adults to protect the children. 

When I was in my first year of teaching, 1993, I was interviewed by a local newspaper. They asked why I wanted to teach. My response was simple, “To change the world.” 

Over time this idealism has tempered itself. I still want to change the world, and believe education is vital in this, but have settled for changing the children’s lives I teach so that they are empowered and enabled to change the world. 

So, why am I on leave, initially hoping to leave teaching (but not so much today because I miss it from my core)? 

Because teaching is run by bureaucrats and politicians who have absolutely no idea about what teaching is, and why teachers teach. 

As a result, the art of teaching has been seriously compromised. 

Administration duties have taken over from the magic of programming, preparing lessons and units, and actually teaching. Stupid behaviour and clothing restrictions have been mandated to ensure that teachers are “professional” (pfft, please, professionalism is an attitude not an appearance). 

Data collection, which only serves to demoralise teachers and students, and takes away from the magic of teaching by taking time from preparing resources, has become the most recent catch cry; let’s take time from teachers teaching to collect data do that the results for kids stay low. 

Teachers, young and old, to stay on top of everything that is required, lose the precious work-life balance, lose time with their families, lose time to exercise, lose time full stop, and begin to resent the career they so nobly entered. 

Not only that, but teachers are no longer respected by society. Parents think nothing of abusing teachers, of telling them how to do their job, and of enabling their child’s poor behaviour choices to continue. All the while, belittling the teacher’s knowledge of children and pedagogy. The media, politicians, parents, the average person on the steeet, all think they know better than the people at the chalk face. I shake my head. 

And then, there is no protection for the teachers who find themselves facing an investigation, or accusations of misconduct, or being bullied by other teachers/deputy principals/principals/students, because the child comes first. And whilst they should, it shouldn’t always be at the expense of diligent teachers who are doing the best they can under hopeless circumstances most of the time. 

As a classroom teacher, throughout the last twenty four years, I can’t tell you how many mandatory referrals I have made to principals with students who have suffered some type of heinous abuse. I can tell you how many times the system has supported my welfare needs at these times. Nil. We are expected to listen to the crimes of others, deal with the results of post traumatic stress in our kids, refer them so that the system can continue to let the kids down because the system is under resourced and under funded, WITH NO SUPPORT for us. 

At the end of the year before last, I faced an excruciating decision: immediately refer alleged misconduct of another staff member possibly setting the kids up for reprisals without ongoing support, or protect the welfare of myself and the kids and build resilience so we could cope with the fallout. I waited to refer, I did refer, but not straight away. 

Investigation. 

I could cop that except that it was months of not knowing before I found out why I was under investigation, and then more months before I had a chance to respond, and then because other people lied in their reports and the investigators did not ask me for evidence (dodgy investigation at best), I was labelled as a self-serving liar.

Teachers are leaving because it is not the profession it once was, and because they are not protected from ever increasing workload, attacks from every angle, and dodgy investigations. Because they receive no support to do their job. Because society is disconnected and kids embody this disconnection and teachers deal with the impact of this every day. Because the system doesn’t cater for changes in the way kids learn in the 21st century. 

Because it is just too hard … 

and no one cares. 

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