Why Are More and More Experienced Teachers Leaving the Profession?
It has been an ongoing debate, perhaps ever since education was first established as an essential pillar of society – teacher’s pay. When you discuss the role that teacher’s play in all of our lives, it is hard to think of a more important profession. Our children spend a large proportion of their time at school being influenced by what they are taught and, more importantly, how they are taught. Teachers, however, are often seen as no more than a glorified babysitting service, which belittles the work they put into educating the future generations.
Recent statistics show that the UK has the second youngest teaching workforce in secondary education, after Indonesia. When it comes to primary education, the UK is way out ahead, with 31% of staff under 30. Although, to a certain extent, this should be celebrated, there is also the overbearing concern of the experience leaving the sector by the bus load.
One of the major contributing factors to teachers over 50 leaving education is stress. This is added to by the fact that teachers put in more overtime hours than any other public sector professionals. The bureaucracy and OFSTED process has further added to this stress, meaning that many teachers simply burn out early.
For any parent, the stress of keeping even just one or two children in order can, at times, be overwhelming. Teachers, however, are expected to educate a room with dozens of students, from a diversity of backgrounds and with a range of needs and intelligence levels, whilst maintaining discipline. The simple maintaining of calm is difficult enough, before you even throw in the enthusiasm of many teachers to have a real impact on the students. When you add to this the constraints that many teachers find themselves under, the profession can be incredibly frustrating, stressful and disillusioning.
Education is Only Ever as Good as the Teacher!
One government approach to improve education has been to introduce a range of initiatives aimed at ‘making teachers better’. This has, however, had the opposite impact on teachers, who often feel disillusioned and demotivated as a result.
A large proportion of teachers enter the profession with a true passion to teach. This passion is often sucked out by politicians – who, by the way, have never been teachers – trying to create teacher templates, which all professionals must fit into. This limits the freedom and flexibility of the teaching approach and reduces individualistic approaches. This impacts both on the motivation of teachers and the students they teach, simultaneously.
Empowerment is Key
In reality, what it comes down to is empowerment. Teachers must feel in control of their profession and the results they are striving to achieve. They can’t be made to feel like simple cogs in a long chain of monotony. They need to believe that education is truly inspirational and that their own approach and philosophy towards it can result in tangible achievement.
Collaboration is a key component of this, when it comes to training. When training is forced upon teachers, it is almost like squeezing them all into a one-size-fits-all mould and hoping that they pop out of the other side as efficient and driven education actors. By developing teacher confidence and performance collaboratively, teachers feel that they are being supported, rather than directed, and this helps to increase the levels of trust and, therefore, job satisfaction.
Attrition Rate of New Teachers
Although seemingly a different subject altogether to the withdrawal from the sector of experienced teachers, the 5-year survival rate of new teachers also indicates the flaws in the sector. A recent Guardian article suggested that half of all new teachers in Australia quit the profession within the first five years. This shows the immense pressure which is placed on their shoulders from day one. In most other industries, you have many years, decades even, to truly find your feet, before embracing more responsibilities, which usually comes with much better pay. In teaching, however, you are rather thrown in at the deep end and this can be a contributing factor to early burn out, too.
What Can Be Done?
As mentioned previously, empowerment is really the crucial word here. Teachers have to feel that they are in control of the results they are striving towards. If they simply feel that they are puppets on a long and tangled string, led by inexperienced politicians, they will lose motivation. It is crucial that they feel supported, but not pressured; understood and not castigated. Their job is a tough one; one which requires collaborative development and support to individualistic approaches. In this way, passion, enthusiasm, belief and confidence can all be nurtured, in order to produce excellent results.