What do you think the toughest part of being a new teacher is?
“Dealing with a room of rowdy children” seems the most obvious answer, and while it’s certainly up there, it’s not the answer I was looking for. No, it’s the responsibility outside the classroom that weighs heaviest on newcomers to the profession and, in Australia, it’s causing up to 50% of them to quit within their first five years.
This isn’t just an estimate based on my own experience. According to the Hunter Institute of Mental Health’s Start Well report, over 66% of teachers surveyed said time management and a heavy workload are the biggest challenges they face in their fledgling careers. It’s one of the few parts of the job that can’t be experienced in their training, and yet they are expected to prove as efficient in this regards as their more experienced colleagues.
Most are forced to work late nights, weekends, and holidays as a result, derailing their work/life balance, and doing alarming damage to their overall well-being.
It’s an issue that could be easily avoided via structured peer support, but such support comes down to the individual schools. Over two-thirds said they had other teachers they could turn to for help in a social capacity, but only one in four described their experience with official peer support systems as a positive one.
Rather than receiving guidance, they’re instead supposed to learn on the job, but that’s difficult when they already spend more time in the classroom than their international counterparts.
Research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found Australian teachers spend 7806 hours in direct interaction with students through the duration of their education between the ages of 7 and 14 (the minimum age at which education is compulsory in OECD countries). The only country where teachers spend more time with students is Italy.
That’s well above the OECD average of 6497 hours, but more importantly, the figure stands in dire contrast with those reported in more progressive countries. Finland, for instance, clocks in at 5468 hours.
Australia’s education system is relatively high-performing, but over the past decade, Finland’s school system has been lauded as the most successful in the world. We could learn a lot from them.
Clearly, teacher/student interaction does not wholly define student success, and yet the nation’s education system pushes contact time, and teachers, to the limit.
The only way to keep teachers engaged, efficient, and happy is to change the system. The future of work relies on the future of education, but there will be non if teachers continue to burn out. In the interim, peer support is critical. If you are a teacher, reach out to new colleagues early on, and give them what support you can. It will make a difference.