Too many teachers leave their profession within the first five years of teaching. Some Australian research puts that number at around 50%, and the numbers are similar in other developed countries.
We know some of the reasons why so many teachers leave the profession. We know that many feel the pressure of increased professional demands, more government regulations and the administrative overload. We also know that high teacher attrition rates have a negative impact on student achievement. We can’t afford to lose good teachers.
We no longer expect students just to be just literate and numerate when they leave school. Our world demands that them to be critical and creative thinkers, innovative, collaborative, adaptable life long-learners. Add to this the regulatory burden of having teaching, learning and assessment monitored and there is little wonder why many teachers ask themselves the question: is it all worth it?
Newly graduated teachers are expected to hit the ground running after having spent a minimum of four years in an industrial model of teacher training only to find the real world of teaching is very different. For some, it can be disheartening. Most acknowledge that mentoring programs and ongoing support are essential, provided there is sufficient time and resources available. Ironically, these are the two things schools say they lack.
Richard Elmore once said that a non-professional teaching force is a compliant one. We need a new professionalism that is not borne from industrial mindsets or instruments for mandating teachers’ work. The external accountability mechanisms actually disempower the very people we need to do the job well. Professional competence, confidence and capabilities need to built from the inside out, not the outside in.
We need to give back to teachers control of the learning agenda. They also need to be supported with high-quality professional experiences. I want to make clear that I am not advocating an ‘anything goes’ approach. Good teachers are prepared to be accountable and responsible for their work and the work of their colleagues. But making them jump through hoop after hoop to justify their existence is draining and disheartening.
Twenty years ago Finland liberated their teachers from the tyranny of standardised testing and school inspections because they trusted their teachers to make the required pedagogical decisions and judgements to improve student outcomes. It worked. I believe it would work here too. Teachers will get the greatest satisfaction, and the trust they are entitled to from the community, when they are afforded the freedom to do what they signed up to do, and that’s teach.