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'After 5 years of teaching, I left the profession. No amount of money would get me back.'

Australia’s teaching profession is in peril.

This statement is unfortunately not an exaggeration, I know because for five years I was a teacher and saw it first-hand.

There are many reasons for this, many reasons why there is a massive drop out of teachers remaining in the profession (one in three leave within the first five years).

Some of these reasons include: navigating often challenging relationships with parents, a fixation with teachers competency, the widespread teacher bashing, poor public image, standardised testing and poor salaries. But for me, none of these are why I left.

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You see, for the five years I was a teacher I gave 200 per cent of myself to groups of students who appreciated it and groups of students who didn’t.

For the five years I was a teacher I worked while I was in the classroom, in the yard, in the staff room, at home, each week day, each week night and most weekends.

The work rarely ever stopped.

For five years, every day was different, my environment was different. I could never rely on it to be consistent because, simply put, your students are different each day. In its most basic form (perhaps, dare I say it, ‘superficial’ form), students come to school to learn but they come with a huge variety of backgrounds, temperaments, home life, strengths, weaknesses, health conditions, issues, behaviour and mood. This can be great but it can also be utterly taxing.

Teaching is a unique profession, one that unless you’ve done it, is vert easy to criticise and to judge. It’s easy to misunderstand. “Teachers have so many holidays,” “they only work six hours a day,” – yep, I have heard the offhand comments of those ignorant to what teachers actually do or from those who devalue the profession, those incorrect assumptions.

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The reality is though, a lot of what teachers do, you can’t be trained in and you can’t be prepared for. It takes an incredible amount of time and it can take over your life. Being a teacher is utterly taxing – it drains you in every way – physically, emotionally and psychologically because there is never time to switch off; you are not allowed to switch off.

For a long time I tried to manage the often explosive cocktail of variables: my work environment, my ever increasing workload, the huge expectations on me.

After five years though, I decided I would stop. And there is no amount of money that would ever get me back.

Over the past few weeks, in the media there have been countless articles about trying to attract high achievers, or ‘top students’ to the teaching profession.

Teachers complain about parents
"The reality is though, a lot of what teachers do, you can’t be trained in and you can’t be prepared for, it takes an incredible amount of time and it can take over your life." Image: Getty.

Currently, data indicates that this group are choosing other pathways instead.

In fact, there has been a steady decline of these ‘high achievers’ choosing teaching over the past 40 years, with the past decade seeing a one third drop of enrolment into teaching courses, more than any other undergraduate area of study. Of these ‘high achievers’ - considered to be students who have gained an ATAR of 80 or more -  only three percent are choosing teaching as a part of their undergraduate course.

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Salary is named as one of the major factors.

But I can say with 100 percent assurance, as an ex-teacher, who would have be considered one of these ‘high achievers’ that there is no amount of money that would ever get me back teaching because no amount of money can fix the issue of working conditions and workload teachers have to deal with, day in and day out.

The working conditions and the workload are so intense that The Australian Teachers Magazine said that teaching workloads are “at breaking point.”

The publication stated: “Despite the attrition crisis, teacher workload has increased significantly since 2013.”

The Australian Education Union federal president, Correna Haythorpe told the publication: “Sadly, the spike in teacher working hours is no surprise. Despite our warnings, the amount of extra work required of teachers after school and on the weekends mean that teacher workloads have been steadily growing year after year.”

She attributes the increase to Commonwealth funding cutbacks and an increasing burden on workloads.

She lists: “skyrocketing administration requirements”, reporting requirements, a focus on coaching students for standardised testing such as NAPLAN as significant contributors to teaching workloads. “None of these demands contribute to real student achievement,” she noted.

While our government tries to provide answers with simple solutions like cash incentives for teachers to teach in rural schools or to attract ‘high achievers’ to the profession, maybe we need to listen to the people who are already within in? The ‘high achievers’ that have selected teaching as a profession or had chosen it but left? Perhaps we need to look at the real problem- workload and working conditions and make improvements there?

If you want ‘high achievers’ to select teaching, if you want teachers to stay in the profession, how about listening to what they are saying and supporting them? Maybe if this had happened a bit earlier I, like many others would have stayed.

Shona Hendley, Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. You can follow her on Instagram @Shonamarion.

Tags: children , features , parenting-2 , teachers
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