'It's a lot of pain for not a lot of gain.' Why Australia is running out of teachers.

As students across the country returned to the classroom last week, schools continue to face an unprecedented teacher shortage, leaving tens of thousands of students without adequate educators as they start a new school year.

In NSW alone there are more than 2000 full-time positions left empty, which includes everything from substitutes to English and Math teachers, and even school principals.

There is a clear reason for this shortage: not enough young Australians want to become teachers.

The number of students choosing to study teaching at university is at its lowest since 2016, with education ranking 7th out of 11 major disciplines according to the University Admissions Centre. 

Watch: There are a lot of things teachers do that we don't even know about. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

This is of no surprise to Issey, a 4th-year primary education student at ACU in North Sydney, who says that the intense nature of the degree and the low pay that teachers receive is a huge deterrent for young people.

"There's a lot of pain for not a lot of gain," says Issey, who points out that the all-consuming nature of the job means that teachers work a lot more than just the school hours, with nights spent making lesson plans and early mornings getting the classroom ready. 

"Unless you're really passionate about teaching, it's not an enticing degree to study," says Issey, with the demands of unpaid placements taking a toll on students.


"Student teachers can spend up to 10 weeks in practicals at a time, sometimes in their first year of university," she says, highlighting the 'baptism by fire' approach that many student teachers are undergoing.

While it is crucial for student teachers to learn through being in the classroom and getting firsthand experience, it can also be a very tough ask for young people.

"We miss out on a lot of holiday time because of pracs, and have to reshuffle our whole lives to juggle our other studies, jobs, and social lives while basically doing unpaid full-time work," she says. The result is that many students feel burnt out before they even join the workforce, and many choose to leave the course.

Up to 50 per cent of teaching students across Australia do not complete the degree, according to the education minister, a considerably higher dropout rate than other major courses like science or health studies.

Issey has witnessed about a third of her cohort drop out over the past three years, with one of her peers changing degrees after their first placement because it was 'just too stressful'. 

One of the positives is that the remaining students have built a strong bond, described by Issey as "a little teacher community" that supports each other through their studies and as they prepare to go into the workforce. 

Issey says her passion for teaching outweighs the challenges of the degree, and her experience as a kids' football coach for several years motivated her decision to study teaching.

"I love working with kids," says Issey, "but if I didn't have that driving me there's no way I would just choose teaching." Even those who are passionate about teaching are struggling in the current climate, with more teachers resigning before they reach retirement due to exhaustion and burnout.


Listen: The Quicky speaks to two teachers, one who has resigned and one who is thinking about quitting, to find out how the situation has become so bad. Post continues after audio.

It's concerning for the student teachers to see how much stress the education system is under, with Issey witnessing firsthand the impacts of shortages in the classroom.

"I have been offered jobs while doing placements, without even finishing my teaching degree because they are so desperate for people to help out," says Issey.

She has been offered a job as a Learning Support Officer to help students with special needs in the classroom, because there are so few specialist teachers and learning assistants to support children with physical and intellectual disabilities. There are serious concerns about the impact this will have on children with ADHD, autism, reading difficulties or other disabilities in the long run, according to the NSW teacher's federation.

The teacher shortage is not limited to public schools, with many private schools struggling to attract teachers, despite the pay rise that teachers received at the end of 2023, which increased graduate teacher salaries by up to $10,000.

Regional and rural areas are struggling the most, unable to find both full-time and casual teachers, resulting in classes being merged and overcrowded. With a lack of substitute teachers available in more remote areas, the disruption to students education will continue to grow.

The reality is that as our population continues to grow the stress on schools will be exacerbated without a serious increase in the number of people studying and sticking with teaching.

Feature Image: Getty.

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