'I've been a teacher 20 years. This is why we are facing a shortage.'

We are facing a teacher shortage crisis. A few years ago, it was reported that 1 in 5 teachers would leave the profession after the first five years of graduating and that in 2025, there will be a shortfall of 4000 high school teachers nationwide. This is based on Australian data, so I don't know how other countries are coping, but considering what the world has experienced over the last five years, it's a no-brainer that we are dealing with a universal issue.

I've been a teacher since 2007 (secondary qualified majoring in English and Drama) and I've had my share of ups and downs in the education industry. I was a department head for six years; I was a year-level coordinator for one, and I was at a school for 11 years before I experienced sheer burnout, then spent the rest of my teaching years doing a combination of CRT (casual relief teaching) and short term/maternity leave contracts.

In other words, I was never willing to stay at one school for an exorbitant period of time mostly due to my experience at my first school where I felt I put "all of my eggs in one basket" because I thought that was what was expected for all teachers. We eat, breathe, and sleep our job because we've heard the same old platitudes in the past: teaching is not a job, it's a calling. Teaching is a privilege. Teachers can change the leaders of tomorrow, and it's not something that everyone can do, due to the sheer responsibility that one must carry. It's quite a lot to take on because if a child is not progressing as well in whatever field they are participating in, the first instinct is to blame the teacher/coach. No wonder we're leaving in droves!


Watch: Here's to the great teachers. Post continues after video.

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Over the past few years, I have often questioned whether I still have the desire to teach because it's not necessarily my sole passion. Yes, I know teachers shouldn't be in the field if they see it as merely a job and not a calling, and surely it's not a job - it's a career and because your career is teaching, surely you should be called to do it. Right?

It wasn't until I came across an opinion piece by writer, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) who divided our working lives into four main categories: Hobby, Job, Career and Vocation, that I truly began to understand the challenge facing teachers right now.


Gilbert cites a hobby as, "Something that you do for pleasure, relaxation, distraction or mild curiosity." Speaking from experience, I believe it is absolutely essential for teachers to take up a hobby, preferably one that has nothing to do with what they teach. 

For example, in my second year of teaching, I decided I wanted to learn how to sing after seeing a production of Wicked the Musical with my work colleagues. 


I also took ballroom dance lessons for a while, learned how to play the guitar and took up long-distance running. 

But what I have noticed is that many teachers use their spare time taking up hobbies that will upskill them in their specific area of teaching. 

As a drama teacher, you will often be roped into putting on the school production, and I thought it was expected of me to get involved in productions (both as a performer and backstage crew) outside of school. This did actually help, however, over time it came at a price. I was often feeling burnt out going straight to rehearsals after teaching for a full day. I'm not saying you shouldn't do this, but if you decide to devote your hobby to something that is linked to what you do in the classroom, do it only if it relaxes you, stimulates your curiosity or gives you pleasure. You deserve the time off to do something that invigorates you. 


According to Gilbert, a job doesn't have to be seen as something demoralising, or even "awesome" but simply as a way to look after yourself in the world. 

Now for many teachers, that's seen as a 'no-no' because it's drummed into you that teaching shouldn't 'just' be a job.

When I decided to get into CRT work, I was pregnant with my first child and I knew I couldn't really get into something long-term because I needed to take time off for motherhood.

I also remember on one of my first lectures I attended while studying to teach, our lecturer told us that if we were only doing this because of the perks of having school holidays throughout the year, we're in the wrong business. However, if you're a parent, being able to synch your holidays with your kids is a real benefit, especially when you are struggling to look for a holiday program that would accommodate your little ones because your job doesn't have the flexibility to cater to them. 


I have to say that sometimes the school holidays and the possibility of teaching at the same school your child goes to (I'm not a helicopter parent who has to monitor my child's every move, don't worry) are the main reason I'm still in the profession, and that is okay. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have any passion for what you do (students can smell disconnection a mile away and will feed on that), but your job doesn't have to take over your entire life. It's called "work, life, balance" - as hard as it sounds, make it your lifetime goal to try to at least have everything in equal harmony. Your well-being will thank you for it.  


Now this is where I think the problem lies, and why we are facing such a shortfall of teachers in today's world. A career, according to Gilbert, is "something that you build over the years with energy, passion, and commitment."

I think every teacher starts off this way. We've been brainwashed while watching movies of teachers standing on tables quoting "Captain, my captain" while reciting poetry (Dead Poets Society), tailoring senior curriculum to make it seem more relevant to disinterested youths (To Sir with Love) or using unorthodox tactics to help underachieving students excel (Stand and Deliver). But the reality is, it's this vim for making a difference that eventually wears off, especially when you are fighting against the system that could represent a range of barriers making it hard for you to make your mark.


Barriers such as curriculum standards, school policies, procedures and values, occupational health and safety, unrealistic performance standards, lack of time allocation, poor leadership, lack of resources, not to mention student behaviour management and parents who may have issues with your teaching methodology. As the only Drama teacher at the school, I tried to change the culture by making it a place where the Performing Arts were valued. Over time, I found this an uphill battle due to a lack of student enrolments because most of the students came from families who worked two jobs (per person) and they wanted their investment to result in a child genius who would eventually become a lawyer, an engineer or at best, a doctor. How is Drama going to do to help my child become a brain surgeon, anyway?

Gilbert also asserts that "not everyone has to have a career" which is why I think there's been a huge shift in outlook for teachers who feel that having a career is not essential. Some teachers may want to climb the corporate ladder and become a year-level coordinator, a head of faculty, a Vice Principal or even a School Principal, which is a noble venture for some. Yet at the same time those who are not so career driven, for the sake of their self-preservation, are either choosing to leave or lowering their expectations 


Before I mentioned that in my second year of teaching, I decided to learn how to sing. Over the years, I developed this skill, and I started writing and recording music as well as performing in several bands. I now have a side hustle singing at various venues and events, which makes me a moderate income. I've started to see my singing as my career and my teaching more as my 'job'. 

That doesn't mean I'll quit teaching and focus solely on my music career. As a mother who also has regular expenses and a mortgage, that would be insane! Like Gilbert said, "a job is vital, but don't make it YOUR LIFE." (Teachers, are you hearing me here?) 


According to Gilbert, the word "vocation" comes from the Latin verb "vocare" meaning "to call". Previously I mentioned, "Teaching is not a job, it's a calling", because to be a teacher, you have to have an inner desire to make a difference. While a career is dependent on other people, no one can take away your vocation.

Listen to The Quicky where The Quicky Junior chats to a current and former teacher to find out why so many people want to leave the profession. Post continues after audio.

When we were plunged into lockdown, teachers were struggling to come up with new ways to educate and motivate students, and while the focus on student (and even parent) wellbeing was in the media spotlight, there seemed to be very little focus on teacher welfare. When we gradually moved out of lockdown, a lot of students came out of the woodwork with a range of emotional, social, mental and academic problems, and teachers were expected to "pick up the slack" and try to cater to all of these issues. 


As a result, behavioural issues were on the rise, teachers were not only teach but also be counsellors, psychologists, and many other things outside of their scope of practice. It is also becoming a trend now that students don't have to be in the classroom anymore if they are feeling overwhelmed, and if a teacher tries to stop that child from leaving, they are accused of "harming" the child. One CRT colleague mentioned that what she's noticing in most public schools is most of the kids just leave the class, stay outside and do nothing. 

How is it possible to feel compelled to teach when it seems you have the whole system against you or that others don't value the work that you do?

I wish I knew how to fix this problem. There was a time when teachers saw their job as a hobby, a job, a career and a vocation. 

This is no longer the case. 

Mental health is becoming a top priority for the entire world. Maybe we (as teachers) need to look in the same direction as well.

Feature image: Supplied.

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