'I was at the teachers' strike this week. These are the stories you're not hearing.'

You don’t think this is a crisis? There are predictions that schools in New South Wales will run out of teachers in the next five years. 

As a high school teacher in rural NSW, I can report that we are already running out.

That’s why, on Tuesday, I took part in the first 24-hour strike in a decade to demand that the government act on teacher shortages now. Our students deserve teachers in every classroom, teaching areas they are qualified and trained in.

Read more: "I am one of the public school teachers striking in NSW this week. We are not okay."

We met in Bathurst for our rally, along with other teachers from an area that spans Young in the south to Dunedoo in the north. Teachers and principals from schools across the region, from Lithgow and Bathurst, Kandos and Blayney and beyond, united to speak out about the shortages that are making themselves felt now, in 2021. 

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Read these stories from the rally. Then try telling me this is not a crisis.

One teacher told us that her school had no maths teachers, so a history teacher is currently teaching maths to fill in.

They advertised for a Head Teacher of Maths twice, no takers. To get by, the previous Head Teacher has come out of retirement. She said she’d “do it for the kids,” though in her life plan, her teaching days should be behind her. The school proposed advertising for a Head Teacher of Administration, a more flexible advertisement that might attract a wider pool of applicants. It wouldn’t solve the lack of maths teachers, but it would add a member of executive staff to the school. The Department knocked that on the head. 


“You’ll find someone. Advertise again,” the school was told. 

“Where will we find one?” the teacher wondered aloud. 

Where? Among the vineyards? In a canola field? Where exactly does the department propose they will find a maths teacher if two adverts haven’t attracted one to that school?

Our students deserve better. They deserve a qualified maths teacher.

Then we heard from a principal from a small primary school nearby. With two weeks to go of the school year, her school does not have a Stage 1 (Year 1 and 2) teacher for 2022. She talked about her options. She could reduce the music, art, or sport programs, and have those teachers cover the Year 1 and 2 class instead of offering music, art, and sport to kids. 

Or the school could take planning time from the teachers they have, and use that time to plug the gap. But what will happen if, or when, they burn out? Public school kids deserve a Year 1 teacher.

In July, Sarah Mitchell, the state education minister, told parliament: “The Department of Education currently has, and will maintain, an adequate supply of teachers to meet the needs of the New South Wales school system.”  

Come visit my school, Minister. Please. Teachers in schools around here will tell you that is not true. Indeed, Sarah Mitchell agreed it’s not true. In February 2020, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald she admitted “there are issues with teacher shortages across the state”.

Another teacher at the rally recalled being asked by a student on Monday why he was striking. Good question. So, the teacher asked the class how many of them that year had been thrown together with other classes in the gym for lessons together, rather than having normal lessons, separately in their own classroom, with their own teacher. Every student raised their hand. He then asked them how many had been thrown together with other classes twice in one day. All those hands stayed in the air. If his school has six periods per day, that means for a third of their learning time, they are basically supervised in a big hall rather than learning with their own teacher.

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The Education Minister knows about this indignity. In question time in parliament on August 31, 2021, she said, “I am advised that minimal supervision occurred on just over 475 times at Murrumbidgee Regional High School in 2021. Classes have been merged just over 143 times.” Those students deserve a dedicated teacher. They deserve dedicated learning.

My school currently has more than five unfilled vacancies for 2022. Our total staff numbers are around 30, so that’s 1 in 6 teachers leaving this year. We are not unusual; nor are we the worst off. This year, our seniors’ face-to-face teaching time was reduced to meet the staffing needs of our school. You see, seniors can have study periods, and work independently in the library. But, as one canny Year 12 student said to me, it is their HSC year, and their learning is being sacrificed to meet the needs of junior students. Our HSC students deserve more time from their teachers, not less.

Many people from the government, and the general public, have commented that now is not the time for a strike. 2021 has been too disruptive to education already, and after remote learning, teachers need to pick a better moment to strike. The problem with that is that we need the government to act now, to make teaching more attractive, with better pay to entice young people into the profession, and better conditions to keep them there. Otherwise, this crisis gets worse, and the disruption will continue. 

And it won’t be COVID’s fault.

One of my Year 12 students tells me he wants to be a teacher. I tell him he’d be wonderful, and his students would be lucky to have him. But I find myself wondering what the NSW public education system will be like if he decides to join our ranks.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

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Feature image: Getty. 

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