How do Australia’s teachers feel about their work?

A team of Monash researchers posed that question, and had it answered by nearly 2,500 teachers. It’s one of Australia’s largest surveys of teachers ever conducted. So what were the key findings, and what needs to change?

1. Teacher Workload

Teachers are concerned about their workloads. Seven out of 10 teachers who responded to the survey indicated that their workload was not manageable. Only 42 out of 2,444 teachers ‘strongly agreed’ that their workload was manageable – a mere 2% of participants.

Teachers described working long hours, and during weekends and holidays. They also referenced the impact on their families and their personal lives, and described the ‘24/7’ nature of their job. Australian teachers have reported higher working hours than teachers in other OECD countries and this study supports previous research which suggested Australian teachers’ workloads are difficult to manage.

We have recommended that urgent consideration needs to be given to finding ways of reducing teachers’ administrative workloads and lifting the constraints that are stopping teachers from focusing on teaching and learning.

2. Teacher Retention

More than half the teachers we surveyed (58%) indicated they intend to leave the profession. While some of these departures were planned retirements, or for family and caring reasons, overwhelmingly teachers referred to concerns about:

  • workload and hours being worked
  • impact on health, wellbeing, family, and relationships
  • increase in complexity of the role including student and family needs
  • extended responsibilities and duties beyond teaching (including a changing focus of schooling and an increase in focus on testing and a subsequently narrowed curriculum)
  • working conditions, including precarious employment and casualization of the workforce.

These issues are systemic challenges that need to be addressed at a government and policy level. We echo serious concerns from the research that has reported a looming teacher shortage, particularly for teachers in specialist areas and in rural and remote schools, and ‘alarming’ rates of teacher attrition. Teacher attrition holds a number of ongoing effects for schools and communities. High attrition rates of teachers have been shown to have negative flow-on effects for student achievement. There are also significant direct economic costs associated with high teacher attrition rates including the cost of recruiting, training and developing new teachers as well as non-economic costs to schools and communities. For example, research suggests that achievement declines when students are taught by a succession of new teachers.

3. Teacher health, wellbeing, and safety

Nearly one in five teachers reported they don’t feel safe at work, and described concerns about physical and psychological safety. Some teachers raised concerns about aggression from students and from community members.

Others raised concerns about the toll the challenges of the job take on their mental health and wellbeing. Teachers reported the impact teaching has had on their physical health (including exhaustion) and the impact of what is often deeply emotional work with students and families.

We found that these comments were being made by teachers at all stages of their careers, and suggest that targeted support needs to be provided for all teachers.

4. Teacher perceptions of appreciation

Seven out of 10 teachers do not feel the public appreciates them. Yet the survey we conducted at the same time of the general public showed nine out of 10 Australians believe that teachers are either hardworking, or very hardworking.

This gap in the perception about the important role that teachers play had led to a campaign from Monash Education called #ThankYourTeacher.

It was launched on World Teacher’s Day was designed to shift the public conversation about difference teachers make in our lives. Hundreds of people have already shared their messages, including at an installation hosted at Federation Square.

Teachers have been open and honest with us about the challenges facing the profession – but they are also still satisfied in their work. We want to better understand what keeps them coming back to work every day.

Jono Parlamentas thanked his 5th grade teacher Jo Register during the campaign, for helping him feel a sense of belonging. The video message posted on Facebook found Jo within two hours. The pair were reunited at Federation Square.

5. Teacher Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is strongly associated with both teacher retention and attrition. In our survey, two out of three teachers reported they feel satisfied in their role (56% were satisfied, 10% strongly agreed that they were satisfied). Although this is positive, it means one in three teachers do not find their work satisfying (30% were dissatisfied, while 4% strongly disagreed that they were satisfied).

This is an issue of concern. Research shows that people go into teaching to make a difference and for intellectual stimulation.

These statistics also feed into predicted teacher shortages in the coming years due to an aging workforce and teacher attrition. This is already a reality for many rural and hard-to-staff schools.

Our survey findings shine a light on some of the structural and workload issues that are impacting teachers ability to do a job they are passionate about that have very real implications for the future of the profession.

Despite the very real challenges they face, teachers report they are still satisfied with their work.

We want to sincerely thank everyone who took part in our survey. Your voice is being heard. We are sharing your stories with policymakers and the media.

Listen to report lead Amanda Heffernan talking on 3AW.

References

Allen, J., Rowan, L., & Singh, P. (2019). Status of the teaching profession - attracting and retaining teachers. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47(2), 99-102. doi:10.1080/1359866X.2019.1581422

Brasche, I., & Harrington, I. (2012). Promoting teacher quality and continuity: Tackling the disadvantages of remote Indigenous schools in the Northern Territory. Australian Journal of Education, 56(2), 110-125.

Kearney, S. (2014). Teacher attrition, retention and mobility: Where does Australia stand? Education and Society, 32(2), 5-24. doi:10.7459/es/32.2.02

Kline, J., White, S., & Lock, G. (2013). The rural practicum: Preparing a quality teacher workforce for rural and regional Australia (pdf)Journal of Research in Rural Education, 28(3),1-13.

Lampert, J., & Burnett, B. (Eds.) (2016). Teacher education for high poverty schools. Singapore: Springer.

Manuel, J., Carter, D., & Dutton, J. (2018). ‘As much as I love being in the classroom ...’: Understanding Secondary English Teachers’ Workload. English in Australia, 53(3), 5-22.

Sorensen, L. C., & Ladd, H. F. (2018). The Hidden Cost of Teacher Turnover Washington. DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

Watlington, E., Shockley, R., Guglielmino, P., & Felsher, R. (2010). The High Cost of Leaving: An Analysis of the Cost of Teacher Turnover. Journal of Education Finance, 36(1), pp. 22-37. doi:10.1353/jef.0.0028