It’s estimated that 1 in 2 Australian teachers are leaving the profession within 3 years of service. While the sting of this attrition rate is felt throughout the education system, this burden particularly weighs on disadvantaged Australian schools.
Schools in disadvantaged communities are harder to staff; they’re more demanding, require greater sacrifice, and are often thinly resourced. Coupled with the over-supply of teachers in metropolitan schools, early career teachers travel to all corners of the country to find work. Disadvantaged schools, therefore, have become heavily reliant on the talent of early career teachers.
In communities of undoubted fragility, school represents more than just a place of learning; it’s a source of stability. For students saddled with every risk factor imaginable, teachers are required to do more than just teach; they often play the role of counselors, nurses, coaches, and more. Quickly, the job description of a teacher in a disadvantaged school includes responsibilities far beyond that of teaching times tables and grammar.
Recruitment and retention of teachers in such communities has, subsequently, become a key concern. With a disproportionate number of early career teachers filling vacancies in disadvantaged schools, support initiatives to ensure their development are essential. Against the odds, schools like Hume Central Secondary College, Rooty Hill High, and Harris Field State School, have established effective practices to improve attrition rates. Organisations like Education Changemakers, and university initiatives like the UWS Fair Go Project are assisting this development. They’re doing so through inductions, ongoing mentoring, and innovative professional development. These Bright Spots are lighting the way to ensure that early career teachers are not only developing into quality teachers, but they keep teaching in the schools that most need them.
In many ways, these environments are more conducive to early career teachers. Filled with enthusiasm, graduates flock to hard-to-staff schools to try their hand; an appetite for adventure over a life of ease is the appeal. Yet, this passion to teach is often quashed by the realities of a demanding environment. The task is daunting, responsibilities immense, and adequate support seldom found. This results in too many skilled and well-intentioned teachers walking away from the profession altogether.
The schools that capture the vigour of early career teachers, and develop their pedagogy, are the Bright Spots of this otherwise dark systematic problem. As the greatest amount of teacher development occurs in these first impressionable years of teaching, schools must nurture early career development, and be supported in doing so.
Ultimately, a school reveals itself not through its NAPLAN scores or standardised test results, but through the support it provides to its teachers to ensure the quality education of its students.
The SVA Growing Great Teachers project will showcase such Bright Spots, which are supporting and developing early career teachers in disadvantaged schools. We’re looking forward to sharing these Bright Spots with you.