At present, conversations around the health and wellbeing of teachers and burnout is taking a back seat to the politically more appetising topic of funding issues in schools.
Unfortunately, what our political leaders and the Gonski report have failed to highlight is that increasing funding to schools does not equal improved results. They have also missed the mark on even addressing the notion that teacher burnout is having a direct impact on student results in Australian schools, although it has been estimated that it is costing taxpayers half a billion dollars, every five years.
Teachers are burnt out.
Countries like Finland show, on average, consistently higher results than other OECD countries, by choosing to provide their teachers with the autonomy that is often afforded in other professional industries, and moving the curriculum focus away from ‘standardised testing’. So we can see that funding alone does not drive student performance.
In Australia we are not only seeing a growing number of experienced teaching professionals retiring early or choosing to take on casual roles as workloads continue to increase. To further compound this problem, we are also losing new teachers, who bring the latest research and enthusiasm for the profession, within the first five years of their employment as they typically over-commit, burn out and leave.
With student enrollment numbers predicted to increase dramatically over the next ten to fifteen years, the education sector, politicians and the wider community should be looking at how they can continue to grow the education sector from the ground up. Not only does this make good fiscal sense, but it ensures there are teachers around to actually teach the future generations.
Rather than taking on a simplistic approach to improving education outcomes, we need to spend more time addressing the idea of teacher workload and more specifically burnout of educational professionals. But can an industry that typically does not have a good turning-circle change? The must begin adopting an approach that gives teachers the time to do what they have spent many years in formal education learning to do – teach!
Over the past decade, a number of industry wide projects and case studies have investigated the underlying reasons for the high burnout and attrition rates. Trends such as low morale, poor workplace culture and low levels of teacher engagement were commonly identified. However, while a number of solutions have been presented, they have traditionally not been widely accepted by already time-poor teachers, due to limited administrative support and onerous compliance measures.
While there is not a singular approach for addressing this deeply embedded problem, fundamentally adding programs, albeit with good intentions, to already overworked education professionals is not going to lead to sustainable outcomes. The answer however is a lot more simplistic is its nature. Interestingly we only need to look at more recent calls to ‘get back to basics’ with school curriculum in an effort to improve student results.
The continual search by educational institutions for ways to be ‘bigger and better’ in an effort to improve school rankings has not only lead to a maze of programs and initiatives that take teachers away from the core business of teaching, but has also lead to a misalignment between a school’s vision, strategy and subject curriculum.
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