‘Rather than asking why teachers leave the profession, we should wonder that they remain’

The TES reports that for too many teachers, the line between professional and martyr needs to be drawn to avoid the kind of stress that will ensure a premature exit from the classroom. By Yvonne Williams, head of English in the south of England.

The recent Higher Education Policy Institute report on the state of teacher training markets –Whither teacher education and training? by John Cater, vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University – provides a fascinating and depressing history of the fraught relationship between government departments and PGCE providers.

The most obvious lesson from the report is that in spite of – or perhaps because of – a plethora of government interventions, supply has failed to keep pace with demand. How else can we explain the escalation of incentives for graduates in shortage subjects just to train as teachers? 

What keeps teachers in the classroom?

As Cater puts it: “The focus on bursary support for trainees damages rather than enhances the status of the profession: if one has to be ‘bribed’ to the tune of up to £30,000 simply to train, just how demanding is the role seen to be and, with press stories of teachers wearing body cameras, how unsatisfactory are the working conditions?”

It seems that lavish enticements wear off too quickly – or attract the wrong kind of graduate. An outstanding degree in a shortage subject is not enough to survive, let alone thrive, in a classroom.  

Performance-related pay (PRP) was sold to the profession as a fairer, more immediate way of rewarding hard work and excellent performance in the classroom than increments based on length of service. 

But – let’s be frank – vicious cuts to the education budget mean that schools are in no position to retain all their staff, let alone reward them more fairly. Thus the bar is raised so high, and the financial benefits are so meagre, that PRP fails the first tests of effective incentivising, ie, that it must be attainable and it must be worth the extra effort.

The obvious consideration really needs to be the ways in which teaching can be made more pleasurable and intrinsically rewarding.  The current mismatch between teachers’ aspirations, interests, strengths and knowledge and the job they are expected to do is so demotivating that it leads to an annual exodus.

That workload should be radically reduced goes without saying. Teachers are not attracted to the job by bureaucracy and data-crunching. They are independent thinkers, creative, outgoing individuals, at best frustrated by the micro-management of their daily routine, at worst crumbling under intense scrutiny and hours of misspent effort.

If we are to keep teachers in situ then we need to re-energise what brought them into education in the first place. 

Read the full article ‘Rather than asking why teachers leave the profession, we should wonder that they remain’

Do you agree with the points made and how are teachers ever going to be persuaded to stay in the profession? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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