Teachers are abandoning their state school because the state school sector has abandoned them. I know, because I am one of them.
As a state schoolteacher for more than 25 years, I understand a parent’s apprehension in placing their most valuable possession in a school that does not have sufficient resources and specialised programs to meet the diverse needs of its students.
I also understand the frustration and guilt that teachers feel when failing to get the best out of their students. I particularly appreciate the exasperation teachers feel when dealing with students who present class management problems, which often leads to teachers leaving the classroom for leading positions within the school.
I am fed up with state teachers being asked to carry the burden of social disadvantage without the appropriate funding and support.
As a teacher who resigned from teaching puts it in a study published in the Australian Teachers Journal: “Most teachers are pursuing promotion in order to reduce classroom time and to get away from classroom behaviour problems.”
Chris Fotinopoulos: “I am tired of defending a system that has promised so much and delivered little to those who need it the most.”
Other teachers leave the profession altogether. OECD data shows that up to one-third of teachers in Australia intend to leave within the first five years. And a survey of 1200 early childhood teachers conducted by the Australian Education Union found 45 per cent did not believe they would still be teaching in 10 years.
Many of my colleagues are abandoning their state school because the state school sector has abandoned them. And the drift from the sector will continue for as long as government funding continues to flow towards the private sector and away from those who need it most.
Those who teach in the state sector recognise the link between socio-economic status and student academic outcomes. And as teachers who work with disadvantaged students particularly know, it requires a lot of time, energy, teamwork and indeed money to reach struggling students.
“The disheartening reality is that students from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to thwart effective teaching for as long as their specific needs are not properly met through targeted funding.”
The lower the socio-economic status, the greater chance of performing poorly in school. As highlighted by Eric Jensen in Teaching with Poverty in Mind, “children raised in poverty rarely choose to behave differently, but they are faced daily with overwhelming challenges that affluent children never have to confront.”
It is these students who present the greatest challenge for schools. Not only do they frustrate teaching, they interfere with the learning of others.
The disheartening reality is that students from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to thwart effective teaching for as long as their specific needs are not properly met through targeted funding.
David Gonski: his funding model is designed to address disadvantage in schools.
The student management problem is far deeper in the state sector because state schools carry most of Australia’s disadvantaged children. It is for this reason that teachers who decide to change schools are likely go to where there are fewer student management difficulties.
Teachers will also gravitate to the sector where there is a greater demand for their skills. The independent sector says it will require a further 7400 secondary teachers by 2020. And just like any employee, teachers will consider moving to a workplace that presents strong growth and, more significantly, a less stressful work environment.
There is no point blaming students from disadvantaged backgrounds for state schoolteacher despondency and burnout. And there is certainly no point in blaming teachers for turning their back on students who are most in need.
The accusatory finger ought to be directed towards the desultory funding policies that favour the wealthy independent schools over the sector that carries 80 per cent of the nation’s disadvantaged children.
These biased policies have, as David Zyngier from the Monash University faculty of education puts it, “led to increasing amounts of public money going to private schools, with a consequent expansion of that sector at the expense of public education.”
The sad reality is that the Gonski needs-based education funding agreement that was designed to address disadvantage in schools will fail to meet its objective unless the federal government commits to the vital fifth and six years of the agreement (2018-19), when the majority of the funding is due.
Given the current funding uncertainty, it is no surprise that parents who have the financial means to bypass the failing state school system do so, with the aid of government subsidies.
And just as parents elect to send their children to independent schools where reluctant, difficult and needy children are less likely to interfere with their child’s learning, so too are teachers leaving the underfunded state school sector for a work environment that allows them to do their job properly.
At the end of last year I turned my back on my secondary state school after 25 years of service because I lost confidence in the state’s capacity to help teachers get the best out of its students. I also got out because I was on the verge of burnout. Selfish and hypocritical as this decision may be in the eyes of state school supporters, the change will probably protect me against further fatigue and ensure professional longevity.
Just like many of my colleagues who have walked away from the state sector, I am tired of defending a system that has promised so much and delivered little to those who need it the most. I am fed up with state teachers being asked to carry the burden of social disadvantage without the appropriate funding and support.
Will I be a better teacher in the independent sector? Too soon to tell. Meanwhile, the kids who need the greatest attention will continue to flounder under a government funding system that favours the privileged while treating the socially disadvantaged as second-rate citizens.