Thursday 21 March 2013

Wasted Investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?

I have been wanting to get involved with #blogsync for awhile now and am glad to make my first contribution.  This month’s is a vital topic and one thatpushed me into getting involved in more than intention.
BBC news recently reported that numbers of teachers in theUK leaving the profession is up by a fifth on the previous year.   In2010 it was reported by The Guardian that 50% of newly qualified teachers hadleft the profession in the first five years. Teachers leaving the profession is a concerning issue.  The focus of Department for Education answersto the question of what to do about teachers leaving the profession alwaysseems to shift swiftly to how they are going to provide more teacher training.  How a range of professionals from military to financial can be trained in order to sortout this problem.  ‘Teachers are leavingthe profession?  Train some morethen!  Just keep training them!  They’re still leaving?  Train different ones!’  It’s almost a little ‘yes minister’ to mymind.  

This brings me to the idea of investment.  With ‘wasted investment’ as the title tothis; what, how and in whom is the investment? The initial investment is being made by the bright eyed aspirationalwannabe teacher.  Me 19 years ago,thousands of those that dream of teaching and of making a difference.  Thousands every year.  I dreamed of being a teacher.  I didn't go into the profession because of perceived job security, because my parents wanted me to or because I was unsure what else to do.  I count myself lucky there that my aspiration also turned out to be something I could do but it still took investment from me.  More than ever before for aspiring teachers that investment isfinancial, course fees, the cost of living and all of these factors weighheavily on that choice, on that aspiration. Then there is the investment of work. Getting the grades needed to embark on that journey toward thedream.  Clocking up some school hours andmaking sure you enjoy the education environment and the company of the dearyoung angels, and those not so angelic!  The investment of making sure your behaviour is appropriate out of university, the realisation and acceptance that there are certain social passtimes and behaviours that are off limits for aspiring teachers.  Particularly in the age of camera phones and social media.  Then there’s the investment of pouring your heart and soul into 3 or 4years of training, if not more.  Workload like you’venever known, being told that it’s only the tip of the iceberg as far asworkload goes!  I remember being unsureif I’d make it to the end of a 9 week teaching practice never mind a 14 weekterm as a teacher.  But the stamina beganto build.

Is that the way workload investment looks now?  Do students invest enough?  I hear far too many stories, and haveencountered situations myself, where students just don’t seem to understand oraccept the workload.  I have even beentold ‘But it’s my weekend!’ by a student on final placement.  Unless there is that level of realism and buyin then a young teacher can’t expect to build the type of stamina needed forthis profession.  Eventually they willhave to do all of that work and perhaps manage their own children and homes andeven endeavour to have a life!  They mayeven find they become a teaching Headteacher with two small children and thenstamina is most certainly needed!  One ofthe most common causes sighted by teachers leaving the profession in thearticles I read was ‘burn out.’  If youcan gradually build that stamina and be taught about workload management that ‘burnout’ can be prevented.

How do Initial Teacher Training Institutions give thismessage about workload?  In my experiencesometimes they are not fans of the tough conversation and that can tend to fallto the school.  On too many occasions Ihave seen students repeating and repeating teaching practices to get throughand pass where myself and other schools have raised concerns about whether thisperson has the level of skill and resilience to be part of this profession.  To be successful at the whole job of ateacher and therefore to be happy doing it.  ITT providers are up against it as studentscan take action against their ITT provider if they fail.  There is, as with so many situations now, a hugeamount of student right and far less student responsibility.  I have seen many successes related to ITTproviders but they tend to be where the student has some level ofprofessionalism, drive and work ethic.

To put it into the analogy of a building, if the foundationsare weak the building will eventually crumble and corrode.  Particularly if it is further buffeted by theweather.

Now to think about that ‘buffeting.’  I am not a person who thinks our job isharder than the job of other professionals. I don’t do the job of another professional but they all have pressure,workload and accountability.  Howeverthere is one key difference to our profession and that is this.  Most people have been to school.  This means that most people feel qualified tohave an opinion about school and education and therefore our job!  Further compounded by the media and the factthat we are paid public money.  It isn’tcomfortable to feel ‘owned’ and this feeling can quickly transfer to ‘hounded.’  If then there are other factors ‘buffeting’ anew teacher who is still building their resilience and stamina to the workload,the pupils (and the germs!) then no wonder that young teacher begins toconsider leaving the profession.

Pupil behaviour is a commonly cited cause for youngteachers leaving.  I read some realhorror stories researching this blog.  Ididn’t enter this profession with the confidence and presence I have now.  I was pretty shy, I barely spoke.  (Yes really!) A young teacher needs to know that if a pupil swears at or threatensthem then they are doing that to every single adult in the organisation atonce.  And that the pupil will then betreated as though that’s what they have done! I started with 4 year olds so I had a raft of different difficulties tobeing threatened but in my first school, and in fact in every school I haveworked in since including the one I’m Headteacher of, every child is ALL of ourchildren.  All of the time.  This same approach also works with difficultparents.

I’m deliberately not going into our inspectorate in thisblog.  I know it is sighted as a factorin teachers leaving the profession, but I believe it is the way theorganisation deals with the accountability system that is key, not theaccountability system itself.

Difficulty with colleagues is another commonly mentioned ‘buffetingfactor.’  It’s important to remember thatyoung teachers are also young adults. Their social skills are not yet honed and polished.  To put it simply they sometimes lack tact orthey ask dozens of irritating questions! The solution comes down to the same thing.  School ethos. This is set and constantly maintained by the Head and senior team.  This must be chosen, value based andconstantly adhered to.  If you unwittinglyengage in negative behaviours at the top they will bleed all the way throughyour organisation until it becomes a very unpleasant place to work.  When I say negative behaviours I mean thingslike unhealthy work life balance, gossiping, blaming people for mistakes andseeming panicky for example.  Ouryoungest and newest teachers, by the way, will emulate those behaviours themost quickly as they are looking to their leaders for how to be.  It’s not always easy as we are all humanbeings too but our behaviours must be chosen and positive.  As Headteachers we are the Grand Old Duke ofYork ‘when we are up they are up, and when we are down they are down!’

This blog is entitled ‘wasted investment’ but I also seehuge numbers of teachers leaving the profession as a wasted resource.  As a profession we are potentially wastingthe opportunity for a pupil to have a teacher whose personality reallyresonates with theirs.  I would beinterested in a psychometric study looking at the personality traits ofteachers leaving the profession to see if there are any common threads.  I would then be interested to see if thosesame threads are there in disengaged pupils. If our system is getting it wrong for so many young teachers then is oursystem getting it wrong for pupils with the same traits?  If so, then we are wasting the solution tothe problem for some of our disaffected youngsters.  And that really is a waste.

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