Schools Stopping before they start: why pre-service teachers need help to stay the course

Graduate teacher Oscar Jolly has been highlighting the cost of unpaid placements. Photos: Meredith O'Shea

Preservice teacher OSCAR JOLLY was among the many passionate members to speak at the AEU’s recent public education forums, held across Victoria in the lead-up to the state election. He warned that the cost of training means the system is losing teachers before they even graduate.

In two days, I’ll have completed my Masters, something I’m very proud of. But unfortunately, rather than feeling the excitement of completing my degree and starting my career, I’m preparing to navigate the challenges being highlighted at these forums.

What is even more unfortunate is that dozens of my fellow students were not even able to make it this far. Not only are we seeing experienced teachers leave the profession – we are also losing potential teachers at an alarming rate. The issues being raised here affect preservice teachers, too. We are already starting to feel the pressure of the existing workload crisis.

Preservice teachers rely on support from mentors in schools to become good teachers ourselves – but, right now, experienced teachers have too much on their plate. They’re overworked and undervalued to the point that they can’t be the mentors we need. 

But there is a more immediate problem – one that the state government has the power to fix. We are losing preservice teachers because they can’t afford to complete their placements. Preservice teachers have to take time out from their part-time and casual jobs in order to complete their studies, meaning many go without pay for an extended period of time.

In my cohort, I’ve seen students go hungry in order to feed their children. Teachers have had to quit their jobs when they are unable to get leave. People have had to sell their cars. Many others, including myself, have had to take out risky loans just to pay their rent.

Most students who dropped out of their course cited financial hardship as the cause. This is difficult for all preservice teachers, but especially challenging for single parents, carers, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. They’re not leaving because they’re bad at the job, or because they don’t enjoy teaching, but because they can’t afford to complete their degree.

 

Oscar Jolly (centre) with fellow Masters of Education students at the University of Melbourne.

“Most students who dropped out of their course cited financial hardship as the cause.”

A recent AEU survey showed that not only have 75% of student teachers considered dropping out of their degree, many others are electing not to enrol in the course in the first place due to fear of debt and financial stress. At any time, this would indicate a broken system. But during a teacher shortage, it’s an utter policy failure.

We also know from this survey that graduate teachers are looking for schools that will support them and provide workload relief. Schools led by people with their best interests at heart. Schools that recognise the importance of caring for their staff, so that their staff can take care of their students.

Some 90% of principals are gravely concerned that there won’t be enough teachers to cover all their classes in 2023. Our teachers need to support their existing staff in order to attract new teachers to their schools and keep them away from the private system. In turn, the government needs to support our principals in making this happen.

There are many ways to attract people into the profession, all of which we support. But, given that preservice teachers are already in the profession, support for their placement period would be a cheaper, more productive means of increasing teacher numbers. We are talking about incentivising people to change careers, which is a longer-term goal. In the short-term, there are capable people already wanting to teach, but they need support.

The solution is to fund placements through state-funded bursaries, tax relief, and further incentives to train in regional and remote schools. Beneficiaries would stay in the state system for at least two years post degree. This would remove the financial barrier and allow teachers to focus on developing their skills and meeting the system’s needs.

We have heard the statistics that 50% of teachers burn out and leave the profession within five years. I’m here to tell you there are teachers burning out well before that. They’re burning out before they even get in. Supporting public education and addressing the teacher shortage needs to start here.

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