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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Why don't people want to be teachers?
The Chief Inspector of Schools has given a warning that teacher shortages are at their worst level since the 1960s.
Mike Tomlinson said up to four out of every ten new teachers abandoned the profession after three years in the job.
Among the reasons given for the teacher shortages have been relatively low pay, low status, the poor behaviour of pupils, high house prices and the prospects of easier and better paid alternatives for graduates.
Why isn't teaching appealing as a career? Can the government do more to encourage people to become teachers?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comment comments below.
Leon Cych, UK
I am not so sure that pay is the problem here, I know that we all need to be valued and some of that value is reflected in our pay we receive for a job well done. I feel that the problem is one of lack of parental concern. Teachers are becoming or have become to some parents a baby-sitting service. In order to save teaching we need to save the family and have our children taught decent moral values in the home, such as respect hard work and integrity. We will never solve this problem with money but only with a change of attitude. You never know we might solve a few other problems while we are at it.
I have taught for nearly 30 years, in good and bad schools at the secondary level. I enjoy it-kids make you laugh and keep you young. The down side is the other teachers I have to deal with. The majority are second-raters and whingers who do not really know what real pressure is. A lot of them are not really that intelligent either.
What better reason for going into teaching than a love of your subject, an appreciation of how you were taught and a desire to impart a love of learning to a new generation. However, teachers need rewards and incentives to carry on. Offering more paid sabbaticals, more opportunities for subject specific training at a high level and exchange programmes in relevant companies would provide many teachers the incentive they need to stay in the job and would ensure they were imparting up to date knowledge to stimulate the learning of their pupils.
The country has got what it deserves. For too long politicians, the press and the public have denigrated the profession. It's not surprising that talented young people do not want to join it!
The Government has consistently shown its disrespect to teachers by underpaying them, hence moving them down the social scale.
Their current interest free 10K GBP loan is another sticking plaster. As a direct consequence of Government inaction it is not possible to attract good candidates and we now rely on draining Third World resources.
Why don't people want to be teachers: because they don't want to be poor, unappreciated heroes. With little to no pay, no break, no respect, and no aid from their respective governments, teachers are all alone in the world, trying to raise 20-30 kids whose parents are too busy to raise them.
The problem isn't just confined to the teaching profession. The entire public sector is undervalued. After 20 years of dogma and verbal abuse from politicians about how only the incapable work in the public sector anyway, is it any wonder? Teachers are actually well paid when compared with other public sector workers with similar responsibilities, but are still poorly rewarded when compared with the private sector. Low pay, low status, hard work, high house prices and the sight of overpaid city wide-boys affect the rest of us as well.
Teachers receive very little respect and poor pay and working conditions. However not all teachers are good teachers, and the teaching profession has always been seen as a stopgap or stepping stone. It simply isn't good enough to teach just because you have a love for the profession, you must be good at your job. Unfortunately, in my experience, these combined qualities are rare.
D T Wells, UK
I entered a PGCE course full of beans and ready to change children's perspectives. Three years later I quit teaching for good, demoralised, frustrated and emotionally burned out. Facing abuse, violence, low morale and mind-numbingly complex paperwork was enough to drive me away from a career I thought would be lifelong. Those choosing to tough it out deserve every accolade going.
John Wilson, USA
All my life I wanted to be a teacher but left the profession within two years. For me it wasn't the pay that sent me packing but the stress and incredibly long working hours. I worked in two schools during those two years and in both cases witnessed colleagues who had to take time off due to stress-related illnesses. I knew that I had to leave when I did or that I would be having a nervous breakdown by the time I was 35! I still have friends in the teaching profession back home and I have tremendous respect for them, they are so dedicated and work tremendously hard. However, having been there and done that I don't envy them at all.
I don't advocate things like corporal punishment etc but I do think we need to be more realistic about the social factors that most definitely have a great bearing on the whole environment in state schools.
Parents need to understand that they have a very important role to play in terms of the care and the kind of home environment they provide for their children at home. The pressures on parents these days doesn't help them to give their children the attention they need.
This coupled with the radical changes to the job of teaching has conspired to make it a much less attractive profession.
Adam Vaile, UK
No, the Government is not necessarily at fault on this one, I believe parents should take more responsibility in their children's education. A lot of parents expect teachers to bring up their kids and schools are not there for that purpose! My friend who is a teacher and teaches in one of the worst areas in Reading unfortunately has to deal with all sorts of rudeness and difficulties purely because of children's behaviour! The pay is not that great either and the job is unrewarding most of the time!
While people are still prepared to enter the teaching profession (and this goes for nursing too) the Government will do nothing. If the situation arose that there was a huge shortage of teachers, you'll find that salaries will soon increase (its called supply and demand). Teachers, instead of complaining about the situation, leave the profession - it's the only way things will change.
I trained as a primary teacher 7 years ago, and qualified with a good second-class honours degree. I was then unable to get a job (as at that time there were approx 60-100 applicants for each job in West Sussex). As a result I moved into a different career and am now working in a graduate job where I am paid well. What would persuade me to go back into teaching? Before I embarked on a refresher course I'd need the guarantee of a full-time, permanent teaching position. However, in West Sussex, there's virtually no chance of that! I believe that I will not be returning to teaching.
This is the downside of a buoyant economy with low unemployment. Why would anyone want a poorly paid and stressful job in teaching when private sector employers are desperate to recruit qualified staff, and are prepared to pay realistic salaries for them?
It's clear to see from other comments that children's behaviour is an overriding factor. Children have far too much protection with far less discipline then ever before. Detention? So a kid stays behind after school for 30 minutes, Wow, that'll put the wind up them. Bring back corporal punishment to put the discipline and respect back into Britain.
From what I read here, it's teachers who run their profession down most. With so much negativity, it's hardly surprising not many wish to join their self-pitying ranks. Do they think the rest of us have it so easy? And what are these long hours they keep talking about?
I have recently moved from England to France after 5 years of teaching in an East London Primary School. I needed a rest! Being a qualified teacher has allowed me to find work in France quickly and easily, teaching English to adults. I do miss teaching however, the pay is low but not terrible. The pension is fantastic, so are the holidays and the stability of the job. Yes, half terms are just a recovery period for the mental health of teachers and pupils but the summer - paid to go on holiday for 5 weeks - no one can say that isn't a perk.
You do have to work hard, you do get buffeted around by never ending paperwork from new government projects, and you never have time to do all the things you want to do to make your lessons fantastic. Teaching is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging.
However after I have finished my rest in France I am going to come back. I only hope that people will have realised by then that teachers need support, enough time to rest and less paperwork. Return to teaching? Well, where else do you get to write poetry in the morning and play football in the afternoon?
I was an IT lecturer in London and have an MSC in ISD. I lived in a council sublet with no central heating, (not a hope in hell of buying) bad neighbours and a high rent. My students were sometimes barely literate after several years of schooling and often had appalling social skills. I now live in the Czech Rep where teaching though not well paid has prestige. However, I have moved into industry and no longer have to freeze in winter for the honour of being one of the chosen few.
I love teaching, but I teach in a church-run school where discipline is maintained quite well. I wouldn't teach anywhere else for all the money in the world. Abuse, lack of support from the education department - no thank you!
Charles, New Zealand
The wife of a friend of mine, in order to discipline a pupil in a special needs school, had to lock him in a dark cupboard until he had calmed down. So which is more cruel, the cane or the cupboard? Power to control unruly pupils would help!
The low status would really get to me. Why put yourself in that category and have to cope with decling education budgets and increasingly bad behaviour from children who have parents that expect you to take on the primary parenting role while they just get the evening and morning meals? The pay levels and a healthy exchange of teacher programmes between countries would attract many worthwhile candidates and the status would grow.
Jill Murray, USA
I recommend all teachers to consider pursuing their careers overseas. Smaller class sizes, less paper work, more support from parents, better student behaviour and depending where you go, tax free income, free accommodation and many other benefits. After working in the UK, I certainly appreciate working overseas. You have to experience the bad times in teaching (UK) to really appreciate the good times abroad. The only place I would never be a teacher again is in the UK.
Excessive paperwork is a huge problem for teachers, but class discipline could surely be resolved by a return to the old standards. When I was at school the class automatically stood up and stopped talking when a teacher entered the room. Respect for the teacher was instilled right from day one at infant school. There was no corporal punishment, but as there were two sittings for lunch, one could receive a detention within school hours. This avoided the problems of parental permission for after-school detentions. Morning assemblies every day reinforced a sense of unity and school pride. I wouldn't have wanted the shame of a detention. Assemblies do not necessarily have to be religious.
Esther Bolton, Switzerland
Teaching should be a pleasure not a financial burden. Think of all of the students. Without teachers, no one would be able to graduate or get a better education. I only hope that I become one of those teachers that will enjoy their job as well as the outcome.
I am a lecturer in a Japanese university. Although I love teaching and have not given any thought of quitting it. However, I sometimes wonder if life could be more competitive and thus more challenging and in the meantime more interesting, if I worked for a private company. I think why people don't find this job appealing as a career is mainly due to low pay. Particularly, in a third world country like Nepal, teachers cannot have a decent life although the job looks decent.
I left the profession for an engineering post in industry and never looked back, particularly as I now feel that my individual efforts are recognised by my employer both in salary and status - I never felt this working for the LEA. In my view the profession should be released from local political interference and run by a national apolitical agency.
I'm a school secretary, and have been thinking for a while about switching into teaching, but have recently decided against it. There's too much violence and malice in the classrooms and the playground - I file exclusion notices so I have seen it all - and some of the teachers aren't qualified, or feel they aren't, to deal with problem pupils. Much too often pupils are left outside our door after being 'thrown' out of a class. If teachers can't deal with them how are the secretarial staff supposed to? Also, uproar and confusion is taking place thanks to the McCrone agreement - cutting down contact hours has meant we need more staff which we can't get readily - scraping the barrel is a phrase I've heard a lot. With parents blaming their children's 'failures' on the teachers and becoming downright abusive themselves, it's too stressful to me. I've been yelled at too many times on the phone, and I just take messages for teachers.
Simon McGowan, New Zealand
I think part of the problem of teaching in British schools stems from the general belief that teachers are responsible for pupils' behaviour.
All teachers should have to worry about is teaching (and that can be more than enough). I can't count the times I've heard parents blaming their children's behaviour
on teachers but really it just isn't their responsbility. School is about learning not making up for society's failures. Let's take the added pressure off the teachers and let them do what they are
suppoed to be doing.
I want to become a teacher. After seventeen years in Engineering I now have the opportunity to take on a career I have always wanted.
Unfortunately the government bodies, the GTTR, UCAS and the teacher training bodies, are totally divorced from reality. They seem to only target new university graduates with top scores and are not interested in us mature graduates with experience. Even trying to get a place with 'on the job training' via the Graduate Teacher Program is proving to be next to impossible as the majority of headteachers have no information about it. The whole system of training and recruitment needs to overhauled and its replacement needs to fit the requirements of the schools rather than some seventies idea of what a teacher should be. An investigation should also be carried out to see if ageism is being used to prevent mature graduates from gaining places on PGCE courses.
I left the primary classroom 3 years ago after 10 years of service.
Why? I no longer believed in what I was being asked to do. I am concerned in bringing children up to become fully formed people, and I felt the system was preventing if not hampering. To give one example I went from 2hours extra-curricular activities a day down to less than 1hour a week.
I know what made me leave but no one has ever been bothered to ask. And yes I am watching, waiting, hoping to return... oneday.
David Weston, UK
I feel that people don't wish to follow a career in teaching today due to the bad publicity the profession always seems to get. More should be done to raise the profile of the job and the pay and conditions for teachers. Students study for 4 years for their teaching qualification and are now expected to be experts in all curriculum subjects. The job now involves much more paperwork and most schools appear underfunded and poorly resouced leading to teachers making or buying resources to support their job. The current pay structure for teachers does not reflect the work that they have to do both in school and outside school hours. The pay, especially in the South East, does not reflect the cost of living in this area, therefore teachers are leaving the profession and are using their skills and qualifications to get better paid work.
When I was a young man, I had my student teaching in the Oklahoma City School System. It was a zoo run by the animals! There was absolutely no self-discipline on the part of the students and very little desire on their part to learn anything. The administration was so concerned with "political correctness", that nothing was ever done to create a learning environment. The hoodlums ran the school, and they knew that no one would impose any type of discipline on them. The "public school system" in the U.S.A. is just a sick, sorry, sad, joke. It is run by a teachers union that is not in the least bit interested in the education of our children. It is interested in indoctrinating the children in communism and that is all. Only the private schools are teaching subject matter. So it is no wonder that there is a shortage of people who want to become teachers.
Given the opportunities out there for people with the highly transferable skills of teachers, I'm amazed that anyone is still left in the profession. To those who remain, I applaud your selflessness in sacrificing your own quality of life for a government and society that perceives you as whingers, slackers and incompetents.
Think about it another way: why do I do this job despite the pay, stress and constant criticism? How about that look on a youngster's face when they find out they can do something they thought they couldn't? Or they learn something new and they are surprised and delighted in spite of themselves? How about knowing you had something to do with a student realising some of their dreams and ambitions? What about that feeling that you have imparted something of your experience and knowledge to the next generation. Or simply a kid coming up to you and saying "Thanks, Miss, great lesson!"
Become a teacher. You must be joking.
Ian Ward, UK
There is another side to the story. I have encouraged my daughter to train as a teacher. Career for life, opportunity to work anywhere in the world, flexibility of career breaks to have children. Its not all bad news.
I have had a life long attraction to teaching and my experience as a tutor during my Ph.D. programme and my roles as manager in clinical software engineering and in the biosciences have confirmed my enjoyment of imparting knowledge to others. Like Jane (Japan), however, I would suffer a salary cut of enormous proportions if I was to follow this vocational impulse more formally. Teaching remains like an unrequited love for me, or maybe more like the thought of buying a super car - I'll always want to have done it, but can't afford to.
I don't think people will want to go into teaching no matter how high the pay until pupil behaviour is improved. Who wants to spend five days a week listening to abuse attempting to teach teenagers who don't give a damn?
Caroline Tattersall, England
I've been teaching for 15 years, 10 of those in comprehensives and private schools from age 5 to 20. Over here there is no shame in wanting to feed your mind, in enjoying learning. Education is also valued as people know that without it they won't be able to enjoy a good quality of life. It helps not having the UK's feudal system too of 'Lords and Serfs'. There is no class system to speak of and that affects everything. Waiters and ticket collectors are treated with respect, for example.
It's not the pay it's a number of other factors. In the inner cities its actually dangerous. But when society dictates that even combing a child's hair can be an assault, that disciplining children is unnecessary, that each lesson my not reflect sexuality or racism in any form, that the Government continually moves goalposts in order to manipulate figures showing targets are met, that it requires at least 4 hours extra work per day to keep to the minimum government requirements for work preparation┐.
I have been a teacher for ten years now. In that time I have seen many new teachers come and go. In order to stay in this profession you have to really love what you're doing. This job takes a level of dedication that most other fields can't come up to. Even with better pay, more respect, and all of the other things that teachers deserve it would still be hard to get and keep the best people. Without those things it is just impossible.
Had I chosen teaching rather than librarianship for my career, I am sure that I would be far better off financially (25 years later) than I am now. My wife (an ex-teacher who moved into advisory work in an LEA) has eight years less professional experience than myself, is less well qualified in her profession than I am in mine, but earns 50% more than I do! The point is that a teaching qualification can open doors into well-paid work that qualifications in other professions simply do not.
Children's behaviour is appalling. Pay is rubbish. There is no incentive to be a teacher. In poor countries a teacher is respected and loved. In England they are ridiculed and demoralised. Why go through the stress of the daily abuse?
Teaching is a challenging, sometimes thankless, job. Three years ago, I did my beginning teaching in London as an exchange from my university in America, and I have found British Immigration to be unwelcoming (if not impossible) in my search for permanent teaching positions in the UK. A British work permit is virtually unattainable for a young American teacher! Might I suggest that British Immigration open its doors to young American teachers? Many Americans would accept without hesitation the challenge of teaching when coupled with the prospect of experiencing British and European culture.
What puts me off is the lack of discipline in schoolchildren, and the fact that teachers cannot do anything about it without dire legal consequences. Bring back the cane, I say....
Let's see now... low pay, high workload, lots of stress, always being criticised, better prospects in almost any other profession. No, can't see any reason why anyone wouldn't jump at the chance of being a teacher.
Mike Tomlinson is right when he says that pay, low status, the poor behaviour of pupils, high house prices and the prospects of easier and better paid alternatives for graduates are all causes. Increased bureaucracy, which keeps teachers from teaching is also a problem. The Government is quite simply tinkering. What is needed is a significant increase in pay coupled with a re-focussing on teaching not paperwork. Until teaching becomes a bread-winning profession rather than a second-income job this problem will not be solved.
One possible solution for this problem is privatisation of the schools. Although still considered a radical idea, private education programs coupled with vouchers have been very successful in the States. The advantages of free markets could extend to schools as they more accurately track supply of education (schools and teachers) with demand for quality from parents. It's worth a go at least.
My wife considered becoming a teacher, but then saw at close hand the destruction of a friend's career based on the whim and false accusation of a 6 year old with a history of troublemaking. Despite being exonerated she suffered a nervous breakdown, felt unable to return to her job and was effectively placed in "Coventry" by the school. A great teacher lost, a child that knows it can destroy careers. We moved our children from that school in disgust at the way the teacher was treated and the arrogance and incompetence of the headmaster.
1) Government Red tape / paper work.
2) Low pay
3) Lack of authority to complete the task.
When I was growing up I wanted to be a teacher.
Even while studying at university on my Computing Course I
still held that as an ambition. Once I realised how poorly paid
teachers were compared to qualified computer professionals
I decided that perhaps it wasn't for me. That coupled with the
poor behaviour of pupils I saw while at school (which I reasoned
could only get worse), the constant haranguing by Government
and the heaps of extra hours the teachers have to put in - well no
competition - industry it was.
28 Aug 01 | Education
Teacher shortages worst for decades
17 Aug 01 | Education
Teachers not lured back by cash
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