I am fortunate to employ a dedicated workforce of more than 22,000 public school classroom teachers. Many work in the regions and some in extremely remote places – from Kalumburu at the top of the map to the vast Ngaanyatjarra lands in the dusty red dirt of the Goldfields.
Education is a fundamental human right. What I stand for is making an impact for kids through education – no matter where they live. I witnessed this first-hand when I visited schools all over the state and spoke with the experts – our teachers.
I have been into some schools that people told me were ‘difficult’. This meant the kids were tough and the conditions were tough; they had limited access to good food, clothes and healthcare.
All of that was true, but class after class, school after school, I met teachers and leaders that led people in their communities, led change, led learning and showed ethical human leadership. At the heart of this they were making a difference to the lives of children.
In the community of Bidyadanga – 190 kilometres south of Broome in the Kimberley – one of our teachers sat under a tree with mums and bubs, reading, playing and making them comfortable in the learning environment that is the school.
At the same school, mostly Aboriginal children were being taught by a first year graduate teacher who was punching above her weight in terms of achievement. She had some of the hardest kids eating out of the palm of her learning hand as she taught them.
Alongside her was ‘Aunty’, one of our staff members for 30 years. An Aboriginal woman who speaks five different languages and teaches the kids (English if they don’t know it, and their native language if they know English). This was awesome, and inspiring.
With World Teachers’ Day approaching, now is the time to say ‘thank you’ to teachers for what they do. It is also a time to reflect on their status in our society and how we retain them in the workforce for the benefit of kids.
The theme for World Teachers’ Day 2019 is Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession. It prompts me to ask questions such as, how do we get the best people to become our new teachers? How do we get early career teachers to stay in the profession and feel rewarded for their efforts?
The demographics are interesting. Those in the early years of their careers (2,089 classroom teachers) make up just 9.25 per cent of our public school teacher workforce. Meanwhile, more than 55 per cent of our teachers have nine or more years in front of classrooms.
The age profile of our workforce is changing. In 2011, 23.5 per cent of our teaching workforce was under 35 and 25 per cent were 55 or older. Now, 26.9 per cent of our teachers are 30-years-old or younger, and the proportion of our teachers who are 55 or older has declined to 23.9 per cent, as older teachers retire.
It is clear that attraction and recruitment of new teachers is ever more important and we have a range of ways we do this.
What is of concern to me, however, is that 90 of our teachers here in WA resigned last year with less than four years’ experience in the classroom.
Our surveys of graduate teachers show they are positive about the support we give them, but only about two-thirds said they intend to stay in teaching for 10 years or more. We must improve on this.
We are renewing our efforts to support teachers in their early careers to cope with the demands of the job, and to help them to continually improve their professional practice.
All graduates do our tailored, in-depth professional learning program, and we provide both in-class coaches and mentors in their schools who check in with them to see how they are faring. We train our school leaders on the most-effective ways to observe their graduates in the classroom and provide targeted, useful feedback.
There is a good story to tell in the regions.
Our initiative to promote teaching careers in rural and remote places to university students has seen more than 550 pre-service teachers complete placements at country schools in the past eight years. Prior to this, the figures were alarmingly low.
Most of these teachers went on to employment in regional schools, and they are highly regarded in their communities. Our initiative was cited by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently as a model of best practice.
I’m sure if you were to chat with them, many of these new graduates would confess to have fallen in love with teaching “in the bush” and being an integral part of the fabric of country life.
This World Teachers’ Day, I thank our entire teaching workforce for all that they do in classrooms across Western Australia to influence children’s lives in positive and sometimes amazing ways.