It’s time to fix the secondary teacher shortage

The teacher shortages that have been plaguing secondary schools for more than a decade need effective, meaningful solutions now

A recent announcement from Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti that we are going to recruit 700 teachers from overseas had all the optimism of a classroom teacher at the start of the year. While recruiting from overseas while we train our own sounds like a great strategy in principle, there are significant issues.

The teacher shortages we are experiencing in Aotearoa are global. Schools across the world are struggling to staff their schools with the increasing complexity of teaching in a COVID world only adding to pressures that existed previously. In a global marketplace for teachers, our pay and conditions are simply not good enough to attract teachers in the quantity we need.

Results of a survey PPTA carried out back in May painted a dire picture. Almost a third of secondary schools that responded had teachers could not find specialist teachers for particular subjects, and almost 50 appointments were made by schools despite there being no suitable applicants. All the evidence suggests that the situation has only become worse since May. These teacher shortages are across the board with principals struggling to staff all departments from the Sciences through to Health & Physical Education.

Lurching from crisis to crisis

There is something terribly wrong with our system when a job which should be glorious – working with young people, experiencing the surprise and delight of watching learning unfold - instead becomes a job that people are fleeing. While COVID has exacerbated the situation, shortages of teachers in New Zealand have been plaguing us for more than a decade. We’re simply not attracting enough people into the profession, we’re not retaining the ones that we do train, and so we lurch from staffing crisis to staffing crisis.

If we want to make sure we have trained and qualified teachers in classrooms we need to have manageable workloads, opportunities to develop our practice and learn, and competitive salaries for teachers right through their career pathway. The claim we have put together seeks to resolve these issues, making sure that we have the staffing we need to support our students whilst not breaking ourselves.

Staffing for current needs

It can seem trite to point out that our working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and goodness knows I don’t want to revisit that classic 90s slogan “When you kick the teachers, you kick the kids”, but by continually cobbling things together and settling because we don’t want to disadvantage our students, we are disadvantaging future students who won’t have the teachers and support they deserve.

The old industrial model of education where students were lined up in rows, copying notes down off the board is long gone, but the staffing provisions we have to deliver the more personalised learning our students need remains much the same. We want the very best for our students and so we continue to push ourselves to deliver, but it is coming at a price that sees teachers burning out and leaving the profession, and those looking in from outside unwilling to join us. We must invest in teachers if we are going to invest in Aotearoa.

Last modified on Wednesday, 2 November 2022 10:32