Teaching is dying

Recently, more and more teachers have been leaving the profession, citing a mixture of reasons for their decision. At the same time, very few people are entering teaching, leaving the industry with a huge shortage. How then, should these problems be addressed?

Many people will immediately turn to funding and salaries as the main instigator for this trend. While this is tempting, we can’t pin the blame on governments for not providing money that they don’t have. However, we can blame them for poorly managing education over the past 15 years or so, which has led to many of the problems driving teachers out.

One of the major issues is the increasing number of jobs that a teacher has to do. No longer does the job simply entail teaching and behaviour management. Rather, it encompasses a number of tasks that teachers shouldn’t be expected to do — remember, they must have university degrees to qualify to teach.

These tasks mainly fall under the broad spectrum of administration: the sort of menial tick-boxing jobs you might expect to do as an apprentice or an intern, not 30 years into a supposedly prestigious professional career.

Most people don’t quite expect that, going into teaching, they will have to do these jobs as a part of their work, and as such, more and more of them are leaving their careers.

There is an argument that they are only leaving to get more money working in the so-called “real jobs” — but it has always been the case that teaching is a poorly-paid job. Therefore, the only obvious reason for the exodus of teachers is the change in the content of the job.

As the deficit in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers increases, those who remain are asked to do much more work. This leads to extra pressure and stress on teachers, causing even some of the most defiant and stubborn to opt for a different career elsewhere.

As such, there is a rather annoying loop: as more teachers leave, pressure on teachers increases, causing yet more to quit, etcetera. Fixing the problems isn’t easy per se, but all it would require is the political will to do so.

All that needs to be done is for education ministers worldwide to re-address and outline exactly what being a teacher means. The job description should be incredibly simple: educate children. If we can refocus teachers’ work onto education and very little else, then the job will become more appealing and the exodus of teachers will be reversed.

Of course, there will still be a little bit of behaviour management and some very small admin tasks that teachers have to do, but these shouldn’t consume most of their time. If the legal documents and paperwork can be simplified or gotten rid of entirely, then this will make the restructuring of the job much easier. Again, though, this all comes down to whether or not there is the political will to change things.

There is another problem, specifically relating to computer science. The teaching shortfall in sciences has always been apparent, but in this newer field it is simply unsustainable. Education has often struggled to lure mathematicians and physicists away from their lucrative industries, but computer science poses a new problem.

This is because the number of computing graduates is too low to satisfy the needs of both the information and AI industry as well as education. Where computing differs from most areas is that the pay in industry is astronomical compared to teaching, with starting salaries three, four, even five times higher.

That’s not to mention how uninspiring teaching is compared to being involved in one of the most exciting lines of work on the planet.

Therefore, not all schools have a computer science teacher, leading to maths, physics, or IT teachers doubling up as computing teachers. This in turn means that fewer students have the ability to complete a computer science degree, ensuring that the shortfall of teachers remains.

There are two ways to get more computer science teachers. One is to try to get large computing firms to “loan out” computer scientists to schools for a couple of days a week, to ensure that schools can at least provide education for those doing major qualifications. This is probably the preferred option of governments, due to the relatively low cost.

However, if schools want to provide computer science education throughout school, instead of just IT, then governments must come up with a funding programme for this. If every school requires 2 computer science teachers on industry-level salaries, then governments must provide:

  • £400,000,000 per year in the UK
  • $5,400,000,000 per year in the US

And that’s assuming that computer scientists would work in education for the same amount of money as they receive for what is widely perceived as a better job.

It’s time for politicians to address the problems that have been allowed to build up over the past couple of decades. While the new problem of computer science teachers will be more difficult to overcome, the general issues within teaching should be very simple to fix.

Politics nerd, policy wonk | Founder, medium.com/politics-fast-and-slow | Editor, politika.org.uk | twitter.com/dave_olsen16 | Policy Paper: https://rb.gy/7coyj

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