The new school year is nearly upon us and tens of thousands of students are either excited about new stationery and school shoes, or they are counting down their last days of holiday freedom.
More than 15,000 newly minted teachers are also excited about the prospect of stepping into their first classrooms, but unfortunately less than half of them will find permanent employment.
More teachers than we need
We are currently preparing more teachers than we have positions.
We have patchy data on how many teachers are needed now and into the future, and in what subject areas they are required. In the absence of considered workforce planning, universities continue to enrol large numbers of teacher education students to boost overall student numbers and income.
Employers add to the problem by taking the cheap option and offering short-term contracts rather than permanent positions.
Should they stay or should they go?
The choice for thousands of unemployed new teacher graduates is between staying and doing casual teaching (also known as relief or supply teaching) or going where the work is (if their life circumstances permit). Or sadly, they just give up on teaching altogether.
There are advantages to casual teaching. There are fewer of the “after hours” responsibilities - less administration, not much marking, and no long-term planning, report writing or daily negotiations with tricky parents.
Good casual teachers are highly valued by schools. They are called on often during the year and become part of the school team so when a permanent position does come up, they are well-positioned to fill it. Their experience in the local context and knowledge of the school system makes them attractive candidates for school principals seeking to appoint new staff.
Working in a variety of schools and stepping into many different classrooms also provides casual teachers with lots of ideas for organising their own classrooms, when that opportunity finally arises.
However, long-term casual work can eat away at the soul of newly graduated teachers, who have been imagining themselves teaching their own classrooms from the day they began their teaching degree, and very often for years before that. They want to make a difference in students’ lives and that is hard to do when you are simply filling in occasionally for the main teacher.
Casual teaching can quickly begin to feel like running a kids’ club, and on the bad days lion taming seems an easier option. Before the casual route begins to wear down their enthusiasm and energy, newly graduated teachers should consider their other option - leaving. Not leaving teaching, but instead heading to where the jobs are - in remote Australia or overseas.
Teaching in the UK
Thanks to some poor workforce planning of their own, the UK currently needs teachers - and they like newly graduated Australian teachers.
Teacher salaries are lower in the UK, but, unlike casual teaching, the fortnightly income is predictable and you can budget accordingly.
In London the cost of living is high, but the lifestyle is exciting for a young graduate - and the continent is just a train ride away.
There are also jobs in other areas of England, where the cost of living is more reasonable. Often these jobs are in areas where UK graduates choose not to go to, where there are disadvantaged students in struggling schools.
For those who went into teaching to make a difference, these are excellent positions in which to achieve those visions - as are positions in the Australia’s remote indigenous communities.
Teaching English overseas
Going overseas to teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) is another option, and there are many TESOL opportunities all over the world.
Being an English speaker with a general teaching qualification is often enough to get a position in some countries, but it isn’t enough to do the job well. Anyone considering teaching English overseas should do themselves and their students a favour and first get a TESOL qualification.
When you arrive in your new destination, join your local teachers association. All new teachers need support networks, and teachers’ professional associations are the ideal way to meet other teachers with similar interests, as well as experienced teachers who can help new teachers through tough times.
Reason for optimism
If you are one of those many thousands of teachers waiting for a permanent position, it can feel extremely disheartening. Take heart, and hang in there.
This is just the first chapter in your teaching career, and it can be one that sets you up for a fascinating career story. Later chapters will be filled with tales from your very own classrooms. I know because my own teaching career began with casual teaching and a stint of teaching overseas.
If you decide to travel to find a teaching job, your experience away will give you an interesting edge when you return, and jobs will be easier to find. You will be a much better teacher for having seen the world through different eyes.
If you stay, make the most of the casual experience. Look at what other teachers do, keep notes, take photos, and collect resources. And make a good impression in the schools you work in - a permanent position is just a retirement away! They are even predicting a teacher shortage by 2020.