August 16, 2019


The programs are long and intense, the creativity and relationships aspect of the vocation has been eroded, there is pervasive negativity in the media, and comparatively poor salary and working conditions.

Nan Bahr, Southern Cross University and Jo-Anne Ferreira, Southern Cross University

The oldest profession – teaching – is no longer attractive. The Queensland Deans of Education revealed there have been alarming drops in first preference applications for this year’s teacher preparation courses. Queensland has experienced an overall 26% drop. Most alarmingly, UQ reported a 44% plunge. QUT saw a 19% drop.

These figures reflect a national trend. ACU’s is down 20% for campuses in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. This follows disappointing interest in 2017. VTAC reported a 40% drop in 2017 compared to 2016. So why don’t people want to be teachers anymore? There are at least seven reasons people aren’t so keen.

1. Teacher education competency fixation

Our best teachers can inspire a student to achieve beyond their wildest expectations. They find the teachable moments and use humour to explain key concepts. They care for their students as individuals and go that extra mile to design their teaching to connect with them in meaningful ways. Their assessments are fair and they rejoice with students when they master important ideas.

These professional attributes are the essence of good teaching. But accredited teacher education programs must be designed around 37 competencies as prescribed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). These competencies don’t address these personal attributes.

Having a competency framework is not so terrible. We need teachers to have observable capabilities to plan assessment, to know content and related ways to teach it. The skills are necessary, but not sufficient. We need the relationships dimension in the teacher education package. The types of things we value in our best teachers are conspicuous by their absence in program accreditation. So why would someone aspire to teach if the interpersonal dimension is lost?

2. Standardised testing obsession

Standardised testing has become a national sport, with PISA and NAPLAN. Much class time is spent preparing students to do well. The stakes are high for the teachers and their schools. While teachers do need to test their students to check on their progress, the national obsession is a problem.

Teachers spend a great deal of time preparing students for these tests. Standardised tests are a unique testing genre, and teachers need to attend to this preparation without abandoning everything else they need to do. This is a challenge, and the first casualty is teacher creativity. International reports also argue this point. Where’s the fun in teaching if you don’t have scope to be creative?

3. Lack of autonomy

Finland enjoys attention for their successful education system. Finnish teachers have an open brief to decide what to teach their students and how. In Australia we micromanage and control. The emphasis on play and the arts in Australian schools is lacking.

In Australia, departments of education provide explicit guidance for classes well ahead of time. This means the teaching approach and content is in place even before a teacher meets their students. This undermines the ability for teachers to be responsive and tailor teaching to learners’ needs. And so, the professional responsibility of Australian teachers is compromised – making the job seem rather unattractive.

4. Work intensification

Work intensification refers to the increasing range of duties and responsibilities that have been attached to the role of teachers. Teachers report the rewards of teaching are obscured by this, and the crowded curriculum. They are stressed by the range of things they’re required to teach and the snowball effect that emerges from increased requirements.

Intensification is due to many factors, not least of which is the expansion of teacher responsibilities to include social skills development previously addressed at home. Teaching is well known to be hard work. Yet, hard work without appreciation or respect is a disincentive.

5. Negative public image

An audit of newspaper stories in Queensland over the past year shows a tendency to report negatively on teachers. In the 12 months examined, 11 months featured more negative stories.

6. Teacher bashing

Teaching as a vocation is publicly scorned. This is commonly called ‘teacher bashing’. As a career, teaching is tolerated as a convenient backup pathway for people, but not endorsed as the main game. There have even been reports of teachers being actually physically bashed.

7. Teachers’ salaries are poor

The final nail in the coffin: poor salaries. A graduate dentist from a five year course earns A$130,000. The majority of secondary teachers have also completed a five year program, but the starting salary is A$65,486 reaching A$71,000 after 5-10 years.

No wonder people don’t want to be teachers

It’s not surprising, then, that numbers of applicants for teacher education programs have slumped. The programs are long and intense, the creativity and relationships aspect of the vocation has been eroded, there is pervasive negativity in the media, and comparatively poor salary and working conditions.

The ConversationIt’s hard to know where to start, but appealing to the vocational drive of those who love leading others to achieve by raising the profile of these additional attributes in teacher education programs might help. This would require a gentle review of the national program design and accreditation guidelines. Or perhaps we need to be better at reporting teacher success in the mass media.

Nan Bahr, Pro Vice Chancellor (Students)/ Dean of Education, Southern Cross University and Jo-Anne Ferreira, Director, Teaching & Learning, Education, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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  • My daughter is a teacher in a remote QLD location. Her pay is actually very good and because she is remote she doesnt pay rent and has a supplied house but the children can be a bit of a handful as there are many with ADHD and autisum and there are no special schools available.


  • It’s certainly a different world for teachers today compared to when I was a child. So much more is expected from them and they have to deal with a whole lot more. Their job is difinitely not an easy one


  • I feel sorry for teachers I could never be one! And then the pressure from the parents being in your face too just adds to it all. No thanks!


  • Thanks for the eye opening article. Teaching is definitely a difficult job and applause is deserved to those who work in the industry.


  • Such an important job. We need to value teachers more and pay appropriately.


  • Yes, a lot of jobs come with pros and cons.


  • I can fully understand why people would not want to become a teacher. It’s now so much more then just teaching kids at school. You have to keep an eye on them to see if tgey have issues at home, and report it. Suspected abuse, report it. Unhealthy lunchbox contents, report and remove it. Not to mention kids these days gave no respect whatsoever for teachers! Hours are long and pay isn’t great


  • Didn’t even think that teachers would be underpaid


  • This is a very interesting article.


  • At the beginning of a school year the teachers go back to work the week before pupils do. One teacher I had was notified she was being transferred to a country town only days before the start of the school year. She had to collect personally owned teaching aids she used, pack everything she owned (clothes, household items etc) and move within a week. A lot of teachers take home pupils assignments, ordinary work from lessons etc and mark them during the weekend every week. In High School a teacher may teach 2 subjects but do so for 3 classes each having 35- 40 pupils in each class. That is a lot of work to check and allocate marks for. 1 teacher I know did at least 6 hours every weekend. That didn’t include preparations for the following week. Many teachers are now on yearly contracts so they are not guaranteed a job for the following year.


  • Love and respect for the teachers is what is going missing… Feel so sad :(


  • I am a teacher who is feeling reluctant to go back to work again (Just had my second child). If teaching could be about the students learning at their own pace, teaching topics that interest them and less on being told what has to be taught, what levels they should be at then I’d be back in a heart beat. There is a lot that is put on teachers these days that back when I was at school would have been put back on the parents. We are there to educate your children, not parent them!


  • Teachers are our stepping stones towards a flourishing career. It’s disgraceful the way they get treated, not only by the students but also by their administrators.


  • I am a retired elementary school librarian in the US. I retired early because of the same problems mentioned above plus a principal who was a sociopath and made my life and many teachers miserable. I saw veteran teachers retire earlier than they wanted to because of the very same principal. When teachers aren’t even supported by administrators, there is no way to overcome other issues they face. I truly don’t understand why Finnish schools aren’t becoming the norm or at least the role model for more school systems. I now volunteer with a young colleague in her elementary library because it allows me to still do what I love, but I don’t have to be involved with the politics. I am saddened to know that this insanity is hurting children in other countries that should know better. My prayers will be with Australian teachers as well.


  • Give them a well deserved pay rise.


  • It’s a pity it’s such a under valued job, teachers deserve better.


  • I would love to see MoM have more positive and supportive articles about teachers and the great things they do with their students and the great things they do with students in their communities.
    Most of the articles that I read through the emails are negative. Let’s start the positive change here.
    There will always be bad apples amongst the good like in every profession but let’s focus on the teachers who create engaging and creative lessons, that spend hundreds if not thousands on things that make the classrooms and lessons better including prizes and gifts, that give up time with their own children to email after hours or add photos to learning journeys, who mark at all hours to give feedback and adjust lessons accordingly. Let’s lift up the teachers who do the very best they can to support each child and spends hours wondering if it’s enough and can they do better. The teachers who are genuinely interested in not only the students but the families, who celebrate with you and cry with you. The teachers who make their classes a family for the year and truly feel upset at the end of the year when it’s time to let go. Let’s all tell the teacher’s in our child’s life that they are appreciated and we support them. And if you have one that is difficult to appreciate, find that one thing (like communication, their story reading skills, their room display etc) and complement that. It may just be the best thing they’ve heard in weeks and may encourage a change for the better.

    • Yes! More positive media about the teachers that work hard. I am studying to be a teacher and the amount of time, effort, study, care that goes into the profession is staggering. Meeting the demands of curriculum and documentations and parents as well as the students is exhausting. Most teachers are in it for the love of teaching and will spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets. The pay compared to the effort is grossly uneven.


  • I like to think that I am an extremely good teacher. I have been on mat. leave for 3 years and I’m not sure that I am going to go back. I don’t think I could work that hard anymore with a family. I also couldn’t go back to teaching and just do the minimum requirement. I know there is school holidays etc – but it’s not a family friendly job throughout the school year.


  • The education system needs a good shake up, I remember in the 1970’s they had to import teachers from the USA to make up the numbers, so it looks like nothing has improved since.


  • They have little support in the classrooms too, and alot more kids with emotional and behavioural regulation concerns.


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