Career-change teachers ‘won’t succeed without more support’

Talking points

  • Schools around Victoria are desperate to lure teachers intosubjects such as maths and sciences.
  • A quarter of teachers intend to leave teaching before they retire, according to a report.
  • The state and federal governments have invested millions to recruit career-changers.

At 62, with a 40-year career in technology behind him, Larry De Cata could be excused for wanting to wind down a little. Instead, he has gone back to school, both to learn and to teach.

Mr De Cata is studying a unique two-year master of teaching program at the University of Melbourne that is designed to catapult qualified career-changers into hard-to-staff roles in regional and disadvantaged schools.

Larry De Cata is starting a teaching career at the age of 62, teaching VCE systems engineering at Rosehill Secondary College.Credit:Joe Armao

After just six weeks of university classes, he began teaching VCE systems engineering and year 9 and 10 technologies at Rosehill Secondary College in Niddrie this year.

Rosehill needed a teacher who could take those subjects. Mr De Cata had had his fill of the corporate world and wanted to use his engineering degree to help young people find their way into a profession that has been rewarding for him.

“I was brought up in Reservoir and often think that but for a few sliding-door moments I would not have gone to university,” he said.

“My motivation is, can I work with students to show them why this stuff is relevant so that they can go forward and get into technology and enjoy themselves?”

Schools across Victoria are desperate to lure teachers into subjects such as maths, sciences and technologies. Governments are also keen to help them.

The Victorian government has invested $41.7 million and the Commonwealth more than $20 million since 2019 on two separate programs to recruit career-changers into schools that face teacher shortages.

But while hundreds of teachers have been recruited through these programs, a new report by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education warns that the equally important task of ensuring career-change teachers stay in the profession is being neglected.

The report warns that recruitment drives will fail to fix teacher shortages until the issues that drive many existing teachers out of the profession – “relatively low pay, insecure employment, heavy workloads, inadequate ongoing support and ever-increasing administrative requirements and bureaucratic duties in teaching” – are resolved.

Master of teaching student Mr De Cata with VCE students at Rosehill Secondary College.Credit:Joe Armao

“We lose many, many teachers in the first five years of teaching,” report co-author Merryn Dawborn-Gundlach said.

Mr De Cata, who is earning an income for the teaching internship included in his master’s, said he was working longer hours than he had in his previous career, including extensive lesson planning on weekends.

“What has surprised me is the amount of material that teachers have to generate,” he said.

“I thought in the back of my mind the Education Department would provide outlines in terms of course material and content but … there isn’t a lot of material around.”

The report makes several recommendations to help career-change teachers succeed in their new roles, including more support from universities while they study and more from schools to help them adjust to teaching.

“This support is crucial and helps career-change teachers navigate the challenges that arise during early years of teaching,” it argues. “The benefits of providing support at the start of the teaching journey far outweigh the costs.”

More funding to enable research into the motivation, transition and retention of career-change teachers is also critical to ensure money that has already been invested in attracting them to the profession does not go to waste, the report argues.

Dr Dawborn-Gundlach said career-change teachers brought their own strengths to the profession distinct from younger university graduates.

“I think there is a resilience and strength and experience that comes with being a career-change person. They’ve learnt about how workplaces operate,” she said.

But she said they also faced challenges, including adapting to contemporary ways of teaching and managing difficult student behaviour.

“Many are surprised at how much work is involved. These days there is the added challenge of managing student wellbeing, a lot of administration and many aspects of teaching that are outside the classroom.”

Neither the Department of Education and Training nor the Victorian Institute of Teaching could provide figures on how many career-change teachers work in Victorian schools.

A state government spokesperson said the government had implemented a variety of programs to encourage more people to teach, including innovative degrees to fast-track graduate career-changers and campaigns to inspire future teachers.

The future supply of teachers faces various challenges, including a potential for the loss of 14 per cent of teachers due to reasons other than retirement in the next 10 years, a December 2021 report by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership said.

The institute found that one in four teachers intended to leave teaching before they retired. Of those, 87 per cent said excessive workload was their main reason for wanting to leave, while 29 per cent said insufficient pay was also a factor and 26 per cent listed student behaviour.

Victorian Education Department data reveals that 20 per cent of newly registered school teachers leave the profession within five years.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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