Editorial: School leaders and the teacher shortage
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 7, 8 October 2021, page no.5
Over the past few months, I have been privileged to attend forums across the state and listen to the many issues being managed in schools that impact upon member workload and wellbeing.
The everchanging role of our school leaders leaves them facing many challenges, and two in particular are of major concern; the department’s expectation that they should keep doing more without additional resourcing; and a shortage of teachers, whether in certain locations across the state or experienced in particular subject areas.
The shortage also extends to the supply and temporary teachers needed to fill vacancies created by teachers accessing sick or long service leave. This is compounded for our teaching principals, who, when absent, not only need to find a replacement classroom teacher but someone to step into their role for the day and be at school to open the doors to the students and remain until the last student has gone home.
Schools are having to cover the gaps as best they can. I have been advised that some classes are being placed together in multi-teaching spaces and supervised by heads of departments, deputy principals and principals, because they couldn’t get the necessary supply teachers.
I’m also aware of deputies having to take on a teaching load for one day a week, and heads of department – who are meant to have a maximum teaching load of 40 per cent – reducing their release time to ensure that students have a teacher to work with them.
We’ve got examples of schools developing their own promotional material to attract teachers, while others are looking toward teacher employment agencies to fill the gap.
When looking at the data, the department could be forgiven for questioning our assertions that a teacher shortage exists. However, it’s what is behind the data that tells the true story, and that is that school leaders do everything they can to ensure that, despite the shortage, students have a teacher in front of them day after day.
I think we sometimes fail to recognise the significant role of our school leader members and the balancing act that they perform every day. I once asked a group of Principal Union Reps, if we say that a teacher’s role is to plan, teach, assess, report and develop, how do we define your role? Their answer – to provide the space so classroom teachers can plan, teach, assess, report and develop. This means that, for most teachers, school leaders are the buffer between themselves and their employer.
It is school leaders who wade through the “soft launches” and “gentle releases” to work out what must be done and what would be nice to do. It is school leaders who advise TRACER or the department what vacancies they have and what they need to replace. They reorganise timetables, receive and respond to parent complaints, monitor social media and “market” the school, provide access to PD and training, manage student behaviour management and disciplinary absences, do all they can to provide a healthy and safe learning and work environment, manage facilities and project manage construction, attend school councils and P&Cs, liaise with the community and make local industry connections, coordinate parent-teacher interviews, attend student extra-curricular activities, celebrate successes, manage crises and much more.
When applying to study education, applicants are required by some universities to provide two essays – one on why they want to become a teacher and their influences, and the other on their leadership experiences and how they will contribute to their role as a teacher. If entrants to our profession need to recognise the importance of leadership, then surely our employer can do the same when it comes to negotiating improvements to school leaders’ conditions and salaries?
School leaders also wonder who the principals and heads of programs of the future will be, if the reality is between a 60-70-hour week?
It is no wonder then that our EB log of claims calls for the full implementation of the Promotional Position Classification Review and for middle leaders in all sectors.
We need to spend time listening to our school leaders and investing in their development. We need to promote the path to school leadership. We cannot have a circumstance where our schools are led by people who are not, or never have been, a teacher.
My last column posed the question “Who’d want to teach?” and called on you to celebrate the profession by sharing your stories of that one teacher who made a difference in your life. Again, I call on our profession to celebrate us. Send a short 30 second video to firstname.lastname@example.org telling me about the great things that our school leaders or our classroom teachers do. Let’s shine a light on the hidden work of the profession and make our final Journal for the year one of celebration of our profession – of what we do and the differences that we make in the lives of our students. There is no better time than now to make sure that our profession gets the recognition it deserves.