Australian teachers’ perceptions of their work
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 128 No 2, 31 March 2023, page no. 27
In May last year, Monash University asked 5,497 Australian educators for their perceptions of teaching in 2022. The anonymous survey explored multiple facets of teaching, including job demands, resources, support, and wellbeing. The results of the study reveal an array of complex issues facing Australian teachers, and their current perception of the profession.
Below we summarise the findings of the Australian Teachers’ Perceptions of Their Work in 2022 report.
Respect and appreciation
A key finding of the report was that respect and appreciation are crucial factors in the satisfaction and retention of teachers. Yet, the report highlights an overwhelming lack of respect and appreciation felt by teachers from the public, with 70.8 per cent of the survey sample feeling not respected for their profession.
Different groups of the public contributed differently to participants’ perception; only 15.2 per cent of participants felt respected by the media, and 9.1 per cent by politicians. Results have proved to be consistent over time, and only minimally affected by COVID-19. These findings emphasise the importance of increasing a sense of respect and appreciation, in particular from “public” bodies.
The report notes that respect and appreciation can take many forms, including recognition of achievements, supportive feedback, and opportunities for professional growth. Support from colleagues and positive feedback from students and families were considered by participants strongly influential towards feeling respected and appreciated.
Conversely, barriers to appreciation followed themes of excessive workload, insufficient salary, and disrespect from students and parents. The report was critical of the media for incorrectly portraying the nature and extent of the complexity of teachers’ work. Unmanageable work conditions, disrespectful environments and insufficient rewards cannot be negated by gratitude alone.
Satisfaction and belonging
The report indicates that teachers’ sense of belonging and satisfaction is positively related to factors such as student growth, effective school leadership, and close student and colleague relationships.
Participants’ satisfaction with their role as a teacher has seen a decrease since 2019, with only 45.8 per cent feeling satisfied. These feelings of satisfaction seem to decline with their tenure and have a negative relationship with their retention. Again, excessive workloads proved instrumental in participants’ satisfaction, with some claiming the increasing expectations and draining aspects of work significantly contribute to mental health concerns and burnouts.
Almost 80 per cent of participants feel as though they belong to the teaching profession. This positive response is impacted by personal relationships with both to colleagues and parents, often described as warm and passionate. Supportive schools and systems also played an important role.
Negative public perception, workload, negative media, lack of support, unrealistic expectations, and time pressures, however, all threatened a sense of belonging.
Workload and implications on work-life balance was a prominent theme among survey responses, followed by health and wellbeing concerns, and concerns about the changing nature of the profession. One participant reflected that “Teaching has become about data collection rather than the student as a person”, a common sentiment among many in the modern profession.
Most participants feel safe in their workplace, however roughly a quarter of participants do not feel safe, often caused by abuse and harassment from students and parents, with other impacts related to COVID-19. The report recognised that feeling safe in the workplace should be a minimum expectation for all Australian workers, and the demise in respect and appreciation for teachers is a factor in the prevalence of circumstances where teachers are feeling unsafe.
Key challenges, recommendations and implications
The survey concluded by asking participants to identify key challenges facing Australian teachers, and possible solutions.
In response to the key challenges concerning workload, student/parent issues, respect, and pay, the report focuses on four solutions.
- Additional funding for extra staff – particularly teacher-aides, social workers, administrative staff, and staff with a greater degree of specialisation, related to reducing class sizes and helping with workload.
- Place greater expectations on students and parents as they interact in education settings.
- Reduce administration – the burden of administrative work on the quality of teaching is clear, and a reduction of administrative work will see increased student performance.
- Value teachers – addressing the negative public perception of the profession, an emerging theme of the report was a call for solutions that improve the ways that teachers are respected, appreciated, and valued.
- The report concludes by emphasising that the issues raised must be addressed, and the most effective way to do so is through the inclusion of teachers’ voices in the policy making context.
A complete copy of the report and the study can be accessed at https://www.monash.edu/perceptions-of-teaching