By: Camilla Highfield

Everyone in our community should be deeply concerned when there is a shortage of employable teachers in our schools because it means the overall quality of the work force is lowered.

All parents want their children to be in a classroom with a highly professional, engaging and knowledge, kind and relational teacher all day every day. We all know this isn’t the case for every child currently in our system, especially in schools in our most disadvantaged areas. Even if you don’t have children or mokopuna in the state education system right now, you will be working with or employing young people in the future and we all need our future citizens to be engaged life-long learners.

The problem with shortage of supply is that we put at risk the quality of instruction available to our young people because there is no competition for jobs in some areas. Principals are scrambling to ensure there are trained teachers in front of students to take care of baseline priorities, while experienced staff must support partially-trained and less-experienced teachers who have been employed, often on a fixed term basis.

Successive governments have created this problem through systematically ignoring it over the last 20 years and filling the gaps by ‘importing’ teachers internationally. The number of people enrolling in initial teacher education training programmes since 2010 has dropped by 40 percent, while the population has diversified and increased.

The reality is, a female-dominated profession has been disregarded and under-valued and yet, as a society, the value we place on educating our young people should be regarded as a top priority.

And of course there is more – teaching and leadership in the education system has become increasingly complex and demanding, and yet the remuneration of teachers has significantly declined relative to other professions. The starting salary for a teacher is $48k a year, which is not enough to feed and house yourself in a large metropolitan area, let alone look after a family.

This Government has boosted the tertiary education of our young people by providing fees-free incentives, but we also need this investment for our tamariki in the beginning years, where research suggests it makes the most difference. A highly trained, competent teacher with consistent practices for children at age five and six might just set some vulnerable children on an education path that will significantly impact and improve their life chances.

We need short, mid- and long-term strategies to deal with this teacher shortage that take account of pay, training, ongoing support and professional standards. Our best and brightest teachers need to progress quickly and have opportunities to be renumerated for innovation and leadership, not bound to old-fashioned pay scales that were set up more than 50 years ago.

Quick-fix solutions, like the Teacher Education Refresh course, to retrain teachers who have stepped out of the work force, will help principals fill gaps for now but I, like all parents, want my child taught by keen and enthusiastic teachers who hold high standards of professionalism every hour of every day. I don’t want my child to face a different relief teacher each term or know that their teacher lacks confidence and competence because no one else applied for the job.

This is another equity issue in our country we all need to face. The advantaged folk in our community maintain that advantage by sending their children to high decile and private schools which attract the best teacher applicants, while the majority of our young people sit in a classroom and hope for the best.

The original version of this article was published on Newsroom and republished here with the author’s permission.

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