Earlier this week, the NSW Teachers Federation revealed that schools in regional NSW are scrambling to find staff, with some principals now turning to social media to fill positions.
One principal took to Twitter to invite “anyone who wants to have a crack at teaching science and is an enthusiastic and competent teacher” to apply.
The federal government has reduced the fees for teaching degrees by about a half in a bid to attract more students into the field.
But do the shortages and cheaper fees make this a career worth considering?
While many teachers find the profession has a noble purpose in helping shape and improve children’s lives, the path to a permanent job and future career progression can be less clear.
Studies have found teachers are drowning in paper work and face stunted opportunities for career development and progression.
For new graduates like Ms Price, the early career opportunity to work in a rural or remote area can unexpectedly turn into an enjoyable lifestyle choice.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would move to a rural area. I always thought I’d be living in Sydney or overseas,” she said.
“Moving to Wagga Wagga to teach here [at Holy Trinity Primary School in Ashmont] was the best decision I ever made, seeing the difference I can make in so many children’s lives.”
Origin Energy said the program aims to help schools in low socio-economic communities.
“High achieving teacher graduates are almost twice as likely to be employed in affluent state or independent schools rather than disadvantaged schools that need them most,” Sean Barrett, head of the Origin Energy Foundation said.
Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith, director of the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education at the Australian Catholic University, said there was a lack of adequate workforce planning data collected in Australia to help identify and properly plan ahead for future teacher shortages, including those currently being experienced in maths and science.
“What we need is a systematic approach to looking at who is coming in, who are the candidates attracted to teaching, what are the areas of shortage we can project and what is our response … rather than just saying put your hand up and get the ATAR,” she said.
“We need dependable data to inform workforce planning and identify projections of oversupply and shortages, especially with population changes.
“Most countries have workforce planning for teaching. Australia has ‘this is what you need to get into teaching’ and then we wait for shortfalls and supply issues.”
Professor Wyatt-Smith said the reasons for teacher shortages were complex and included working conditions, the status of the profession and its failure to retain many teachers beyond their first five years.
“Some of the teaching profession actually discourage the best and the brightest from going into teaching,” she said. “In the Republic of Ireland, teachers are highly regarded. In Australia you have seen overt criticism of teaching as a career of choice.”
The type and severity of teacher shortages varies across different parts of the state and around the country.
“The picture of shortages is a complex tapestry of geography, discipline area and phases of schooling,” she said.
“It is time for Australia to get smart about workforce planning, workforce studies in teacher education.”
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos describes teaching as “one of the noblest of all professions”.
“That said we have some serious challenges ahead of us as a result of system failures that have exposed the system to some risk. There is no greater risk than a looming teacher shortage as a result of those system failures,” he said.
“We are now seeing a system where teachers are seriously overworked, underpaid and undervalued.”
A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Education said teacher supply is always fluctuating and would “continue to be a challenge in an education system as large as NSW’s”.
“Everything from sudden changes to school enrolment, professional development, illness, the economy and graduate availability play into the staffing needs of schools,” she said.
“Over the next ten years we will be implementing a staffing supply strategy that will help mitigate these factors.”
The department said it has a range of initiatives to to fill teacher shortages including through its teach.NSW.edu.au website, social media, scholarships and sponsored training.
The Teach.MathsNOW scholarship covers $50,000 in course fees and provides a $5000 one-off training allowance, part-time employment as a para professional during the final three semesters of study, a $5000 study completion grant and a permanent teaching position as a maths teacher.
The department employs more than 74,000 teachers in NSW public schools, with 1250 permanent permanent positions currently vacant.
The Australian government said it provides $28.7 million to address shortages of high-quality school leaders and specialist teachers working at disadvantaged schools.
The federal Department of Education said understanding and addressing the issues that affect teacher supply and demand was essential to retaining teachers and school leaders.
“At the national level, the government is committed to the development and implementation of the Australian Teacher Workforce Data (ATWD) collection,” a spokeswoman said.
The data would track teacher education and the experience of teachers in the workforce to provide a better understanding of supply issues. The department said it expects the data initiative would be implemented by the end of this year.
Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.