New research shows peer support could be the answer to significantly reducing the number of NSW teachers who drop out in the first five years of their career.
The Teacher’s Health Foundation recently commissioned a survey to study how relationships in general and peers in particular can positively influence teacher wellbeing, resilience, and retention.
This research will be conducted throughout 2016 and aims to examine the experience of early career teachers, looking at the role of peer support, and considering what strategies could be implemented to improve their wellbeing.
Researcher Dr Greer Bennett from the Hunter Institute of Mental Health told the ABC that she hoped to have the recommendations published in the next few months.
Estimates in numerous surveys by teacher unions and education academics has shown attrition rates for early career teachers in western countries is around 25% – 40% within the first five years.
“That means that almost one in two teachers will leave the profession before their fifth work anniversary, which is some really alarming statistics,” she said.
“It's not just worrying for the education profession, but also for the economy — there are some statistics that say almost $500 million in training is lost every five years due to teacher attrition.”
Bennett added she was interested in identifying strategies to improve support for new teachers.
“The over-arching goal of this study is, firstly, to gain the views of those early career teachers, and understand why they're leaving the teaching profession when they are,” she said.
She suggested another focus should be on promoting “protective factors” such as the positive role that peer support plays for teachers.
Graham O'Brian, who has worked as a secondary school teacher in the Hunter Valley for more than 40 years, recommends reduced teaching loads for new teachers.
This, he said, would allow more time for teachers to prepare for the role, adding that in-service training would alleviate pressure.
“They get frustrated — there's a multitude of things flying around,” he said.
“In the end, the teacher has a responsibility to the students, but also there are expectations from people who've never been in front of a classroom.
Pressure from parents was also identified as a factor in teachers leaving the profession early in their career.
“Demanding parents that say their little Johnny is smarter than what little Johnny is, and the teacher gets the blame,” he said, adding the drop-out rate did not come as a surprise.
“It makes a lot of sense because the job is not anywhere near as easy as it appears. Certainly it's one of the few jobs, just like nursing, where you are able to make a difference,” he said.
“But, the competing demands of all the things that go on in the classroom, in addition to the demands of the bureaucracy, make it inordinately difficult. I can understand why people drop out.”