Early career teachers

– their challenges and opportunities

Graduating teachers in NSW face grim statistics, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Professional Officer Amy Cotton writes.

Approximately 50,000 teachers are seeking permanent jobs, of which there are less than 1000 a year. Other states and territories’ teachers face similarly depressing odds.

Increasingly teachers are employed casually or in temporary positions. Their first day may be after the beginning of year induction program, or they may never be offered access to induction or supervision.

Induction means many things, but broadly there are three components – induction to working for our young teachers, induction to teaching, and induction to the workplace. If these components aren’t evenly addressed by an employer, the new employee is simply being set adrift in a school, with no regard for their professional needs, their personal welfare or the education of the students they teach.

Insecure employment is a nerve wracking experience for an early career teacher. In addition to the long term effects this may have on their ability to apply for loans, mortgages or create a solid superannuation base, it isolates them from the teaching community that they need to access when first starting out.

All teachers should have mentors, even casual teachers, but most employers won’t invest in them. This is despite casual teachers being desperately needed to keep a school functioning, and arguably they should be the most skilled, most flexible teachers on campus.

The opportunities

Often early career teachers are left to figure out accreditation or registration by themselves. This induction to teaching process was designed to assist early career teachers, not confuse, isolate and badger them. Sadly, the experience of most trying to reach full registration or Proficient level is more of a battle than a reflection on practice.

Early career teachers may not be aware of the extensive networks available to them. In fairness, if they don’t have mentors, how would they know they exist?

Sometimes early career teachers think they don’t have anything to contribute to a network, but the opposite is the reality. Any network, association or union will openly admit that they crave new voices, particularly from those just embarking on their career journey. Often these groups are involved in shaping the future of education, and it’s important that action is done with a balance of experienced professionals and the early career teachers it will affect in the future.

The Union is the biggest network available to them, but most early career teachers appear to have not heard of the Union, don’t understand what a union is, or can’t articulate why joining a union would assist them. If you’re reading this and know an early career teacher, talk to them about your Union, what the benefits are of joining and how the Union needs their voice.

Additionally, the professional teaching associations are fantastic ‘second faculties’. That is, an isolated teacher can join the association and volunteer on a committee and receive informal mentoring from experienced teachers. It’s top notch professional development as well as a career building experience.

Online social media networks are also great. They can expose the participant to theories and practises outside of the realm of experience and challenge them to innovate. However, it’s important to find positive, uplifting social media groups. Groups that focus on negatives, spread gossip or give poor career or registration advice, can be quite damaging to an individual’s confidence and wellbeing. It’s important to choose to stay or leave social media groups based on what positive and uplifting advice or support you’re receiving.