Wellbeing and workload

What are our graduate teachers telling us?

IEU Victoria Tasmania Branch recently conducted its third survey of graduate teacher members. IEU Victoria Tasmania Branch Student and Graduate Project Officer Jacqui Scott outlines the survey results and the international research on graduate teachers.

The results and data trends from IEU Victoria Tasmania Branch surveys are consistent with a growing number of national and international academic studies and Australian media reports.

There is a perception in Australia that there is a high attrition rate of teachers, both during their initial teacher education (ITE) and within the first five years of graduation.

An Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) report (2016) stated that estimates of attrition throughout the first five years of teaching are uncertain and range from 8% to 50%. A consistent finding is that most teachers enter the profession with positive motivations to teach and a desire to be good teachers (Bucahanan et al 2013).

The main reasons these motivations shift include insecure employment; lack of collegial support and sufficient mentoring; heavy workload and increasing additional expectations; and an inability to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Insecure employment

The 2016 AITSL report also found just under half of graduates are employed full time in schools in their first year. Of those working full time in schools, only around a third had permanent employment. A lack of ongoing employment and job security have been identified as factors for early career teachers leaving. (Mayer et al 2015)

Insecure fixed term employment leaves teachers unable to access entitlements such as paid maternity leave and unable to apply for loans. It is difficult for provisionally registered teachers to address the requirements to become fully registered while they are on precarious contracts of employment.

Training, induction and mentoring

Many reports indicate that ITE is not up to scratch. (Henebery 2019). The recent OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) found that Australian teachers reported being less prepared than the OECD average. The support provided to graduate teachers, in particular through mentorship, is also a concern. Mentoring has been consistently proven to impact on the intentions of teachers leaving the profession. (Kelly et al 2019)

Mentorship needs to be of high quality for it to impact upon attrition rates. Graduate teachers face many challenges in their initial years of teaching. A good induction should include consistent mentorship, allocated additional time for planning and reflecting on practice and guidance to support moving from provisional to full registration. John Ryan, the Director of Queensland College of Teachers said “the support of school leaders and teachers cannot be underestimated in supporting teacher wellbeing and retaining beginning teachers in the profession”.

I was given very little support during my graduate year and it has completely knocked my confidence as a teacher.


Kelly et al cite a 2013 Staff in Australia’s Schools (SIAS) survey which found that the two most important reasons for intention to leave the profession were “workload too heavy” and “insufficient recognition and reward”. Teacher workload includes, but is not limited to, the number of worked hours, the quantity of work not related to teaching (eg administrative work) and in general the feeling of being overwhelmed by work. In recent years Australian teachers have seen an increase of responsibilities: individual learning plans, differentiation, management of ICT, national standardised testing, a multitude of policies and legal requirements, and the list goes on (see TALIS article in this edition).

Wellbeing and mental health

A small 2019 (yet to be released) study conducted by Bond University (Stapleton) examined the health and wellbeing of Australian teachers. The study produced troubling findings with more than half of respondent teachers suffering from anxiety and nearly one-fifth with depression. Respondents revealed their work environment, workload and finances to be the most significant sources of stress. 17% screened positive for having probable alcohol abuse or dependence. These rates are higher than the national averages.

The report identifies insecure employment and heavy workload as significant indicators for stress and burnout. Associate Professor Stapleton said these pressures “contribute to, or exacerbate, existing mental health issues”. Early career teachers are at risk of developing burnout and mental health issues if they are not supported in the workplace, as they learn the ropes and find strategies for resilience.

It is evident from a multitude of studies that supportive school environments, the ability to find stable permanent employment, and manageable workload are key attributes in not only improving retention rates, but also in ensuring safe and healthy workplaces for all teachers.

Union’s graduate survey paints a worrying picture

For three years IEU Victoria Tasmania has conducted an annual survey of the previous years’ graduate teacher members. The survey asks participants about the type of contract they are on, the severity of their workload, whether they are supported in their workplace, and how their wellbeing is impacted during their first year of teaching.

The most recent results have revealed worrying trends developing in our non government schools. The combination of more insecure fixed term contracts and increasing workload pressures are an indicator of why so many early career teachers are reporting dangerous impacts on their health and leaving the profession.


Almost three-quarters of 2018 graduate members were on a fixed term contract, a significant increase compared to the previous year’s data, which showed almost half the cohort held ongoing positions in their schools. Almost one in six of those on fixed term contracts last year were either not provided a reason or were told their employment was fixed because they were a first year teacher or it was a ‘trial period’ – neither of which are valid reasons under the Victorian Catholic Multi-Enterprise Agreement. More than 15% of last year’s graduates either moved schools this year or are no longer teaching. Some claimed they moved or left due to career development or relocation, but others stated they were bullied or not offered positions. One member was even “told to take a year off by the Principal”, and another “missed out because they wanted someone with more experience”.

Support and induction

Three in 10 graduates didn’t have a mentor teacher for support last year, up from two in 10 the previous years. As a result, 11% of last year’s graduates had issues with their requirements for full teacher registration and felt “a lack of support” put extra pressure on their workload. Almost half the graduates in 2018 felt they weren’t given enough opportunity for professional development. The same cohort also reported a lower sense of being valued by school leadership, with 46% feeling either unsure or not at all valued. One member said “I was given very little support during my graduate year and it has completely knocked my confidence as a teacher”.


The 2018 cohort of graduate teachers also reported the highest inability to cope with workload, with more than a quarter stating they did not cope well. The main reported additional workload issues that affected graduates in both 2017 and 2018 were assessment and reporting (affecting 47% of surveyed graduates in 2017 and 70% in 2018) and full teacher registration requirements (affecting over half of surveyed graduates in both years). Other reported workload issues were planning, lack of support, conflict and relationships with other staff, and leadership expectations.

Wellbeing and attrition

More than half of last year’s graduate teachers felt they were unable to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Previous years’ graduates felt similar, with less than 10% in each cohort feeling they were completely able to manage.

More than 85% of the 2018 cohort also claimed to spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about their students and their job. Last year, exactly half of the graduates felt that their job adversely impacted their mental health at some point during the year. Many of these teachers referred to high stress during report writing and assessment periods, a lack of support, and long uncertainty about their job as aspects that negatively impacted their wellbeing.

One teacher said, “I had to resort to medication to get me through the year. The whole experience affected me negatively. I hid it well at school, but it has put me off a career that I love.”

Another stated they considered leaving teaching at several points throughout the year. When asked if they think they will still be a teacher in five years’ time, 35% of last year’s graduates responded either no or unsure. Many referred to the stress, workload and expectations as reasons they would leave the profession. One member said, “[I’m] not sure if I want a job with no switch off for the rest of my working life”.


Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, (2016). What do we know about early career teacher attrition rates in Australia? AITSL, Melbourne. https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/research-evidence/spotlight/spotlight---attrition.pdf?sfvrsn=40d1ed3c_0. Accessed 21/08/19

Buchanan, J, Prescott, A, Schuck, S, Aubusson, P, Burke, P, (2013). Teacher retention and attrition: Views of early career teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 38, no. 3.

Henebery, B, (2019). Teachers being pushed to the brink – report. The Educator, Australia. https://www.theeducatoronline.com/k12/news/teachers-being-pushed-to-the-brink--report/263520. Accessed 20/08/19

Kelly, N., Cespedes, M., Clarà, M., & Danaher, P. A., (2019). Early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession: The complex relationships among preservice education, early career support, and job satisfaction. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(3).

Mayer, D., Allard, A., Bates, R., Dixon, M., Doecke, B., Kline, J., Kostogriz, A., Moss, J., Rowan, L., Walker-Gibbs, B., White, S. & Hodder, R., (2015), Studying the effectiveness of teacher education - Final report, Deakin University, Geelong.

Stapleton, P., (2019). Teachers are more depressed and anxious than the average Australian. The Conversation, Australia. https://theconversation.com/teachers-are-more-depressed-and-anxious-than-the-average-australian-117267. Accessed 10/08/19

The Educator, (2019). Teacher workloads on the rise – report. The Educator, Australia. https://www.theeducatoronline.com/k12/news/teacher-workloads-on-the-rise--report/265040. Accessed 21/08/19

Tale of two teachers

Pamela Escobar

I am currently in my second year of teaching. I did CRT work for a term at a local primary school then applied for a job at a Catholic school, Loreto Mandeville Hall and have been here ever since. I love teaching History and English and at Loreto have enjoyed learning about and teaching Positive Education. At the moment I am teaching Years 7-10.

Since childhood, I have always wanted to be a teacher. As a teenager I explored other possible career pathways but I always came back to teaching. I love working with kids and the feeling of helping a child learn something and be proud of themselves for it is incomparable to anything else. It also allows and encourages me to continue being a learner myself.

Two of the big challenges many graduate teachers face once they get into the classroom are their overall lack of experience and learning to ask for continuous help until they get their footing in the new environment. I think it’s important to establish a mentoring program early within the school and regular meetings (once a fortnight) is an important and effective process for mentoring and feeling supported.

In terms of preparing teachers for the classroom, I think universities need to allow students to go on longer placements, particularly during their final year. Most of what being a teacher truly entails is learned within the classroom, learning with and from real students rather than learning more theory.

Is it possible for beginning teachers to maintain a work/life balance? Yes, as long as there is a support system in place, both personally and within the workplace. Mentoring, having someone to trust and someone looking out for your wellbeing is crucial. It is important to have those ‘teacher’ friends who will support you and encourage you to take time away from too much work in order to avoid burning out within those early years. Schools need to have teacher wellbeing programs in place, eg counselling programs or agencies, which are available to all staff.

I do encourage a career in teaching, it isn’t without its difficulties and challenges, but the rewards can be far greater.

Adam Wilson

I graduated from RMIT in 2012 with a Bachelor of Design in Games. In 2014 I completed my postgraduate Diploma in Education at La Trobe University. I’m technically still a graduate but have worked with Swinburne University building VET courses and at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in their Education Department. I started my first regular classroom position at an independent school, Kingswood College in Melbourne, in June last year, where I teach Media and ICT which presents lots of opportunities for creativity and innovation.

Throughout my studies the staff at RMIT would discuss the untapped opportunities of video games and education. How many students dedicate too many hours to video games? Imagine if we could sit them down with the same enthusiasm but for educational games instead. One day I hope to bring my passions for gaming to the classroom in exciting new ways.

Personally, I have found the workload by far and away the most challenging aspect of the job. Teachers everywhere are spread very thin, and it’s increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy balance between life and work.

I’m sure it’s possible, but I haven’t found the secret yet. It really is a struggle. I’m part time and often feel overwhelmed by the volume of work. It’s important to have a great support network of colleagues, friends and family to maintain your wellbeing. I encourage teachers to have time set aside every week where they are away from the work and can just unwind.

One of the most important things for an early career teacher is a quality induction program and the most effective aspect of a good induction program is your mentor. You can’t go wrong with a supportive mentor. Having someone accompany you in those early and daunting days provides a solid, supportive foundation. Frequent meetings with your mentor provide golden opportunities to voice your uncertainties.

IE asked me what advice I would give universities to improve ‘classroom readiness’ of graduates? I can think of many suggestions, but if I had to nominate one it would be to dedicate additional time to classroom management techniques. You start to learn what works for you on placement but practicing at university would help ease your nerves when you first stand up in front of a class.

Teaching is a truly rewarding career. The bonds you build with staff and students are both special and rewarding. It’s important to remember however, the difficult days can be tough. But your colleagues have had their share of tough days too. If you support them during difficult times, they will gladly return the favour. Everyone says the job gets easier the longer you do it. But these early years are hard. Don’t be discouraged.