The Nexus Program aims to attract professionals from other careers into teaching. But with staff shortages, heavy workloads and flagging salaries, will they stay? Will Brodie investigates.
In 2019, the Grattan Institute’s Attracting High Achievers to Teaching report stated that $1.6 billion in spending was necessary to lure academic high-flyers.
The Nexus Program, run by Melbourne’s La Trobe University, reminds us that many professionals, including teachers and support staff, crave connection to community and a sense of higher purpose – as well as a decent salary.
Nexus is the result of a tender from the High Achieving Teachers Program, which targets economically and culturally diverse and hard-to-staff schools, especially in regional or rural areas.
Its first-year Master of Teaching students are paid for part-time work in schools and receive direct mentoring opportunities and professional development. In their second year, Nexus participants become full-time paraprofessionals in their schools, with a teaching load of 0.8, while they study.
Why it succeeds
Nexus director Professor Jo Lampert said her program is succeeding because of its strong social justice focus and its unique community engagement.
She says the main point of Nexus is to prepare teachers who “really understand the communities they are teaching in and, wherever possible, come from those communities”.
Nexus identifies local participants and provides fortnightly ‘lived experience’ workshops where families from equity target groups inform teachers about their lives beyond the school gate.
Veterinarian-turned-teacher Hannah Lynch is a Nexus graduate.
“Hannah lives in Mildura so she’s from a regional area which historically finds it hard to staff schools,” Professor Lampert says.
“She’s a veterinarian, a professional, a young woman with a young family who wants to stay in her home town. So this was the perfect opportunity to make a career change because she still had a little bit of an income and knew she was going to get a job at the end of it.”
Professor Lampert says Lynch was a good candidate because she is “so hard working and committed to her students” and their shared community.
Nexus teachers are now in 30 schools where, Professor Lampert says, the schools welcome their “quality and commitment” .
“They trust us and our students,” she says. “We are low risk in that we deliver what we say, we don’t overpromise and we listen to the needs of teachers and school leaders. It’s largely about relationships.”
Professor Lampert believes Nexus is an “absolutely scaleable” model because of its emphasis on co-design and school/university partnerships.
“We really do design the program together, with recruitment, planning and mentoring a partnered process, she says. “I think it’s the co-design element that provides the strongest model for the future.” She says the biggest challenge such programs face is “maintaining fidelity to principles” when they grow.
Shortages, salaries, workloads
But more than a handful of high achievers is required to fix the looming teacher shortage crisis in Australia.
In October 2021, Unions NSW reported there were more than 1100 unfilled primary, secondary and special education positions in government schools in both metropolitan and regional areas. The non-government sector is experiencing similar shortages.
Writing for The Conversation, academics Rachel Wilson and Giuseppe Carabetta reported expectations that NSW public schools will “run out of teachers in the next five years”.
They say the pandemic will only add to excessive teacher workloads, and this will “ratchet up” short staffing in schools. They call for a “coordinated, long-term, politically bipartisan plan to strengthen teacher recruitment, placement and retention”.
As Making time for great teaching, a recent report from the Grattan Institute, concluded: “Teachers don’t have time to do their job properly. Teachers should be able to get the core parts of their job done in a standard working week.” But IEU members know this hasn’t been possible for a long time.
- Public school teacher shortage raises fears they will run out of teachers, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2021
- COVID and schools: Australia is about to feel the full brunt of its teacher shortage, The Conversation, 19 January 2022