Selling Teachers Short

A few days a ago, an occasional commenter told us about the teacher shortage at their school. They suggested the shortage was going to “play havoc” with their teaching load. We’re not quite sure how that works, since we thought there were strong and weird restrictions on what could be demanded of teachers, but we’re not doubting the reality on the ground. Our teacher correspondent also offered tentative reasons for the shortage: boomer teachers retiring, both naturally and motivated by covid; little incentive for people become new teachers; new teachers not lasting.

Now, today, there is a report in the Herald-Sun: Victorian public schools short almost 1000 teachers (Murdoch, paywalled). The report doesn’t speculate upon the reasons, simply giving the numbers dressed up with a “deeply concerning” declaration from Meredith Peace, a union rep, and an “everything’s going swimmingly” declaration from an unnamed “Department of Education spokesman”.

It is not difficult to think of reasons, and deeper reasons, for a teacher shortage, along the lines suggested by our teacher correspondent. But we have no real details or concrete theories. We’d be interested to hear what readers think, and what they know.

UPDATE (28/01/23)

RF has noted that the ABC has a similar report (not Murdoch, not paywalled). The ABC report has more flesh, also quotes Peace, and includes the same Panglossian DoE quote:

The overwhelming majority of government schools are fully staffed for the start of the school year and the delivery of school programs are expected to continue as normal.

A reasonable guess is that the education union has been stirring up trouble by pointing to trouble. The Department of Education is, of course, somewhere close to Mars.

42 Replies to “Selling Teachers Short”

  1. I can speak of some experiences, not 2023 but older, so things may be different now…

    If a school can’t find a Physics teacher, they don’t offer Physics classes at VCE. Year 10 is an issue as Physics is meant to be taught as part of Year 10 science, so often a Mathematics teacher (yes, I speak from experience) is asked to take a science class.

    If a school has only one teacher capable of teaching, say, Specialist 3&4 and that teacher wants to take long service leave which is owed to them by law… the school makes sure the teacher knows that there will be no Specialist 3&4 class in the year they take leave, because they cannot cover that one term replacement, so do you want to reconsider your leave application…?

    If a school has X students and the allowance is therefore Y full-time-equivalent teachers but the school can only find Y-n teachers, sometimes the “smaller enrollment” classes (electives often in Years 9 and 10) don’t run that year.

    The shortage of casual, CRT teachers can often mean teachers are not permitted to take leave for PD activities during term time and if a teacher is sick, the Principal may end up covering the class(es).

    Things may have changed and this is a regional school experience, so it is not likely to be representative of the broader school experience.

  2. I think there are strict rules about face-to-face teaching hours, but maybe less strict rules about planning? So, if there’s no teacher for a class, perhaps another teacher has to prepare all the lesson plans and assessments and give them to relief teachers.

    Last year I did an extra where it was in the library and two classes from different year levels combined. There was no lesson plan for me because an English teacher was actually teaching both classes, going back and forth. My job was just to hang out with whichever class she wasn’t directly instructing and help keep them on task. So, the English teacher was teaching two classes, but it only counted as one because they were at the same time.

    ETA: I think in this case, it might not have been a lack of teachers, but actually a lack of budget for hiring them. On the ground, it’s hard to tell the difference. Only the principal would know, I guess.

  3. I don’t know how one would go about estimating the shortfall of teachers (reported above as 1000) in Victorian government schools. I do know that, on average, there are about 50 positions for mathematics teachers in Victorian government schools advertised each week.

      1. I’m not sure the VIT thing is so clear from the article. It’s kind of implicit, but there’s not much detail of how, or of the extent.

        1. Well after 40 years in the Vic State system I resigned last year. Reasons – 1. Leadership – the system promotes bad leadership (will write details if anyone is interested). 2 – The focus on “evidence” over classroom experience, e.g. HITs -which if investigated is poor at best & snake oil at worse. 3 – Contradictions – we aim to teach kids mathematics for many reasons, one of which is not to be seduced by snake oil and pseudo science, e.g., by Y10 we expect kids to – “Evaluate statistical reports in the media and other places by linking claims to displays, statistics and representative data.” In Mathematics Statistics and Probability Levels 7-10A. But Ed Beaurocrats, Principals, teachers, Maths Assoc & many OZ Ed researchers can’t do this. 4 – AEU – after 3 yrs participation as 1 of 100 AEU “councilors” in a democratic participative decision making organization a realization of a reciprocal relationship of power/democracy -that AEU Exec power overrides democracy and is as far removed from the classroom teacher as senior Ed beaurocrats – The AEU could be a significant force in the many Ed issues but IMO has largely failed -once again more details if anyone wants. 5- In contrast to Ed beaurocrats saying everything is going “swimmingly” I have been contacted daily by prins, pleading me to come back to state schools to teach maths -there is a major shortage – I’ve also been offered “attractive” positions in private schools -yet to decide.

          1. I am quite interested in point (1) as I suspect it extends to tertiary education institutions as well. Probably in a different disguise though.

            1. I’m interested in all your points, either as comments you could consider a guest post. (Dare I ask what HITs is?)

              1. The HITs are the 10 High Impact Teaching Strategies, based on Hattie. Vic DOE teaching model is based around these as is most DOE run PD and performance reviews require teachers to link to these,

                The hugely expensive Middle Years Literacy and Numeracy initiative myopically focused on these HITs, e.g., I never heard a mention of cognitive load theory.

                Anyway, I failed the classroom assessment of an Assistant prin because I did not write a learning objective on the board – a part of the school’s instructional model based on HITs. I felt this was unnecessary as the textbook I was working on had a clear heading – “solving Simultaneous Equations”. I actually used worked examples on the board to solve a number of simultaneous equations. I thought it would be “stating the bleeding obvious” to write on the board, “The aim of the lesson today, if you decide to accept it, is to learn how to solve simultaneous equations, by way of worked examples.”

                The fact that I had developed strong positive relationships, that all the students were engaged, that I knew the material well and tried to introduce it in an interesting and relevant way (via sports ranking) and then the students gave me positive reviews, went unnoticed. You can guess what this did to my morale.

                These HITs trivialize teaching & encourage leaders to use simplistic approaches to judge their staff. Writing a learning objective on the board in maths is largely redundant as students mostly use text books with clear headings and sub headings which cover the learning objective. To fail on such a trivial aspect indicates one area of the poor leadership i indicated.

                NSW and QLD have similar things based on Hattie. Qld have just borrowed most of Vic model and all PD & funding for special initiatives must link to Hattie.

                1. Ah, yes. Mad Hattie. I know you have an anti-thing for Hattie, and I’m happy to for you to consider writing something of some depth to post here, either on Hattie generally, or specifically on (what I have no doubt is) the silliness of HITs.

                  I’ll look at your link later, and add it to my (insanely long) list of future targets.

                    1. No question that’ll have to be the title. But it won’t be the next post. Still trying to finish New Cur. And there’s more VCAA whacking to be done.

                2. Teaching is a complex business that involves many factors. HITS provide a simple way for me to assess my own lessons – have I missed something? IMHO, HITS are common sense.

                  At mathematics conferences, I often see papers presented with Beamer/PowerPoint that all follow the same pattern. Tell ’em what you are going to tell ’em; tell ’em; tell ’em what you’ve told ’em. Of course, sometimes an outstanding speaker will throw the rules away and begin with something outrageous such as “Let G be a glacier.”

                  It’s like chess. There are many generally accepted ideas about playing chess well; but sometimes, a top player will throw away the accepted wisdom. Wonderful to watch, but it does not work for players at my level.

                  I never stop learning how to present a class.

                  1. I once began a talk with “Let G be a glacier”. The title of the talk was “Do glaciers exist?”

                    As for HITs, I think the point is not that you’re missing something, but that you’re not missing nothing.

                    1. A couple of prins warned me, I was a leading teacher for many years & the time allowance and extra pay were removed from my position -“curriculum implementation manger” the following year. A number of colleagues contacted me regarding the blocking of my blog at their school. I did not contact the prins to ask why.

                    2. Is it clear to you that your leader position was taken away because of your blog? Do you have evidence that would make it clear to me? I’m not really doubting it/you, just wondering how stark was the timing.

                    3. My evidence is the 1-1 conversations behind closed doors, it is subtle, nothing in writing so i can’t prove it.

                      The other evidence is corroborational stories from other teachers. I know u r busy with other things but can provide copies of these if u r interested –
                      Westcott (2022). The post-truth tyrannies of an evidence-based hegemony.
                      Daliri-Ngametua &Hardy (2022). The devalued demoralized and disappearing teacher.
                      McNight & Whitburn (2018)- “These challenges to the hegemony of Visible Learning are intended to initiate dialogue and to support diverse critique, before even more is invested into making Visible Learning an unassailable component of school programs. In speaking to teachers, we have found that many have concerns that are similar to ours, but that they are silenced by senior staff in their schools, who have hitched their own branding to particular bandwagons. There are dangers to educational freedoms and to teacher professionalism when schools have paid for pedagogy.”

                  2. Ok if u find them useful i can’t argue about that. But I don’t think they are all common sense, eg. what is meant by Meta-cognition? Feedback? Explicit Instruction? Greg Ashman shows the problem with meta-cognition – “appears to be a chimera; a monster stitched together from quite disparate things.” I looked at the 23 Feedback studies that HITs are based on from Hattie & also the notion of “High Impact” (only 1 has anything to do with feedback in the classroom & that study details 38% of feedback does not work!) –
                    Many of the included studies are laughable – e.g the study with highest effect size is about background music often on a production line (well I guess music is sort of feedback).
                    details –

                    Then, they are too general to be of any use to me, i gave the example of the Numeracy & Literacy initiative where a whole year of training did not address alternative research to the HITS, e.g., Cognitive Load strategies were never mentioned. Then they can be simplistically applied to assess teachers, i gave the example of failing my review because i did not write a learning objective on the board as it is connected to some nebulous notion of feedback.
                    Lastly, I tried to get prins to read the background studies to check what they say and NOT rely on someone else’s interpretation, but i was silenced. Yet this contradicts what we teach kids – check, analyze, question…
                    Others write similar stories – Wescott (2022) – The Post-Truth Tyrannies of an Evidence-Based Hegemony.

                    1. Again, I may have missed something, but are these HITs not just a large helping of common-sense with some bureaucratic new-speak thrown in?

                      Seriously, failing a teacher for not writing a learning objective on the board (which, btw, from the story seemed pretty damned obvious) is not filling me with confidence about the possibility of “performance-based pay”.

                    2. ok, I guess i did not explain myself very well, i thought i detailed a number of points arguing they are not common sense and simple bureaucratic new speak.
                      Anyway, It’s a big deal to me and many of my colleagues that the whole Victorian Teaching and Learning Model is based on a dodgy interpretation of studies that I’m not allowed to critique & are often used to coerce & control teachers and as i explained one of the reasons i quit.

                      Perhaps i will finish with other’s explanations, e.g. Wescott (2022),

                      “If you’re in a school where you’re told the effect size of an exact skill, then you’re going to be teaching to that skill even if you know that there’s something more important the kids need to be doing. And if you are told that you have to use HITS in all of your lesson plans then of course that’s getting in the way of you just choosing, like your decision-making is not being driven by the needs of the students; it’s being driven by the Department. And that’s a problem.”

                    3. Thanks, George. You wrote,

                      “the whole Victorian Teaching and Learning Model is based on a dodgy interpretation of studies that I’m not allowed to critique”.

                      Can you be precise and can you document the sense in which you are (were?) not allowed to critique it?

                    4. I’ve worked at a number of schools over the last 15 years and I’ve asked to present PD at a school & regional level to just read & discuss the background studies Hattie used- as he already became popular in late 2008 with very controversial claims – like “class-size does not matter”. I thought it worthwhile to at least check the studies these claims were made on. I also asked to present at the huge state wide initiative on Numeracy and Literacy. In every case I was denied the opportunity in addition warned it would affect my promotional opportunities. So I decided to write a blog detailing as many of the studies i could find plus other peer reviews and have it easily accessible to teachers. I’ve been told certain schools have blocked my blog on their web sites. Recently, QLD blocked my blog on all DOE computers.
                      I don’t believe I made personal attacks just looked at the background studies, show the misrepresentation, mistakes, incorrect statistical calculations and summaries of other peer reviews. I’ve attended a lot of DOE PD over the last 7 years and never heard anyone question the HITs, in fact the opposite occurs presenters usually pay allegiance to the HITS & Hattie.

                    5. To show Hattie’s dodgy interpretation I think it is best to start with something easy like Feedback. Just look at some of the studies Hattie cites and you will notice they don’t have anything to do with Feedback in the classroom. Many peer reviews showed that too. As a result, Hattie has removed (very quietly) most of those original studies in his 2020 update – Feedback Revisited getting a lower effect size of 0.48 meaning its not High Impact anymore (he forgot to tell the DOE).

                      Hattie’s notion of High Impact is also highly dubious.

                      Once again I’m just trying to get teachers to read and check -I go through some of those studies here –

                    6. That’s interesting. So not exactly “not allowed to critique”, although “warned it would affect my promotional opportunities” is close enough.

                      Being denied the opportunity to speak is just par for the orthodoxy course (I’m way under par, or way over, however that metaphor should work). But blocking your blog seems over the top, as well as pretty damn pointless. (I wonder if I’m blocked …)

                      I have a few questions, which you can choose to answer offline (or, of course, to simply ignore):

                      *) Who warned you about damaging your “promotional opportunities”?

                      *) How do you know certain schools blocked your blog? Ditto, QLD DoE?

                      *) Did you query any of the blockers for their reasons?

            1. How a not-yet-qualified teacher gets to teach. Who suggested it, how did you find out about it, who had to approve it? How did VIT or whoever justify this, given they are normally so full of it when it comes to the idiotic hoops through which they normally expect you guys to jump?

                1. Thanks, wst. Yes I know there have been such mechanisms, and I taught under such a mechanism for many years. But for me it was always with VIT’s increasingly grudging approval and revolting sanctimony. My question is how VIT-etc approved student-teachers teaching while simultaneously pretending their general approval process wasn’t a complete fraud. (p.s. the conversation article was of course stupid.)

                  1. This is perhaps a better link:
                    There was a special government initiative last year. (I followed the link to it, but didn’t find it very informative.)

                    The way I see it is that VIT is in the business of making and selling hoops (for people to jump through). And this is another category of hoop, custom-made to meet a government directive. It seems consistent to me.

                    Sorry the conversation article was stupid, but it gave a number: 782 approvals as at July 2022.

                    1. Thanks, wst. Of course I’m aware that VIT acts with no genuine human element, and simply operates as a thuggish (and inept) enforcer of idiotic government policy. But, VIT also loves to dress themself up as thoughtful and principled and important, the sincere protector of critically important standards. Where is that in any of their you-can-all-teach statements?

                  2. Hi Marty. I’ll give you some deeper insight into this a bit later today/tomorrow (from someone who has been through the PTT process twice via two funded participants of the Federal Government’s ‘High Achieving Teachers Program). That is, beyond the glossy propaganda and motherhood statements. In the meantime, lots to do today…

  4. Not at all. I’ll leave the attacking of people exclusively up to you and your blog and your various regular commentators. Adieu.

    1. I hope that’s a joke. I try very hard to avoid attacking individuals, even when they are public figures and are clearly fair game, and I always delete such comments when I think it appropriate. I make exceptions for people like Boaler and de Carvalho, who are arrogant and are damaging at a megaphone level. But my focus is always on the insanity of the institutions, and on the idiotic non-think which creates them and which they encourage in individuals.

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